The number of WiFi enabled devices in the average home is steadily and rapidly growing, and with it, the levels of interference and burden on your home network.
If you’re frustrated with slow WiFi speeds, suffering from dead spots around the house, or dealing with connections that frequently drop when trying to upload family photos to Digital Asset Management software, you’ve probably been told to simply upgrade your hardware. While it is often a quick and easy solution – it certainly isn’t a cheap one – and you may be able to gain more from your current hardware before shelling out for the latest technology. The following are some tips and tricks to enhance your home network without breaking the bank.
Your WiFi network transmits data using radio waves which are subject to sources of obstruction and interference. Accordingly, your first step to optimizing your network connection is to ensure that your router is positioned optimally.
While radio waves will of course travel through solid objects, they lose much of their signal strength in doing so, and this is particularly true when passing through high-density materials like metal, concrete or plaster. As such, position your device to minimize obstructions between it and the devices to which you connect it. Often, if you connect to a multitude of devices around the home, it will be optimal to place it somewhere central to ensure there are no dead spots that can’t receive a signal.
Additionally, an important consideration when positioning your router for maximum effectiveness is its elevation. Radio waves do not spread well vertically, so placing your router on the floor will translate into a poor signal. Instead, try to place the router in an elevated position so that connected devices are below or in a lateral position to the router.
If your router has external antennae, you’ll want to ensure they’re positioned appropriately too. Positioning an antenna vertically will increase signal transmission horizontally across a single floor in your home, while placing the antenna horizontally will maximize vertical transmission up and down between floors.
While experimentation is key here – a commonly recommended arrangement for devices with three antennae is to position the center antenna vertically with each of the side antennae at a 45-degree angle to maximize coverage.
If in spite of these optimisations you still need to squeeze a little more range out of your router – and you don’t mind a little DIY – there are some homemade solutions which can accomplish just that.
While there are a number of quick fixes you can try involving items like used soda bottles, tin cans or food strainers, the fastest and easiest involves simply cutting yourself a rectangular piece of aluminium foil, bending it into a curve and placing it behind your router antennae. Doing so will reflect the wireless signals in the direction you desire and, hopefully, increase your signal strength.
Radio Band and WiFi channels
Conversely, if your issues lie more with bandwidth and signal quality than the actual range of your home WiFi network, there are several adjustments you can make which could have a positive impact on your reception and throughput – provided you’re comfortable accessing and altering your router settings.
WiFi routers can transmit via a number of different channels similar to a radio. However, if neighboring devices are operating on the same or bordering channels, this can cause interference and degrade signal quality. While you can simply experiment by changing your router’s WiFi channel to find the one with the least traffic, a quicker and easier method is to use one of the many free “WiFi analyzer” applications on your PC or mobile device to visualize your local WiFi signals and help you identify the least used channels.
Furthermore, if your devices support it, try using the 5GHz radio band for higher throughput. In contrast to the 2.4GHz band which is utilized by a lot of different devices like microwaves, Bluetooth headsets, and wireless microphones as well as other WiFi networks, the 5GHz band has a much smaller variety of devices operating on it. In addition to having fewer devices to interfere with your signal, the 5GHz band also has more channels to choose from as well as being higher bandwidth and capable of significantly faster data transfer than the 2.4GHz band. Unfortunately, this comes with some downsides – the 5GHz band has more trouble penetrating objects than 2.4GHz, and as such has less range.
Possibly one of the quickest and easiest ways to ensure your router is performing its best is to keep its firmware up to date. Checking the website of your router’s manufacturer regularly can grant a quick and free solution to your WiFi issues, as well as providing you with security fixes.
Note, however, that it is important to take care not to interrupt your router during a firmware update as this could potentially damage it.