Today, I am going to talk about something different. Last year, I wrote the comparison review of best wireless routers available in the market. It was quiet a success, to be honest. Many people liked and commented on it. But one single most frequent question they asked was how they can improve WiFi signal in their home/office. Or CAN any single one of those WiFi router solve their WiFi woes?
For them, and for you of course, here's our ultimate guide to solve home WiFi signal problems.
Currently there are two major spectrum bands for WiFi, 2.4GHz and 5GHz. There is another 60GHz Band actually and it's used in the latest 802.11ad standard but we'll talk about that later. As far as other two bands are concerned, the first one is 2.4GHz Band. It can give you a max theoretical speed of 1000Mbps. Although you may have 450Mbps or 600Mbps, depending upon the type of router you're using.
To help you understand, here is a chart regarding WiFi speeds of different bands, in different WiFi Standards.
So what's the problem with 2.4GHz band?
Well, apart from being not fast enough, there are some other critical issues in it such as interference. It's because most of the wireless devices around us use 2.4 GHz band for connection. All Bluetooth devices, cordless phones as well as some household devices such as microwaves use this 2.4GHz Band. To know the full reason, head over to this interesting article by John Herman. But for the sack for this article, just know that FCC and other organizations wanted to regulate the unlicensed frequencies and they choose 2.4GHz Band.
Well, for cordless phones, 2.4GHz band would have meant smaller antennas and long range. Since smaller phones were a priority back then, they opted for 2.4GHz. Even WiFi standard was first started on 5GHz Band but then WiFi alliance opted for 2.4GHz due to its long range and low-cost.
For your information, a router can be programmed to work with another frequency such as let's say 2.5 GHz. But they aren't allowed to do so since they are standardized on 2.4GHz. Apart from this, 2.45 GHz frequency of used by microwaves since 1947. That's why this 2.4GHz Band is allotted frequencies from 2400MHz to 2483.5MHz.
Now it's turn for the other one, the 5GHz Band. Since its frequency is high, this band has shorter waves. This is the reason why these waves are unable to penetrate through walls. But this band provides high speed and stable wireless connection.
Some Tips Regarding WiFi Bands
Understanding different WiFi standards is very important because, more often than not, a slow network has something to do with the WiFi standards of your devices.
In 1999, IEEE created the original 9802.11 standard, aka the WiFi standard. It works only on 2.4GHz frequency band and has a maximum speed of 2Mbps. Its supporting devices have been obsolete and it's also not compatible with modern gear.
802.11b was created by IEEE, in 1999, as an extension to the original 802.11 standard. Like 802.11, this standard only works on 2.4GHz frequency band. Its maximum speed is 11Mbps. Since 2.4GHz frequency band is used in it, 802.11b supporting devices can be interfered with other devices that use the same 2.4GHz band. One of the advantages of this standard was its low cost and ling range. Due to this reason, 802.11b became popular within home users.
802.11n standard was created to improve the deficiencies of 802.11g standard. It's the first WiFi standard to work with both 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequency bands (although 5GHz usage is optional). It was also the first standard to use MIMO Techology. In simple terms, it's a technology which enables a router to connect at different devices at the same time. It has a top speed of 450Mbps. Although it costs more than 802.11g standard, it's much more resistant to interference as compared to previous standards. It's backward compatible with 802.11b/g gear.
Like 802.11b, 802.11a is an extension to the original 202.11 standard and it was created in 1999 too. One major difference it has with previous two standards is that this standard uses 5GHz Band only, instead of 2.4GHz Band. It had a maximum speed of 54Mbps but shorter range than 802.11b. Since it uses the less populated 5GHz frequecny band, interference from other devices is not an issue. That's why this standard was popular among business users. Both 802.11a and b are incompatible with each other.
In 802.11g, IEEE tried to combine the advnatges of both 802.11a and 802.11b standards. This standard works only on 2.4GHz frequency band but has a top speed of 54Mbps. 802.11g is backward compatible with 802.11b gear. Its range is good as compared to 802.11a bur it cost greater than 802.11b. And also, interefence may happen because of 2.4GHz Band.
