Wi-Fi Signal travels in the form of radio waves which are, to put it simply, prone to obstruction and interference. For instance, walls, glass, metal, etc., are things commonly found all around us that impact the Wi-Fi signal strength. As the signal strength deteriorates, so does the transmit rate leading to a poor experience overall.
In such cases, adjusting your router’s positioning, ideally so that a clear line of sight is maintained, is an easy way to improve the Wi-Fi signal quality. Configuring your router properly is another cost-effective solution, but if you’re willing to splurge a bit, upgrading your setup is what will ultimately provide the best improvement.
There’s also the issue of how pieces of advice like updating the firmware or turning up the router’s transmit power are so popular and yet rarely ever helpful. Keeping all this in mind, we’ll try to cover the various dos and don’ts for boosting your Wi-Fi signal and more in this article.
How to Boost Wi-Fi Signal Strength?
We’ll first talk about ways to improve your Wi-Fi coverage. Then, in the latter half, we’ll shift the focus to getting the most out of your connection in terms of performance.
Optimize Router Placement
As stated, Wi-Fi signal propagates best with a direct line of sight. Any object present between the router and the device obstructs this signal, albeit to varying degrees.
Wi-Fi signals have the most difficulty penetrating building materials like concrete, plaster, metal, etc. Objects like furniture, glass windows and mirrors, appliances, etc., also absorb or reflect some of the waves.
Additionally, appliances operating in the 2.4GHz range, such as microwaves, cordless phones, walkie-talkies, etc., cause interference which further deteriorates the signal quality in the case of 2.4GHz Wi-Fi.
With all this in mind, here are some good practices to follow when deciding on your router’s positioning:
- Generally, it’s best to position the router in a central portion of the house.
- Try to place the router high, such as on top of a cabinet, or hang it off the wall rather than placing it low (on the floor or table).
- If you’re trying to focus the signal toward a specific part of the building, such as toward your bedroom, try to place the router where obstructions in that direction (walls, objects, etc.) would be minimized.
- Ensure the router isn’t next to appliances such as TVs, security cams, microwaves, etc.
- Finally, you can also use Wi-Fi coverage mapping tools if you want to go the extra mile and figure out the optimal position for your router.
Change Frequency Band
Wi-Fi communication can occur in various radio frequency bands, but the most common ranges used at present are 2.4GHz and 5GHz. Due to the mechanics of wavelength, 2.4GHz waves penetrate better and travel further, which makes 2.4GHz the winner if we’re purely talking about range.
You do have to consider factors like interference from 2.4GHz appliances and the higher bandwidths that 5GHz supports when choosing the preferred frequency band. But if you decide that you value range over other factors, 2.4GHz Wi-Fi is definitely the better option.
As for how to actually use 2.4GHz Wi-Fi, you simply configure the router to broadcast it and connect to the Wi-Fi from your device. You can also set your device to prefer 2.4GHz Wi-Fi over 5GHz if you want.
Setup Wi-Fi Extenders
Wi-Fi Extenders, as the name implies, are devices that extend the Wi-Fi range. There are a variety of solutions used for this, from purpose-built wireless repeaters, extenders, and boosters to Wireless Access Points (WAPs) and Mesh Wi-Fi systems. Routers repurposed as extenders are also quite popular.
Let’s talk about the practical differences between these, starting with the repurposed routers. These generally provide similar coverage improvements to purpose-built devices. So, if you have an old router lying around collecting dust, using it could be a cost-effective solution.
If you’re going to purchase a dedicated device, Wireless Extenders, also called Boosters or Repeaters, are generally the most affordable options. As they only rebroadcast the existing signal coming from the router, the coverage improvement won’t be significant, though.
Setting up an Access Point (AP) would be a much better option, provided you can run an Ethernet cable from your router to the location of the AP. A WAP will provide a much greater improvement to your Wi-Fi signal as it will rebroadcast the signal at full strength.
If making a wired connection like this isn’t viable, you could consider Powerline Ethernet, which makes use of your house’s existing wiring. You do occasionally hear how well Powerline Ethernet has worked for some people, but generally, we recommend the other options over this as it’s not very reliable.
Finally, if you’re willing to splurge a bit to improve the Wi-Fi signal, Mesh Wi-Fi systems are the ultimate solution. These systems use a mesh gateway and multiple nodes in a partial or full mesh topology setup, enabling a single Wi-Fi network to cover a large area.
If some of these options feel like overkill, or they simply don’t seem right for your specific circumstances, you could try upgrading some of the other Wi-Fi hardware that we’ve talked about in the next section.
Upgrade Wi-Fi Components
Upgrading your router entirely is one of the easiest ways to improve your Wi-Fi signal, but the convenience comes at a cost. If you’re someone who doesn’t find it worth it to replace a working router for a slight signal boost, you could look into upgrading specific components instead.
For starters, you could upgrade your router’s firmware. Simply upgrading is unlikely to have any effect on the Wi-Fi range, but if you upgrade to versatile firmware such as DD-WRT, you should be able to turn up the Transmission Strength (TxPower). Upgrading the router’s antennas will have a similar effect, except the range gain will be much higher.
The thing about Wi-Fi, though, is that its two-way communication. Turning up your router’s transmission power doesn’t mean much if the client station (PC, phones, etc.) is too far away to communicate back with the router.
As such, you may also need to upgrade the wireless adapter on the client device or install antennas, if applicable, to enable long-range bidirectional communication.
While on the topic of upgrades, we should also mention DIY boosters. These tin foil and aluminum foil creations can reflect the signals and focus them in a specific direction, but the range gains are rarely significant. These can be fun weekend project, but if you’re serious about boosting your Wi-Fi signal, our recommendation is to stick with the aforementioned solutions.
How to Improve Wi-Fi Speed?
If you feel that you’re not getting the full speed out of your Wi-Fi connection, there are a few things worth looking into. The most important one, which we’ve already discussed, is signal strength.
If the connection between the router and device is weak, routers may try to maintain the highest transmit rate (TxRate) despite packet loss. Or alternatively, they will lower the TxRate to prioritize connection stability. In either case, a poor signal correlates to a poor experience, but in the latter, it directly results in lower speed.
Either way, Wi-Fi signal strength is the first thing to check when facing Wi-Fi speed issues. However, if these issues persist despite having a strong signal or a wired connection, then you should look into frequency bands and channels.
In most places, including the US, channels 1 – 11 are designated in the 2.4GHz range. It’s best to leave channel selection to Auto, as your router will automatically determine the ideal channel in most cases. If you want to configure the Wi-Fi channel manually, we recommend selecting channels 1, 6, or 11, whichever is used by the least APs in the area.
If you have a dual-band router, you could switch to the 5GHz band as well. The 5GHz band has significantly more channels, and most devices operate in the 2.4GHz range, meaning frequency congestion and interference are much less of an issue.
In rare cases, changing your DNS server can also provide a noticeable improvement. Tools like Namebench will be helpful for this purpose. If you suspect a particular program or device is hogging bandwidth, setting up Quality of Service (QoS) can help. Other generally good practices include regularly rebooting your router and securing your network to ensure no one is piggybacking.
If you’ve looked into the things mentioned so far and your Wi-Fi speed hasn’t seen any improvement, there are a couple of likely possibilities. First, if you’re using an older router that doesn’t support Wi-Fi 4 (802.11n) or newer standards, your hardware could be the limiting factor.
Second, you could consult with your ISP regarding bandwidth throttling and shaping. Even if there’s no throttling going on, contacting your ISP for support should still help you figure out why you’re not getting the full subscribed speed.