How many times have you tried to watch a movie or work on an important project only to have your activities interrupted by skips, stops and buffering?
Yeah, that's all of us.
A poor wifi signal puts a damper on what should be a relaxing evening and can also interfere with your ability to have a productive day if you work remotely for your employer. Slow load times and a lack of support for bandwidth-heavy activities make Wi-Fi unreliable, resulting in frustration and wasted time.
You should be able to trust your connection without experiencing slowness or hitting dead zones in your home. If your devices are always dropping the signal or you can never seem to achieve optimal performance when connected, run a speed test to discover the actual speed your connection is delivering. Disappointing results indicate a problem at one or more points in the network.
So what can you do to overcome Wi-Fi difficulties and enjoy speedy internet for work and play?
Try these 15 simple tricks to give your signal a boost:
1. Upgrade Your Hardware
What kind of router are you using?
Routers using the 802.11 A, B, G or N standards won’t work as well as routers running on the latest AC standards, so if you’re using an older router, it may be time to invest in an updated model.
Faster than the previous N standard and designed to support the variety of devices in use in the modern home, AC routers provide better performance for individuals and families who can’t live without their technology.
Trying to support computers, mobile devices, virtual assistants and smart home accessories on an outdated router is likely to result in slow or unreliable performance. Before shopping for a new router, check to see if your devices conform to AC standards to ensure you can take full advantage of the boost provided by an upgrade.
Devices without the capability will still work but may not be quite as fast even with modern Wi-Fi hardware.
2. Get the Latest Firmware
Your router runs on software just like a computer or smartphone, and this software needs to be updated from time to time. Manufacturers release firmware updates to improve performance, fix problems and provide better security.
On some routers, the upgrade process is as easy as pressing a button on the unit. For others, usually older models, you’ll have to go to the manufacturer’s website, download the newest firmware and do the update yourself. Even if it doesn’t wind up improving your signal, the process is worth the time because it can prevent other issues from arising.
See the top wifi router manufacturers' firmware pages:
3. Download New Drivers
Sometimes, it's not the router but your computer instead.
You probably don’t think about your wireless adapter because it’s likely to be located inside the computer, but its performance has a direct effect on your Wi-Fi experience.
Updating the drivers can fix dropped signals, slow speeds and other known bugs to improve your connectivity.
The quickest way to apply this fix is to try an automatic update:
- In Windows, go to the Device Manager in the Control Panel.
- Find your wireless adapter under the Network Adapters heading
- Right-click on the adapter, and choose “Update driver.”
4. Relocate the Router
Somewhere in your home is a “sweet spot” for your router, and finding it can make all the difference in the world when it comes to performance.
Even if you spent time testing the router in different locations when you first bought it, there’s no harm in giving it another shot to see if moving it again can help increase signal strength throughout the house.
The number of places where you can put the router will be limited by the length of the Ethernet cable tethering it to the modem, so the first thing you might consider doing is getting longer cables or coupling multiple cables together.
If your router is hidden from view, move it out in the open to reduce the number of surfaces through which the signal has to travel. Try putting it up higher, either on top of furniture or in a room on the upper floor of the house.
Each time you try a new location, test the Wi-Fi connectivity in different rooms to determine if dead zones have disappeared.
5. Try a New or Additional Antenna
If moving the router still leaves places in the house without reliable Wi-Fi, the antenna could be to blame. External antennas can be pointed in different directions to try and increase the signal, but models with internal antennas have no means by which to specify where the signal is aimed.
You can replace an existing external antenna or add one to a router with an internal antenna to provide more control over signal strength and direction. Look for a directional antenna labeled “high gain” instead of an omnichannel model.
Omnichannel antennas broadcast in all directions and aren’t likely to help as much with the signal. Point the antenna toward known dead zones, and test the signal with your computer or mobile device to determine how much of an increase in strength it provides.
6. Minimize Interference
One of the reasons moving your router can help so much is the new location has fewer nearby objects or devices to cause interference.
And because Wifi signal is basically a radio frequency (RF) signal. Literally almost everything under the sun and inside your home can disrupt or block it.
Although having a dual-band router with the ability to operate on more than one frequency can help avoid some forms of interference, it’s easy to mess up your signal without knowing it just by doing the normal things you do every day.
Microwave ovens and portable phones are ubiquitous Wi-Fi signal disrupters. Other potential sources of interference include:
- Wireless monitors or speakers
- Outdated Bluetooth devices
- Remote control toys
- Garage door openers
Yes, even other wireless devices can interfere with your wifi.
The materials between your router and your devices also have an impact on signal strength and performance. Bricks, marble and metal provide more resistance than wood, so the type of walls in the room where your router is located can make a big difference.
Even people standing or sitting in front of the router antenna may slow or block the signal.
7. Check Channel and Frequency
Having your router on the same channel as those in neighboring homes or apartments can cause interference and prevent optimal Wi-Fi performance.
The most common channels for the default 2.4 GHz frequency are 1, 6 and 11, and if your closest neighbors are using the same channel you are, it’s likely you’re both getting less than you should from your signal.
How can you figure out which channel is being used the least in your area? There are many tools available to analyze signal use, including an app for Android called “Wifi Analyzer” and inSSIDer for Windows. These tools look at nearby networks to determine which channels have the heaviest usage.
Once you know what to avoid, go to your router’s wireless settings and pick the channel with the least traffic. While you’re making changes, try switching the frequency from 2.4 GHz to 5 GHz.
This may offer a performance boost if you have a dual-band router or recently upgraded to the AC Wi-Fi standards. Not only does 5 GHz support up to 1300 Mbps speeds, it’s also used by fewer devices and should provide more stability for Wi-Fi connectivity.