802.11ac is the most popular and widely used WiFi standard in today's world. It has some differences from 802.11n standard. It's the first standard in which you can solely use 5GHz frequency band. It's also the first standard to reach the 1 Gbit/s speed mark. New AC routers can have a top speed as much as 2167Mbps from a single 5GHz Band. Apart from existing MIMO, 802.11ac also introduced a new technology called Beam forming. In layman terms, instead of broadcasting signal to a whole area, a router simply aims signals directly towards its clients. It's backward compatible with 802.11b/g/n gear, but to fully enjoy its luxuries, you must have 802.11ac supported devices on both ends of a connection.
This standard has been recently released and its compatible devices are still very few, but it's still important to discuss it. In development of 802.11ad, IEEE took out a very different approach and opted to favor ultra-high speed and compensated in the form of very little range. This standard uses 60GHz frequency band which can be affected by oxygen particles in the air -- let alone penetration though concrete walls. That's why it can used in a single room where there is a direct line-of-sight connection between two devices. But this connection between these devices can have as fast connection as 7Gbit/s. Since this standard is new, it will take some time to see more mainstream devices that support it.
Here are some of the typical reasons for a poor WiFi reception. Many solutions discussed in this section are simple and don't require any extra time or work.
I would say once again that 802.11ac is the most common WiFi standard and if you're current router is using 802.11b and g standard, then you're going to have network issues.
If you have an old router then there's probably not an option for choosing 5GHz Band. In that scenario, its preferable to limit your router to send out signals at the interval of 20MHz. To do that, open up your router's settings and set your "Channel Width" to 20MHz. Now one thing should be noted that there are many manufacturers which don't allow you to change your channel width.
Having a new router isn't always enough. There are many of my friends who have a latest AC router but their PCs are old. Needless to say that those PCs mostly likely won't have 802.11ac WiFi adapter. And as I said before, to enjoy the most of your bandwidth you need to have 802.11ac on both your client and network. Otherwise, your experience will be jeopardized.
In many cases, an outdated firmware can cause some serious issues. An up-to-date firmware, which you can download directly from the manufacturer's website, can help you to solve bandwidth as well as networking issues.
Many routers are by-default configured to "power-saving" settings. The reason behind this, is to reduce electric consumption. Before you will be surprised to know that this some-milliwatts electric saving can disturb your network bandwidth by a great margin. To get rid of this mode, open your router's settings and look out for options like "Transmission power" or Eco mode, and turn them off.
Don't expect to have smooth network connectivity while having a virus-infected PC. To remove all that clutter, there are many tools around such as AVG and McAfee antivirus etc. If you want a step-by-step tutorial however, there is a detailed guide by Eric Grier and Josh Norem.
For those who're skimming this post, I would say again. 2.4GHz Band is not good. Not only your neighbor routers use it but also your microwaves, cordless phones and baby monitors etc. So if your router permits you, switch to 5GHz Band.
Most routers have a good signal range but if don't place it well, there can be a dead-spot or two around your house. In basic terms, a deadspot is an area/room in your house/office where your WiFi signal range is either low or completely absent. To find out if your house have any deadspot use tools such as Ekahua Heatmapper and Netspot App.
Most of us don't think of our routers as a smart, sexy gadget that we can show off their friends. But that doesn't mean that you should hide your router in a storeroom.
More walls a WiFi signal have to cross in order to reach you, more weaker it'll become.
Instead, estimate a central location of your house and place your router on that place. Also there are many router that project the signals downward, that's why its good to place your router at some height, like a bookshelf etc.
One other advantage of placing your router in the middle of your house is that it would reduce its chances to be effected by other routers in the neighbour hood. This is very plus point, especially if you have a router which only works on 2.4GHz Band.
Place your appliances like cordless phones, microwaves away from your router.
Apart from doing other stuff, here are some of the DIY techniques you can do, in order to to boost your wifi signal range.
