One moment you’re absolutely dominating in your online game while downloading some movies (legally, of course), and the next moment you can barely load a simple web page. Or maybe, you can’t do that ever. So did your brand new Gigabit Internet connection go to waste? Probably not — if you’re running a home network entirely on WiFi, it’s important to optimize it as much as possible.
Is It Your Internet Connection?
Before messing around with your WiFi, you should attach a computer with Gigabit Ethernet directly to your router or preferably your modem to test your Internet connection. If you can’t get a decent connection with this setup, you have other problems on your hand, which require your ISP’s attention. I only suggest a Gigabit Ethernet connection, so you can easily rule out the Ethernet as a bottleneck.
Update Your Firmware
Before going farther into this article, make sure you’re using the latest firmware of your modem and router. This is important as any updates can come with fixes to software problems that you would try to fix in other ways (and probably fail). Do check for updates regularly, or have your router do that for you if it can.
WiFi Feng Shui
High up on your list should be to follow Ryan’s WiFi Feng Shui article — it’ll help you make sure that your router is located at an ideal location along with a few other tips for maximum coverage within your house. When signal strength is at its maximum, your devices should be able to run at their fullest speeds at top reliability.
Switch WiFi Channel
Next, make sure your router is using a WiFi channel that is unoccupied by nearby routers from neighbors. You can use applications which scan for networks and show you on which channels they’re running on. James has previously demonstrated how to pick a unique wireless channel. By choosing an unoccupied channel, you’ll face less interference and therefore better performance.
Routers usually default at either channel 6 or “automatic”, which will do this for you. However, if you’re in the same situation as I am, with up to 10 WiFi networks at a time, finding a channel can be difficult. Try to pick a channel with the least number of networks on it, preferably networks that have very low signal strength at your location, or, again, have it set to do this automatically. At least then you won’t have to check back every now and then in case neighbors do some channel shuffling of their own.
Use More Universally-Compatible Settings
If you’re concerned about your router using settings that might not maximize compatibility with all your wireless devices, it’s best to use more common frequencies and technologies. All WiFi devices today support at least 2.4 GHz 802.11g, which goes up to 54 Mbps. If you set your router’s settings to these same values, you should be using the most compatible settings possible. Otherwise, if you choose to run a 5 GHz WiFi network up to 300+ Mbps, then only dual-band WiFi devices can even connect, and those running 802.11n or 802.11ac will get preference by the router — leaving subpar performance for other devices.
Upgrade The Antenna
If your router has a removable antenna, you can upgrade it to a larger antenna that will produce a larger dB, or signal strength. This can also help a lot if it’s not physically possible to follow all of the steps in Ryan’s previously mentioned WiFi Feng Shui article.
Find Out What Is Using Up Your Bandwidth
If your WiFi speed drops periodically or during specific times of the day, it’s possible that software or other devices on your network eat up your bandwidth. You can refer to Ryan’s article to find out who’s eating your bandwidth. Of course you might also find that your WiFi is being leeched.
MAC Address Filtering
Lastly, if you find that neighbors are messing with your network, you can prevent them from getting to your Internet connection. Make sure you have a good WPA2 encryption enabled (WEP is unusable as James demonstrated). You can also enable MAC address filtering, where you maintain a whitelist of the MAC addresses of your WiFi devices. Of course, MAC address filtering is time consuming and therefore not ideal if you have guests visiting regularly.
It’s not always easy to get a good WiFi setup going, but it’s well worth the effort to maintain sufficient signal strength and compatible settings with up-to-date firmware. If after all this you still have issues, it might be a good idea to look at the router and devices you have and see if they should be upgraded. For example, you might have just gotten yourself a new device with 802.11ac wireless, but your router still only supports 802.11g. This could definitely limit your wireless performance.
For general home network performance, check out James’s article which also includes wired networking.
How have you fixed your WiFi problems? What caused it? Let us know in the comments!