Why does your home’s Wi-Fi coverage insist on being so temperamental?! Dead spots can feel like they appear at random, the connection quality can vary throughout the day, and the router can give the impression it has a mind of its own.
A lot of these things might be in your head, but there’s no denying that a lot of people suffer from shoddy Wi-Fi signal around their property. And as more and more of our daily lives depend on connecting to the web, this can quickly become annoying (even infuriating).
Luckily, there are some easy steps you can take to ease your frustration and improve Wi-Fi performance. In this article, we have eight tips that will effectively boost your wireless router’s signal.
1. Physical Position
Many people overlook the fact that wireless signals can be finicky. Putting it here can provide great signal to certain rooms but poor signal to your bedroom, while putting it there might result in the opposite. Something as simple as moving your router could be the solution you need.
Distance is always the most important thing: the further you are from the router, the worse your connection will be. But there are some other aspects of positioning you might not be aware of.
Even if your computer or tablet is quite close to the router, other nearby electronic gadgets and devices can have an adverse effect on your overall signal quality. How many of you have your router next to your TV, your computer, your smartphone, your wireless media center? You might want to rectify that.
You should also check the line-of-sight between your router and your computer. Devices such as microwaves, refrigerators, and landline phones can all diminish the strength of a connection if they stand in the way of a signal.
It’s true that your interior walls can disturb Wi-Fi signal. However, the amount of disturbance depends on what your walls are made from — the key fact to consider is how dense the material is. Solid concrete is a sure-fire Wi-Fi killer, whereas sheetrock and wood are nowhere near as problematic.
If you live in a property with a second floor, something as simple as placing your router on a high shelf on the first floor can greatly improve the connectivity upstairs. Or if you have three floors, then you should probably place the router on the second floor for equal coverage all-round.
2. Router Antennas
ISPs give you a default router device when you first sign up for their services, and most people stick with what they’re given. The problem is that these routers are not high-quality, even if they are still largely good enough for most home users.
So if you’re happy with your ISP’s default router, stick with it. If you aren’t, then you should know that switching to a better router will result in better signal: higher-quality router usually implies a higher-quality antenna. This is the bottleneck that most users face.
Think of all the TV antennas on the market: the bigger and more powerful the antenna, the clearer the picture. Router antennas follow a similar principle, except good routers don’t just have better antennas — they have more antennas.
If you don’t want to spend money on an entirely new router, one alternative solution is to simply replace the antenna on your existing model. Most antennas can be screwed in and screwed off, which makes swapping very easy.
Also, if your router’s antenna direction can be tweaked, make sure you point it towards your devices! Don’t point it straight up. And if your router has multiple antennas, point them all in the same direction. You won’t extend coverage by pointing in opposite directions — you’ll only weaken your signal.
3. USB Antennas
What if your router doesn’t have its own antenna, or you still can’t get a reliable signal even after changing the internal antenna? You could consider buying a USB antenna for your computer.
It performs in exactly the same way as a built-in antenna, but can be positioned however you need for optimal performance. Make sure you purchase one that has a cable attached — this lets you tuck the receiver into the most optimal position without physically moving your actual machine.
4. Wireless Range Extenders
Another alternative is to purchase a wireless range extender.
They’re not expensive and are compatible with almost all modern routers and modems. They’re really useful if you’ve got a large property and new antennas are incapable of bridging the wireless dead zones that you may have.
Given their cheap price tag, they’re also an effective way of circumnavigating your signal around a dense wall or other physical structure that stands in between your router and your workstation.
5. Firmware Updates
A router’s firmware is like the device’s brain: it’s the underlying software that allows the rest of the device to operate.
As is the case with almost all modern technology, router manufacturers are forever pushing out new tweaks and updates to their products, often with the intention of adding more speed and performance — not to mention fixing security flaws.
Most modern routers will let you update the firmware from within the admin portal. If you’re unsure whether that’s possible, or if you aren’t sure how to actually do it, consult your router’s manual. If the instructions aren’t in there, contact your ISP (assuming you’re using an ISP-provided router.)
6. Router Channels
Wi-Fi congestion is a real problem. If you live in a densely populated area, such as a block of apartments, there are so many people using wireless devices that the airwaves are thick with signals bouncing around.
Like walkie-talkies and baby monitors, routers can operate on several frequencies, with the most common frequency being 2.4 GHz. Within that frequency there are 13 channels, and each channel is 20 MHz apart from the two channels around it — so given this spacing, each of the 13 channels overlaps with at least two others.
Overlapping leads to signal interference, which can force data re-transmissions due to packet loss effectively slowing down your connection or even causing it to drop entirely if the interference is too much. To avoid overlapping, you should only choose between channels 1, 6, and 11.
Most people never change their router’s default channel, so changing yours can help alleviate some of these potential congestion issues.
To determine which channel is the best option, you need to find out which channel your neighbors’ routers are using. Open Command Prompt and type netsh wlan show all.
I live in a rural area and don’t have problems with my neighbor’s signal, but I do have two phone lines and two internet connections. In the image above, you can see my two networks are on two different channels and don’t interfere with each other.
7. Router Frequency
If you’re lucky enough to have a router that supports the 5 GHz frequency, you should use it. It’s a newer standard, which means most of the routers in your neighborhood probably aren’t using it. Not only that, but it also has many more channels that are spaced farther apart than in the 2.4 GHz frequency.
Long story short, 5 GHz connections result in less interference! You’ll be able to change both the channel and the frequency from within the router’s admin portal.
8. Replace the Router
How old is your router? Electronic components wear out over time, and router components tend to wear out faster than other gadgets. Worn-down components lose performance, which means slower processing of data and less power when transmitting signals.
Perhaps it’s time to let it gracefully stand-down from service? The technology inside routers has improved so much over the last few years that changing it out for a newer model could have a profound effect on the quality of coverage you receive.
Lots of ISPs will even give you a new one for free after a certain period of time. Contact them directly to find out more.
How Do You Improve Your Coverage?
All the solutions I’ve presented are low-cost and easy to perform, but they still won’t be enough for some people.
Can you help your fellow readers? What steps have you taken to help boost your Wi-Fi signal’s coverage? Did I miss an obvious suggestion? Are there some important tips you’d like to pass on to anyone who’s encountering difficulties?
If you’re in the market for a new device, read our guide on the best routers and modems.
Image Credit: Konstantin Faraktinov via Shutterstock
Originally written by Leon on July 18, 2009