It's probably one of the easiest DIY to boost your WiFi signal. All you're going to require is an Aluminium foil. Take a large piece of aluminium foil and fold it in half. Curve both sides of this foil to make a parabolic shape. Now place this foil behind you router.
This method works the same way as the above one but here's one major difference. Instead of acting directly on your router, we use a WiFi Dongle. Here are some of the tools to pull off this trick:
First, you need to make a hole in your metal sieve. The hold should be large enough for a USB cord to pass through. Stick one end of the USB cord at the hole. To make sure that that end don't pop out of hole, use a hot glue gun. Now, connect the USB dongle to the other end of extension cord.
If you are still confused, then watch this video.
For this trick, you'll need:
What we're going to do is, to wrap the top side of the plastic bowl with aluminium foil. Then we'll place the USB WiFi dongle/adapter above that bowl an connect it to a USB cable. To make that dongle stay in the bowl, you can use some tape.
Here the steps you need to follow:
Poor WiFi security can also lead to poor WiFi signal speed. It's because any one can potentially sneak into your network and use your internet connection.
This technique is a bit controversial and can act as a dual-edged sword. First, we'll discuss it's advantage. The advantage is that a typical user who hasn't been part of your network ever, won't see your network on his/her device until he/she writes your network's name. To achieve that, you need to unable "enable SSID broadcast" or something like that in your network settings.
Now here are cons. There are softwares available that can detect these networks with hidden names. And if this happens, a hacker might try to hack your network only due to sheer curiosity.
Encryption is very important for a WiFi network. Otherwise your network would be like an open Ethernet cable on which anyone can connect to your network. ANYONE. There are different types of encryption modes for a WiFi network.
For more info head over to this WiFi Security guide by How-To-Geek.
A software firewall is a defense-mechanism against malicious software installed in your computer. You probably don't know that but there's a hardware firewall installed in your router too. That firewall can protect you from hackers but unintentionally most people just don't turn it on.
In order to turn it on, you simply need to log into your admin dashboard of your router. Usually it's 192.168.1.1 . Then look for something like "Firewall" written in your settings area. Then all you need to do is to turn it on and apply those changes. For best practices of network firewall, go to this article. Apart from this, we have our own firewalls 101 for you.
Consider a VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a tunnel between your device and any internet website. VPN helps you to bypass regional restrictions over certain sites as well as staying secure at public WiFi hotspots.
When you visit a site/app after enabling a VPN service (after buying it), the data between your device and that site goes to and from the VPN service's server. Usually that VPN server is placed in remote locations such as UK, Germany, Hong Kong etc. To know more about these VPNs, read this article by Ian Paul about VPNs.
Using a VPN generally slows down your internet speed, but that's nothing in comparison to an almost foolproof security.
This feature is usually disabled in some routers by default. Enabling it means that you can access your router's web admin panel using internet, even if you're not connected to your home network. While it sounds good to access your network settings on the go, this might give hackers a chance, a very little chance, to get into your network. Apart from this, you may have heard about the principle of least privileges.
Disabling remote access would prevent any device, which is not connected to your network, to access your router's private settings.
Rebooting router might seem like a very little tweak but believe me, it's not. Think of your router like any other device e.g: Smartphone, which needs to be restarted once a day in order to stay fresh.
The default firmware of a router doesn't usually allows too much features in it. A god option in that scenario is to replace that firmware with the linux-powered DD-WRT firmware.You can read this guide to install the DD-WRT, but for the sack of this article, here are some of the important steps.
First you need to go to this supported routers' list for DD-WRT. Many routers support DDWRT but on some routers, there are compatibility issues, and they don't support any open-source firmware.
Now you've got the firmware but to make sure that this is correct firmware and it works too (so that you don't brick your router) you need to do a bit of a research. You can ask the community at DD-WRT.com or click on Wiki link against your router name, like you see in the above image. More you research, more assured you will be.
Now it's time for proper installation. First, you need to disconnect your router from all devices including power supply and reset it. After resetting, connect your router with your PC. Now here's the tricky part. Actually, installing DD-WRT varies from one router to another.