8. Prioritize Applications
You know what happens every time your teenage son has his friends over for an evening of gaming: Your plans to meet the deadline on a big project at work go right out the window with the Wi-Fi speed.
The same thing happens if you and your spouse want to stream a favorite movie from Netflix but your kids insist on downloading entire albums from iTunes all night long.
Quality of Service (QoS) tools for your router help you avoid these types of conflicts by balancing out bandwidth usage between applications. The right QoS settings prevent any one activity from hogging too much bandwidth and preserve the quality of the connection for other users.
Set priorities for different applications based on the time of day or the importance of the activity.
For example, you could limit the bandwidth available for your kids’ games during the hours when you know you need to get work done. If you watch a lot of movies on weekends, let Netflix or Hulu take priority over other types of downloads.
After all, if you're paying the bill, you should get first rights to the speed.
9. Lock Out Moochers
Your family members may not be the only ones drawing on your bandwidth.
When you set up your Wi-Fi network, you probably gave it a cute name, not thinking everyone within range of the router could see it. Without proper security measures, your neighbors can not only discover your network but also connect to it and mooch off your signal as much as they like.
Even random people outside your home can grab your Wi-Fi on their smartphones if their devices are set to automatically detect and connect to nearby Wi-Fi signals. Hackers can also access your network and gain control of your devices, steal data or break into private accounts.
The easiest way to prevent stolen bandwidth and keep malicious third parties away from your network is to set up a strong password and share it only with members of your household. For additional protection, go the admin panel for your network and set the “ Enable SSID Broadcast” option. This will hide your network from outsiders while still allowing you to connect.
10. Stop Being Eco Friendly
Some routers are set to power-saving mode by default, but this option can slow down your network.
The small amount of power saved when this setting is enabled often isn’t enough to make a big dent in overall energy usage, so you may want to consider turning it off. Go into the settings for your router, and turn off all transmission power or eco mode settings.
Test your signal to see if this makes a difference in performance.
11. Invest in a Range Extender
One or two simple pieces of extra hardware can extend the range of a Wi-Fi signal into remote parts of your home.
Range extenders or network repeaters pick up the signal and bring it into rooms out of the reach of the router, but the trade-off is a slower connection for anyone using a device in those areas. Another option is to get another router and a long Ethernet cable to create a second access point still connected to the main modem.
12. Go the DIY Route
Did you know the soda or beer you enjoyed last night can help with Wi-Fi signal strength?
If you’d rather not buy an extender, you can give this DIY project a try. Grab an empty can from your favorite beverage, and put on a pair of protective gloves. Using scissors or another suitable cutting tool, cut off the bottom.
Slice all the way down one side, and cut almost all the way around the top. Open up the central cut until you have a large curved piece of aluminum. Slide your router’s antenna through the drinking hole in the top of the can, and point the curve in the direction you want the signal to go. Once you find the right position, keep the can in place with a piece of tape.
You can do the same thing with aluminum foil. Tear off a large piece, and fold it until it’s thick enough to be bent into a curve. Prop the foil behind the router’s antenna, playing with the direction until you can detect an improvement in your signal.
13. Create a Seamless Network
In large homes or homes with layouts in which it’s hard to avoid interference, a mesh router system may be a potential solution for poor Wi-Fi performance.
These systems include a main router like you’re already using and add “node” routers throughout the house. Unlike extenders or repeaters, nodes maintain full signal strength for all users. You also get the benefit of connecting to a single network instead of one segmented between multiple access points.
Setting up a mesh network may sound complicated, but it’s actually less of a guessing game than moving your router around, playing with antenna direction or building aluminum signal boosters. Most systems have an accompanying mobile app designed to guide you in the setup and optimal placement of router and nodes.
You may have to make a few adjustments after the network is in place, but you should see a marked improvement in overall performance.
14. Reboot the Router
“When in doubt, reboot” is such common advice when dealing with hardware problems, it now appear on multiple t-shirts and is somewhat of a joke among the tech savvy.
However, rebooting can work when you’re not getting optimal performance from your router or you can’t connect to your Wi-Fi at all. If you’re experiencing a sudden or unusual problem, try a manual reboot to see if the issue resolves.
Routers can also be set to reboot automatically at regular intervals, the most common being once per day. The setting may already be built in, so all you have to do is make sure it’s turned on.
For routers without this option, an outside timer does the trick. Choose a grounded timer, digital timer or smart timer depending on how you want to control the reboot. Digital timers preserve your settings and allow for more control when setting the amount of time the router stays off.
15. Talk to Your ISP
If you try everything you can think of and your Wi-Fi still isn’t working the way it should, it’s time to get in touch with your service provider. Sometimes the problem has nothing to do with your router or software. Service could be out, severe weather could be affecting connectivity or a cable could have been damaged somewhere in your area.
Let your ISP know you’re having a problem, and they’ll be able to look into potential causes or let you know if it’s an issue on which they’re already working.
While they’re fixing the problem, you can either take a break from being perpetually connected or hit up a local Wi-Fi hotspot. Since these networks aren’t secure, remember to avoid visiting sites on which sensitive personal information is stored until you can get back home and to your password-protected setup.
When your wifi signal is operating the way it should, you can get more out of work and leisure time.
Following these tips can help banish dead zones, create consistent signal strength throughout your home and ensure optimal operation for all users. Fewer dropped signals and faster load times means greater productivity and less frustration, so you can enjoy your high-speed internet connection the way it’s meant to be enjoyed.
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