Do you experience the following things when you’re using WiFi?
- Crawling browsing speeds
- Inability to stream
- Dropped WiFi signals
- Wireless dead zones
Every one of these problems is maddening in a world where getting online has become a necessity. If you feel that your WiFi has gotten sluggish, there are many ways to get a better connection. However, if the only way you can get decent reception is by standing next to your wireless router, these simple tips can help optimize your network.
- Find the Best Space for Your Router
Not all rooms and spaces are created equal and where you place the router can affect your wireless coverage. It may seem logical to have the router inside a cabinet and out of the way, or right by the window where the cable comes in, but that’s not always the best thing to do. The most effective practice is to have the router in the center of your house, if possible, so its signal can reach as many rooms as possible.
In addition, wireless routers need open spaces, away from walls and obstructions. So while it’s tempting to put that ugly black box in a cabinet or behind a bunch of books, you’ll get a better signal if it’s surrounded by open-air (which should prevent the router from overheating, too). Keep it away from heavy-duty appliances or electronics, since running those in close proximity can impact Wi-Fi performance.
- Update Your Router Firmware
Perhaps your router just needs an update. Router manufacturers are always tweaking software to pump out a bit more speed. However easy — or how hard — it is to upgrade your firmware depends entirely on your device manufacturer and model.
Most current routers have the update process built right into the administration interface, so it’s just a matter of hitting a firmware upgrade button. Other models, particularly if they’re older, still require you to go to the manufacturer’s website, download a firmware file from your router’s support page, and upload it to the administration interface. It’s tedious, but still, a good thing to do since it would be such a simple fix.
- Find Out Your Frequency
Take a look at your network’s administrator interface, and make sure you have it configured for optimum performance. If you have a dual-band router, you’ll likely get better output by switching to the 5GHz band instead of using the more common 2.4GHz band.
Not only does 5GHz offer faster speeds, but you’ll likely encounter less interference from other wireless networks and devices because the 5GHz frequency is not as commonly used. (It doesn’t handle obstructions and distances quite as well, though, so it won’t necessarily reach as far as a 2.4GHz signal does.)
- Quality Control
Most modern routers come with Quality of Service (QoS) tools to limit the amount of bandwidth that apps use. For example, you could use QoS to prioritize video calls over file downloads — that way, your call with grandma won’t drop just because someone else is grabbing a big file from Dropbox. Some QoS settings even allow you to prioritize different apps at different times of the day.
QoS settings can typically be found under advanced settings in the network’s administrator interface. Some routers may even make it easier by offering a one-click multimedia or gaming setting, so you know those applications will be prioritized.
- Change That Channel
Interference is a big issue, especially for those who live in densely populated areas. Signals from other wireless networks can impact speeds, not to mention some cordless phone systems, microwaves, and other electronic devices. All modern routers can switch across different channels when communicating with your devices. Most routers will choose the channel for you, but if neighboring wireless networks are also using the same channel, then you are going to encounter signal congestion. A good router set to Automatic will try to choose the least congested channel, but many cheaper routers will just choose a predefined channel, even if it isn’t the best one. That could be a problem.
If you find the Auto setting isn’t working well for you, sign into your router’s administrator interface, head to the basic wireless category, and try selecting one manually (ideally, one that isn’t in use by many networks in your area). See if that provides a better signal and faster speeds over the Automatic setting. Keep in mind that channel congestion can change over time, so if you choose a channel manually, you may want to check in once in a while to make sure it’s still the best one.
It’s also possible the problem isn’t interference or other networks. Is there a chance you have unwanted guests piggybacking on your network. There are tools that can help you find a list of devices on your Wi-Fi to sniff out uninvited neighbors. If it’s an open network, close it and set up a strong password — preferably WPA2, as WEP is notoriously easy to crack — so others can’t join in.
- Don’t Rely on Obsolete Hardware
It’s a good idea to get the most out of your existing equipment, but if you are running old hardware you can’t expect the best performance. We have a tendency to subscribe to the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality with back-end devices, especially networking gear. However, if you bought your router years ago, you might still be using the older, slower 802.11n standard.
Even if your router is new, you might have some ancient devices that are falling back to older, slower standards. If you bought a PC within the last couple of years, you likely have an 802.11ac wireless adapter or at least 802.11n. But the older your devices, the less likely they are to have modern tech built-in. (You might be able to buy a USB Wi-Fi adapter that makes things a bit better on those old machines, though.)
- Replace Your Antenna
If your router uses an internal antenna, adding an external one would be a good idea, as the latter tends to send a stronger signal. Your router may have come with antennas you can add on yourself, but if not (or if you threw them away long ago), many router manufacturers sell antennas separately.
A directional antenna tends to be a better option since odds are that you aren’t experiencing weak spots in your network in every direction. Point your external antenna in the direction of your weak spot, and it will broadcast the signal accordingly. Check your router manufacturer’s website for details on what to buy.
- Set Up a Wireless Range Extender
Range extenders look similar to standard routers but work differently. For starters, they pick up the existing Wi-Fi signal from your wireless router and simply rebroadcast it. As far as your network router is concerned, the range extender is just another client with an IP address, much like a laptop.
Even though it’s not a router, you should still use the same rules for figuring out placement; the extender should be close enough to your main network router to pick up a solid signal, but close enough to the weak spot so it can do its job of extending that signal. The extended signal will almost never be as good as the original, but it’s better than nothing — though if you can connect the extender with Ethernet or Powerline instead of wirelessly, it’ll be much better.
- Upgrade to a Mesh-Based Wi-Fi System
Range extenders help bring connectivity to dead zones, but wireless range extenders usually provide about half the bandwidth you’ll get from your primary router. Plus, they often require separate management from two different administration pages, and can even force you to use two different SSIDs, which is a huge pain. If you want seamless connectivity everywhere in your home, manageable from a simple smartphone app, consider upgrading your whole network a mesh Wi-Fi system instead.
Designed to cover every corner of your home, mesh Wi-Fi systems aim to replace your router rather than just extend it. You’ll connect one node directly to your modem, then place one or more satellite nodes around your house. The included app will walk you through the setup, ensuring each node is placed in the ideal spot for the best signal.
The resulting setup blankets your house with a single wireless network, which uses a single administration interface (in the form of a friendly mobile app), and often dedicates at least one wireless band to network backhaul, offering better performance than many extenders. Lots of mesh systems will even update your firmware automatically, so you always have the latest performance and security enhancements — no more downloading firmware from the manufacturer’s website.
Through one of these solutions, you should be able to get a better WiFi connection all throughout your house. Any one of these techniques should be able to get you out of your speed and signal troubles, providing you with fast and stable WiFi at home. Whatever the fix you find best for your WiFi situation, we can only hope that it only improves your web browsing, video streaming or movie downloads for the days, months and years to come.