Most common techniques is to simply go to your web admin panel and install like it's a firmware update. But in some routers that might result in a hardware damage. That's why make sure that you've researched properly. After installing this firmware, you need to perform a 30-30-30 cycle.
First, while your router is plugged in, hold down the reset button for 30 seconds. While holding it, unplug your router and continue to press that button for 30 seconds more. After these 30 seconds, plug the router back and continue to press your reset button until you have passed another 30 second since you connected back your router. Whoa, you've completed this process.
This cycle is necessary in order to make sure there's no garbage in your router's NVram. After this, you're good to go and enjoy DD-WRT features such as Built-in DNS, VPN pass-through capability and Advance QoS etc.
Note: DD-WRT is just one of the many open-source firmwares you can install on your router. Tomato firmware is another good firmware you can opt for. Although it has less advanced features than DD-WRT, it's also more newbie-friendly.
This technique has less to do with WiFi security and more to do with WiFi signal boosting.
If your router supports external antennas, then it would be a good idea to upgrade your antennas. Antennas come in both Omni-directional and unidirectional types. Since most of built-in antennas are Omni-directional and you're probably facing WiFi connectivity in one area of your house, it's better to go for a unidirectional antenna.
Imagine you're going through a very important call over Skype and WiFi speed goes terrible.
Reason: Some other person in your house is playing random, nonsense YouTube videos in HD. Fortunately here's a thing called QoS (Quality of Serives). Using QoS, you can prioritize different apps over another apps. To know the full potential of QoS, make sure to read this guide.
Your router's firmware is just like another software program. And a typical software program can contain a lot of bugs. Some bugs can be present in your router's firmware. That's where firmware come into rescue. Most router vendors regularly release firmware updates to remove any software bug that is causing problems. That's why you need to update your firmware regularly because many times an outdated firmware can be the culprit behind your slow WiFi.
In order to manually download a firmware update, first you need to go to manufacturer's website. Then go to downloads or support section and enter your router's model number. After this, a download link will appear, and your file will be downloaded on your desktop.
Now it's time to log into your router's web interface. Go into the firmware upgrade option. Then you'll have to locate a browse button to the area where you have placed your file. Once you've that area, simply click on that file and click on upgrade firmware or something like that. You're go to go.
In order to have a protected WiFi network, you must set a strong and unique password. Many routers have an easy, default password that many people don't bother to change. This laziness can prove to be very lethal. So You need to set your own password.
But here's another twist in the tale.
People who change their default routers passwords, most of them set a very weak password. Read this article by Darlene Storm and you would be astonished to know that "123456" is still one of the most common passwords in this planet. Many experts recommend that your password would be at least 20 characters long having numbers, alphabet and various other symbols.
Since most of the devices around us use 2.4GHz and that WiFi Band has only 14 channels to choose from. Channel 1, 6 and 11 are often considered the best channels because they are the least interfered channels. So it would be natural choice to connect to the these channels, right?
It's because most manufacturers send their routers in the market with one of these three as their by-default channel. Now this thing is so overused that channel 1, 6 and 11 are probably the most populated WiFi channels. That's why you may need to change your WiFi Channel in order to have good connection.
First you need to know which WiFi channel your neighbors are using. Don't worry, you don't need to ask them personally. There are many utilities such as this one by Nirsoft. This will tell you about all of the WiFi Networks within your range.
Now that you know what are the channels your neighbor routers are using you simply need to select the least crowded WiFi channel. Let's take a look at how to do that.
First, we need to go to your router's web interface. If you don't know what it is, simply type 'ipconfig' into your cmd and search for the number against 'Default Gateway'.
Now that you've known your router's admin panel, you simply need to go to Settings > Wireless Settings and then change the field against Standard Channel.
If there's one device most overlook while finding a weak-link in their WiFi network, it's their cable modem. In simple words, a cable modem is a device that translates the signals coming from internet cable into digital signals. These digital signals are the ones that can be understood by your router.
