Wi-Fi is one of the most useful and important parts of using a computer, and yet it’s also one of the most frustrating. If you’re plagued by slow speeds, bad reception, and other Wi-Fi issues, here are 10 ways you can power up the Wi-Fi in your home.
1. Use the latest wi-fi technologies
One of the best ways to make sure your network is as fast and reliable as possible is to use up-to-date hardware. The main thing you need to know: Wireless A, B, and G are old and slow, and wireless N (and the even newer wireless AC) will give you the fastest speeds around. Note that you’ll need both a wireless N router and a wireless N card in your computer if you want the full speed boost.
In fact, even if your wireless network isn’t ailing, you should just make it a point to update your firmware on a regular basis. You will get performance improvements, better features, and security updates that way.
2. Find the perfect spot for your router
Routers may be ugly, but that doesn’t mean you should hide them behind the TV cabinet. If you want the best signal, you’ll need it out in the open, free of any walls and obstructions. It’s not just physical obstructions either; heavy-duty appliances or electronics running in close proximity can impact Wi-Fi performance.
Point the antennas perpendicularly, and elevate the router if you can.The fact is, 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 case. A wired router can be tucked away, out of sight, out of mind.
Lastly, make sure it is in the center of your house, so you have the best coverage possible throughout your home.
3. Find the right wireless channel
If you have neighbors, their routers may be interfering with yours and causing the signal to degrade. Wireless routers can operate on a number of different channels, and you want yours on a channel with as little interference as possible. Use a tool like Wi-Fi Stumbler or Wi-Fi Analyzer to find the perfect channel in your house.
In the same vein, all modern routers are multichannel, so they can switch across different channels when communicating to your devices. You tend to use whatever the router default is, but if neighboring wireless networks are also using the same channel, then you are going to encounter signal congestion.
On Windows-based PCs, you can see what channels neighboring Wi-Fi networks are using. From the command prompt (in Windows 7) if you type netsh wlan show all, you will see a list of all wireless networks and the channels being used in your vicinity. At PC Labs, for instance, most of our networks and those of our neighbors are using channels 6 and 11.
Once you know what channels are in use, pick one that’s less congested and manually switch your router to broadcast on that channel. You can find this setting in your wireless network’s administrator interface. While the interface differs by device and manufacturer, you will generally find the option under the basic wireless settings category.
4. Get rid of interference from other appliances
Other routers aren’t the only thing that can cause interference. Cordless phones, microwaves, and other appliances can muck with your signal as well. Buying a dual band router can help with this, but you can also buy cordless phones on other bands too.
If you don’t want to buy new hardware, you can always try moving your router further away from interfering appliances, too.
5. Thwart wi-fi thieves with better security
Even if your router has a password, it can be really easy to hack. There are easy ways to find out if someone is stealing your Wi-Fi, but the best thing to do is just lock them out with better security.
Using a WPA password is absolutely essential, but even those can be cracked pretty easily – so see these security recommendations here to fully protect your network from prying eyes.
6. Control bandwidth-hogging applications
Most modern routers come with Quality-of-Service (QoS) tools to limit the amount of bandwidth that apps use. This is handy if you do a lot of video streaming or use voice over IP (VoIP) often. The last thing you want is to have your video or call quality degrade just because someone is downloading a gigantic video file from Dropbox.
You can, for example, specify which applications and services get priority, and set downloaders as lower priority at certain times of the day. Sure, it will take longer to get that file, but everyone else on the network will thank you. 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 multimedia or gaming setting, so you know those applications will be prioritized.
7. Increase your wi-fi range
Perhaps it’s just a matter of room size. All routers are only capable of broadcasting reliably up to a certain distance. Any further, and the signal gets weak. If your wireless network covers a large area, you need a wireless range extender – also known as a wireless repeater or a Wi-Fi expander – to help boost your signal. This is also a good idea if there are thick walls or other physical structures that block signals.
The range extender looks similar to a router, but it works differently. For starters, it picks up the existing Wi-Fi signal from your wireless router and just rebroadcasts it. As far as your network router is concerned, the range extender is just another client with an IP address, much like your laptop.
Even though it’s not a router, you should still use the same rules when figuring out where to put the extender. It should be close enough to your main network router to pick up a good signal – 80 percent or more is a good rule of thumb – but close enough to the weak spots of the network so that the repeater actually can do its job.
We’ve reviewed quite a few extenders, and the Netgear Nighthawk AC1900 Wi-Fi Range Extender (EX7000) is one of the best. There are some models which you plug directly into a power outlet, such as the TP-Link AC1750 Wi-Fi Range Extender (RE450).
You don’t need an extender that is the same brand or model as your existing router, but you should pick one capable of broadcasting your signal. For example, don’t buy an 802.11n extender if your router is on 802.11ac. If you are willing to tinker, and you happen to have routers lying around, you can also make your own repeater.
If your router still won’t reach far enough, you can extend its range with simple DIY tricks. Our favorite is the Windsurfer tin foil hack, though you can also use an old beer can or a cooking strainer to extend your router’s range. The results won’t necessarily be mind blowing, but you should be able to eke a bit more distance out of your Wi-Fi network with minimal effort.
8. Boost your router’s signal with a bit of hacking
Another great way to extend your range is to hack your router and install the DD-WRT firmware. Not only will it give you a ton of great security features and other enhancements, but it gives you the option to boost your transmitting power.
This can be dangerous for your router, but most routers can handle an increase up to 70 mW without causing any issues, and you’ll be able to access your network from much further away!
The adventurous should look at the open-source DD-WRT router operating system. Belkin maintains a line of DD-WRT-equipped routers in its Linksys lineup, as do other major router manufacturers, such as Buffalo, Netgear, D-Link, and TrendNET.
Or you can just download DD-WRT and install it on any router you have lying around. DD-WRT can ramp up performance and give you access to more advanced networking features. This isn’t a project to embark on lightly, however, as it’s not easy to remove DD-WRT from some routers. Be prepared to sweat and toil, but the rewards may be worth it.
9. Turn an old router into a wi-fi repeater
If that still doesn’t help, you’ll need to get a range extender for your home. They aren’t super expensive, but if you don’t want to pay for another piece of hardware, you can actually turn an old wireless router into an extender with the aforementioned DD-WRT firmware.
Note that you may not be able to get as fast of a connection through your extender, but if you just can’t seem to get Wi-Fi on the edge of your house, this’ll get the job done on the cheap.
10. Set your router to reboot on a schedule
If you’re one of the many folks that has to reboot their router every so often so it doesn’t drop out, there is a solution. You can run a few tests to make sure the problem isn’t caused by heat, old firmware, or excess downloading, but an easy way to solve the problem is just automatically reboot it once a day or so. You can do this with DD-WRT or just a regular old outlet timer. When you’re done, you shouldn’t have to reboot your router so often (which is great if your router’s all the way up in the attic).
After going through these tweaks, you should find that your home Wi-Fi is faster, more reliable, and more secure than ever. When you’re done, make sure you implement the best security practices for your online life and also learn 7 best things you can do to secure your router.