“Wireless” and “WiFi” connections have become more and more important over the last decade. Ethernet cables are no longer needed for those who want to connect their computers or other devices to the internet. Home phones are almost a novelty item with the advent of smart phones. Gamers now have wireless controllers and mice. Headphones and earbuds no longer need to be tethered to their smart phone or tablet. Of course, this new way of connecting comes with its own set of issues.
While many of our devices no longer need to be tethered in one way or another, which is certainly more convenient than running a wired network, this means we now have to consider how strong the wireless network is in our home. Years ago the best place to put a router was determined by how difficult and unsightly it would be to run Ethernet cable to your computer and the other devices that needed to be connected. Today the determining factor is where you will get the best WiFi reception throughout the home. The set-up is certainly much easier, but with the ease of wireless connections come some challenges. Poor reception, long distances, and interference are just some of the factors that can affect the WiFi signal. So, if you are having a poor experience on your WiFi connection and have completed the tried and true first attempt to resolve a connection issue – unplugging the router for a minute and then plugging it back in – here are some tips for getting the best signal possible.
One of the causes of a poor WiFi connection is signal interference. This can come from other nearby WiFi routers, other electronic devices in the home that have radios, or even appliances that generate signal noise from electric motors or their overall operation. This type of interference will normally not prevent you from connecting, unless there is heavy interference, but it can cause a slow connection and intermittent drops. If your router is placed too close to a microwave oven, a TV, a refrigerator, a hair dryer, cordless phone or a baby monitor, this can impact your WiFi signal. Also, signal leaking in from a neighbor’s WiFi router can interfere with your signal, especially if you live in an apartment.
While you can’t turn off your neighbor’s router, you can try switching to 5 Ghz if your router supports that. The 5 GHz band is often less crowded because there are more channels and less radios that support it. Also, 5 Ghz signals travel less far, so that band is less prone to interference from other nearby radios. On the 2.4 GHz band you can log into your router’s settings and change the router’s WiFi channel to see if there is an improvement in your WiFi service. You should choose between channels 1, 6, and 11. There are other channels available in the 2.4 GHz band, but those three are the only ones that do not overlap, which will reduce interference from adjacent channels. You don’t need to guess, either. There are WiFi analyzer apps available that will show you what other WiFi access points are transmitting nearby, what channel they are on, and their signal strength. This will help you determine the best channel to set your router to in order to avoid interference from other nearby radios.
Another reason you may be having issues is the physical location of your router. If you have your router set up somewhere out of the way, such as in a back room, a closet, an attic, or the basement, you may experience signal strength issues. Cabinet doors, walls and floors can all affect the strength of the signal received throughout the home. Keeping your router out in the open and in a more centralized location is one way to ensure that a stronger signal can be received throughout your home. If you purchased and installed your own wireless router, you should consider where it is located in order to reach most areas of your home.
There are other factors that may have determined where your modem was originally placed, such as the type of internet connection you have and where that connection enters your home. If your router was put in by your ISP, hopefully the installer placed it in a good location for maximum range. But, it’s possible they chose the location based on where the broadband connection comes into your home, even if that is in a back bedroom on the far end of the house.
Signal quality also decreases with distance. If you’re outside on your deck or in your driveway and having trouble loading web pages, then distance may be the issue. If you intend to be outside often while connected, you can try placing your router closer to where you will be spending time outside to improve the received signal quality there, as long as that does not significantly impact the signal in other areas of your home where you also need to connect reliably. Another option, if you have an older router, is to consider upgrading to a router with better range. Finally, you can also consider a second router or a wireless repeater. A second router can be connected and moved to where it’s needed and will have its own wireless network, while also allowing the original router or modem/router to stay in its original location. A wireless repeater functions more as an extender of your signal, receiving the signal and redistributing it. Both choices have their pros and cons, so research your needs and choose at your own discretion.
If your internet connection is slow, there’s a chance that the issue is congestion on your WiFi network. One way to test if the issue is your wireless network is by trying a connection using an ethernet cable direct to the router. If your connection speed is normal while hardwired and slow while connecting wirelessly close to the router, then the issue is indeed with your in-home network. In that case, your problem may be too little available bandwidth. Check to see what other devices are using the network at that time. You may find that there are several family members streaming video or downloading files. Is it possible that neighbors could be sharing your connection? If you (or your kids) ever let a nearby neighbor share your WiFi, they could still be connecting to your network. If your router supports it, setting up a second SSID just for guest access is a good idea. This can be turned off or the passcode changed from time to time without impacting your primary network. And, that will keep guests from being able to access other devices on your primary network, like printers, NAS drives, and shared files.
Sometimes, when all else fails with your wireless troubleshooting, you can attempt a factory reset or a “hard reset” on your router or modem/router combo device. This usually involves pressing a small pinhole button located on the router. If you have trouble locating it, refer to the owner’s manual or check online for a diagram of your device’s model. Remember that if you do need to reset your modem, you will in most cases lose settings that are saved such as custom WiFi names and passwords, as well as any port forwarding settings you may have put in for things like online gaming. So, back up your router settings regularly, especially before doing a reset.
If none of these tips resolve your WiFi trouble, you may want to consider a replacement router or contacting your ISP if the issue is with the equipment they provided. Wireless issues are more frequent lately due to the number of wireless signals out there, but with some thinking and a little determination, they only need to be temporary.