So how a cable modem can be responsible for your WiFi?
Well, most people use their ISP-rented cable modem which, in my most cases, is very outdated when compared to market standards. Not to forget about the monthly rent you have to pay for that outdated modem, approximately $5 per month but can be more than that. In case you want to buy your own modem, our buying guide for best cable modems is a good place to start your search.
DIYs are good if everyone had a 48-hour day. But the truth is, most of people nowadays are quite busy and they don't want to apparently "waste" their time in DIYs. For those Lazy asses, here's a shortcut; go for a WiFi extender.
A wireless extender is a device that receives WiFi signals and rebroadcast them. This way they can extend your signal, but this extension has little problem. This extension is at the the expense of signal speed. In simple terms, you'll get a long range abut have a relatively weak signal. For most optimum results you need to put your extender in halfway between your router and a deadspot in your place.
If WiFi signal is something you care a lot, then you should buy a WiFi extender.
The concept of powerline adapters is different but not entirely new. Powerline adapters use the existing electric wiring of your house to extend your wireless network.
Make a powerline connection is very simple. All you need is a powerline kit which consists of 2 powerline adapters and 2 Ethernet wires. Now, plug one powerline adapter into a power socket near your router and connect it to your router via an Ethernet cable.
Now go in a far-away room of your house. Plug the second powerline adapter into a socket and connect it with any other device in the room such as your Smart TV, gaming console etc, via the other Ethernet cable. That's it. No need to install any driver or something like that.
One big advantage of powerline adapters is that they don't demand any more hardware infrastructure other than your existing electric lines. As you've seen, there're also very easy to install. Unlike WiFi Extenders, signal strength using powerline adapters remains pretty much the same, that's why they provide better internet speed.
Now here comes some of its cons. Powerlines adapters cost more than typical WiFi extenders. Since they have a lot to do with your electric wiring, an iffy electric wiring can bring you troubles. Go here to know more about powerline adapters.
So now you have tried DIY, have bought WiFi extenders/ powerline adapters but all those things didn't boost your signal. Well, there is one more solution to this problem and it's probably more efficient than the previous two methods. All you need to do is to connect one more router to your WiFi network. After all, two routers are better than one.
This is especially true, if you currently have an old router. Then you can buy a new router and make that as your primary router and the old router as the secondary one.
Connecting one with another and integrating that secondary router in your network generally consists of these steps.
Note: If some routers, you won't get any 'End IP address' in DHCP settings. Instead there will be a 'number of addresses' field which will have an integral value like, say, 50. In that case you'll add that number with the last number of the Ip address in the 'starting address' field. For example. 192.168.0.1 means the end IP address will be 192.168.0.51
Imagine that you have a 4500+ Sq Ft house. In order to remove all of the deadspots in such a large house would involve at lest 3 to 4 routers. Connecting all these routers with one another isn't easy at all. You can probably mess up all those IP addresses
At least, it would require you to take basic computer networking classes, LOL.
One easy, less time-consuming alternative is switching to a mesh network. Technically, a mesh network consists of a router, many of them actually. All of these routers are called Nodes. Each of these nodes connects to the internet via your modem.
In mesh networking, each node is connected and communicates with each other. This forms a strong coverage on all over your house.
Expensive. Most mesh networking kits cost more than 350 bucks.
Probably not worth it if you don't a large, weird-shaped house.
That's it. The ultimate guide for improving for home WiFi signal. I hope you found it interesting. Feel free to ask any questions you have. Remember, improving internet connection across you house is more of a trial-and-error method, rather than a one-time fix. So don't be afraid to test different techniques discuss in this post and let me know your experience.
Muhammad Asfand Yar, or Asfand as his friends call, is Author cum Owner of List Enthusiast. Blogging is his old new-found love. He writes to boost his Knowledge - and yours too. He usually remains in front of computer screen - even when he isn't writing any Blog post - doing computer programming. C++ is his passion. Catch him on twitter @asfandyar12.