As our world becomes full of more portable electronics, we are increasingly dependent on a good WiFi signal. Everyone knows the pain of an unstable network connection: web pages load slowly or not at all, and Internet games and streaming movies are impossible to play. If you find yourself plagued by slow WiFi or dropped connections, here are some things you can do to improve your signal strength and coverage throughout your home.
Do a thorough router-check. Older routers often support both 802.11g and 802.11n in order to allow for backward compatibility with older components. However, the G standard is old and slow. Check your router settings to ensure that the 802.11g standard is turned off. Make sure all your components are running the N standard and upgrade any components still running on G to N.
Many of us rent or borrow routers from our Internet Service Provider (ISP). If you’ve had your ISP-provided router for a long time, it likely needs to be upgraded. Contact your ISP and request that they replace your old equipment.
There is a new standard in routers these days, called the 802.11ac, and you may be wondering if buying the latest and greatest router will fix your problems. Most people do not have components that can utilize the faster ac standard, so if you were to purchase an 802.11ac router its speed would likely be downgraded to match your equipment. Save some money and stick with your 802.11n router for now.
Make sure your router’s firmware is up-to-date. It’s basically like upgrading your router’s operating system. The manufacturer’s website will list firmware updates by model number. If yours is out of date, it’s usually an easy process to download the update from your router’s interface. Users who are trepidatious and are renting their routers from their ISP may be able to request that the ISP perform this update for them. While you’re in the mode of updating software, make sure the drivers for your computer’s WiFi card and component adapters are current as well.
Relocate your router. We all know that routers aren’t “pretty” and no one wants to see electronics hanging out for all to see when they can be hidden inside a closet or cabinet. This is fine if it’s not interfering with your signal, but keep in mind that routers do best when their signal is unencumbered by walls or other barriers. If your router is on one end of your house and your bedroom is on the other, it may be the source of your Netflix streaming woes. Try moving it to a more centralized location. Router signals travel in every direction equally, so users with two-story houses should place them either on the first floor near the ceiling or the second near the floor.
Eliminate interferences. Interference with your WiFi signal can come from many sources, some of which are unexpected. We have a baby monitor that – when it’s on – makes it impossible to hold a WiFi signal in our bedroom. Some other devices, like cordless phones and Bluetooth devices, can interfere as well.
Most routers and small electronics default to the 2.4GHz band. When a band is crowded, it’ll slow down and be prone to interference with competing electronics. If your router is capable, consider swapping to the 5GHz bandwidth within the router’s interface.
Dual-band routers give the option for running both simultaneously. In my home, we’ve got both bands running – we use the 2.4GHz one for the little devices like our phones and tablets, and the 5GHz for our computers.
Another source of interference may be coming from your neighbors. If you live in close proximity to others, it is possible for them to piggyback onto your WiFi. They get free Internet and you get a slower connection speed and streaming problems. Avoid this by setting up a pass code to your network to eliminate unauthorized users.
Improve your range. If you’ve moved your router to a central location and still have “dead zones” in your home, consider replacing its antenna. There are high-range antennas you can purchase to replace your router’s external antenna (if it has one).
There are also repeaters and range extenders that will extend the perimeter reach of your network. Netgear has a nice one that runs about $60: the EX3700 WiFi Range Extender (http://www.netgear.com/home/products/networking/wifi-range-extenders/EX3700.aspx). Make sure to purchase one with an easy plug-in, directional antennae and dual-band WiFi that supports data transfer up to 750 Mbps. The addition of a repeater or extender should help you stream movies to the remotest corners of your home.
Some of these upgrades may feel a little technical for the average user. Your ISP may be able to help you with some of them. It’s their job to help you get the best service out of your equipment. Talk to them about the ideas in this article and ask them to help you implement them. We complained about our Internet to our ISP and they ended up having to replace the direct line to the home (they totally dug up our back yard but it was worth it). Sometimes you can’t anticipate what’s causing the problem unless you do some heavy lifting and investigation, and your ISP may be able to upgrade your Internet connection to a faster service.