Are you plagued by slow wireless Internet speeds? Does your Wi-Fi drop out at the worst possible times? Smart TV spending more time buffering than streaming your favourite shows? Then it sounds like you need to boost your Wi-Fi range and speed.
This guide from BDM Publications will show you several easy steps you can take to help ensure that you are getting the best possible speed and quality from your Wireless connection, hopefully without having to pay to upgrade your broadband package.
Reposition Your Router
Lets start with one of the very easiest ways you can improve both Wi-Fi performance and coverage: moving the router to a better position. This is a simple task (usually) which can instantly provide improvements for almost anyone who has never tried it in the past.
We acknowledge that routers are not usually the nicest things to look at, and it can be tempting to hide them away behind a sofa or even in a cupboard, but this will almost certainly affect how well it works.
Your wireless router should, ideally, be positioned centrally in your house to give the best overall coverage. If, however, you use the Wi-Fi mostly in the lounge and kitchen, or whilst in the upstairs rooms, try to position the router accordingly. Walls, doors, floors and even windows will block the Wi-Fi signal to at least some degree, so try to think where you can position the router so that it has the least number of obstructions.
Some people find that positioning the router higher in the house (the attic, for example) can help to boost the signal, but this can take quite a lot of work with extensions to the cabling, etc. And on the subject of cables, if you are moving the router and having to extend the cable, make sure you use a high quality extension and connectors.
The key here is keeping the router as free from obstruction as possible. Wall-mounting is a possibility with some routers (although not everyone wants a ugly black/grey box on their wall), and this is another thing that can help to keep it free from obstruction.
If your router has movable antenna, position them either perpendicular to the body of the router, or try having one perpendicular and one pointing at a 90 degree angle to the first.
Change the Wireless Channel
Wireless routers can operate on a number of different WLAN channels (the wireless signal is sent over several different frequencies; each channel is a different frequency). There are normally between 11 and 15 channels available, although this can vary between countries/networks. Most Wi-Fi enabled devices will automatically find the best channel, or will be set to switch between channels automatically depending on how strong/weak each one is, so in most cases the end-user won’t need to worry about which channel they are using.
It is worth checking, however, how many of the surrounding properties are connecting to a single channel at any one time, as the more people using a channel, the worse the performance will be (due to radio interference).
The easiest way to check is to download an app such as Network Analyzer Lite or WiFi Analyzer for your smartphone or tablet. Run the apps with your device connected to the wireless network and they will show you the channel you are currently using, as well as which channels any other routers (your close neighbours, etc.,) are connected to.
If you see a strong channel frequency that is being under-used, you can then switch to that to see if your Wi-Fi performance improves.
To change channels, you will normally have to log in to the admin panel for your router, find the channel list and select the channel to use. For more information on logging in to the admin panel for your router, check the manufacturer website or router documentation.
Change the Wireless Frequency
While you are in the admin interface checking the channel, take a moment to check the frequency too. The available frequencies are 2.4GHz and 5GHz. As long as all of your Wi-Fi enabled devices can connect to it, it is often better to use the 5GHz frequency.
Although it is not faster than 2.4GHz, the 5GHz frequency is less prone to interference, and is less widely used, so you will likely see fewer nearby networks using the channels. It also has a wider spectrum, meaning it can be much better for things like streaming TV, as it is less likely to experience connection interruptions.
Request or Buy Newer Router Hardware
If you have had your wireless router for any great length of time, it may be that it is not taking advantage of the newest wireless standards. Wireless standards are classified as A, B, G and N, along with the newest and best, AC. Newer standards will continue to appear (AX, for example, is due sometime in 2019) as the technology improves.
AC is able to move data more than 6x faster than the N standard, so is perfect for streaming HD video without buffering and stuttering, as well as data-intensive tasks like online gaming.
The most common standards are currently 802.11g (wireless G) and 802.11n (wireless N), with wireless N being faster and more stable. Most smartphones, tablets and laptops support wireless N, at the very least.
Many (if not all) broadband network providers will supply you with a router when you sign up, and may send out upgraded routers from time to time. But in many cases, you will need to call/email them and request a router upgrade/replacement if you want to start using the faster standards.
If your provider won’t upgrade your router, you may want to consider buying your own upgrade (remember that in most cases, the router sent to you by your broadband provider is only on loan, and may need to be sent back if you ever change providers; if you replace the router, keep the old one safe).
You also need to keep in mind that if you are upgrading your router, you need to ensure that all of your devices can use the newer/faster standards too. This includes your phone, laptop, tablet, streaming TV box, etc. If you use a wireless adaptor in your desktop computer (either internal or external), you will need to check this too. If not, they will still be able to connect, just not at the highest speeds available.
The replacement router you choose depends on many things, including network compatibility, budget, and intended user numbers. There are many good AC-compatible routers available from brands such as NETGEAR, ASUS and TP Link, for as little £40 (although you can pay £250+ if your budget allows).
Before you make a final choice, check on your network providers’ website to see that it will be compatible.
Buy a Repeater (or use an unused router as a repeater)
In wireless router terms, a repeater or booster is a second wireless connection point which is placed in an area of the house/office with poor signal, and which then connects to the main router and resends the signal. Think of it as a wireless extension, or signal extender. This can be a cheaper and better option than replacing the main router, especially if your Wi-Fi speed is generally good, apart from in the area furthest away from the router.
Another option is to buy a wireless mesh network system, which are comprised of several small routers that are placed around the house and provide a net of Wi-Fi coverage. This is usually a much more expensive option, but will help to ensure an even, stable signal all over the house/office.
You can buy repeater/booster boxes fairly cheaply (as little as £10/$15), and they are generally very easy to set up in a matter of minutes. If you are buying a repeater, do your homework to ensure that it is completely compatible with you main router, and with the devices you will be connecting to it (phone, tablet, laptop, etc.) A carefully placed, and correctly set-up, repeater can make a huge difference to Wi-Fi network range.
If you have an unused router laying around, you may even be able to use that as a repeater. You will need to ensure that the router is not too old (as it may not support the network speeds you want, and you may need to do a bit of firmware upgrading. Some routers feature a “Use as Repeater” option as standard, allowing you to simply set it up as a repeater. With others, you may need to install a custom firmware update to make it work. You can check out which routers will need an update at DD-WRT, and find links to the firmware if it is needed.
Update Your Router Firmware
If you have had your current router for a while, it may need a firmware update. Manufacturers regularly release updated firmware (firmware is software embedded in a piece of hardware, such as a router, which controls core functions) to improve security or performance. And while some devices will have their firmware updated automatically, many do not.
Log in to the admin interface of your router (if you are unsure how to do this, check the router documentation) and check to see if there is a “Update Firmware” option. If not, head to the website of your router manufacturer and do a search for firmware updates. Follow the instructions to apply the update if you find one.
Remove (or Move) Sources of Interference
Any device that is sending a signal through the air is susceptible to interference from other electrical devices, including cordless phones, microwave ovens, and other normal household appliances. If possible, keep the router away from other electrical devices, or use a dual-band router so you can switch frequencies to the less easily interfered 5Ghz band (most, but not all, mobile devices can use both 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies).
Check QoS Settings
Many modern routers include Quality-of-Service tools, which allow you to control the amount of bandwidth that different apps or services use. For example, you could set a Mbps limit on Dropbox if someone on the network is always hogging bandwidth by downloading huge files. Some routers have Gaming or Entertainment modes, which work in a similar way, and ensure priority is given to those particular types of data streaming.
You can usually find QoS tools (if your router has them) in the advanced section of the router admin interface. Try setting up a few limits, and check to see if that helps the overall speed of the network.