It’s all about breaking down the walls
Seriously, is your Wifi signal bad? Do you have issues streaming a movie in one room and trying to download the latest apps in another? There are several different things that can play into the WiFi signal in your house. Some of the things are out of your control but can be mitigated, while others are an easy fix. Let’s look at a few cases.
It’s a radio, ride the waves
WiFi works by sending network traffic over the air. Your WiFi router is a radio wave emitting device and just like any transmitter it is subject to the same limitations as any other. Some of you may remember cordless phones, if you got to far from the base station the signal would drop out. Same thing. Or if you are too far from the nearest cell tower, your signal drops off. Have you ever driven out of town and your favorite radio station starts to fade and get staticy? These are all examples of what your WiFi router is trying to deal with, only it’s transmitter is not that strong.
I could spend a couple of pages explaining about radio wave propagation and the effects of different materials on the strength of the signal and how it is received. I won’t bother you with that today. That would move us well into super nerd territory.
Location, location, location
This is the easiest fix you can apply. I would hazard to say, most of the cable internet installations in your house will allow you to hook your cable modem into any cable jack in the house. This means you can put the modem closer to where most of your WiFi dependent devices are located (with the router of course) this make sense, since the closer the receiver is to the transmitter, the stronger the signal. Also putting the wireless router up a little high can help get the signal out better. For an example, go outside on a dark night and look towards the highest point in town. I bet you see a bunch of red blinking lights. Those are the warning beacons on the antenna used by your local TV and radio stations. They want their transmitters to have the best “view” of the surrounding area in order to get the signal out.
You also do not want a lot of walls between your WiFi router and the devices that need to get the signal, this will just degrade your performance.
What about dual band?
With the recent explosion of WiFi routers, meaning more routers, not that they are exploding. There is a lot more demand for the limited channels that your router can broadcast on. The primary frequency of most WiFi routers in 2.4Ghz, and of that frequency it is broken into channels, just like your TV channels in your town. So it’s crowded out there. Your router, your neighbor’s router, are all fighting for the same space. Newer routers can now handle dual band broadcasting. 2.4Ghz and the new 5Ghz band. 5Ghz has a stronger signal, nearby, it doesn’t travel as far. Also since it not as popular yet, it is not as crowded. The best way to open this up is to go into your router’s settings and name both bands the same and set the same password. Your router will look at the incoming traffic and will select the best channel for your requests. This ensures you will have the best possible signal and speed to your device.
Okay, so I relocated the router and turned on dual band
Now things get a little trickier. It starts to come down to demand. If you have several devices requesting signal from your router, it is going to slow down since the router can technically only serve one request at a time. It does this really really really fast but still, it is a limitation. One thing you can do is provide a wired connection to the devices that 1. Are close to the router and 2. Don’t move. Devices like your smart TV, Game Console and other connected media devices are the best candidates for this. I for one, have my cable modem and WiFi router, in my case they are the same device, located in the nook behind my TV. This allows me to provide a wired connection, which is faster, to my smart TV and to my Blu-Ray player. This reduces the demand for the WiFi signal since the TV can now stream on it’s own dedicated connection. This leaves more bandwidth for the other internet devices, laptops, tablets, phones, other TVs etc. Every little bit helps when you are working with a narrow amount of signal.
I tried all that and my internet is still slow
The last thing is the internet signal into your house. You can have the fastest router, the best location and everything optimized, but if the source of the internet is weak, there is not much you can do. There are a couple of speed tests online, just Google “speed test” a different times during the day and compare your download speed to what your cable company says you should be getting. Keep in mind, that cable internet is actually a shared resource. Everyone in your neighborhood is on the same pipe into and out of your local area. So if all your neighbors are binge watching “House of Cards” your internet signal will suffer as well. You will see longer load times and more buffering. There is not much you can do about this part. If your speeds are constantly below what you are paying for, call your provider and have them come check the line. There might be something else going on.
There are somethings you can do to make your internet life a little better. Some of them are pretty easy and don’t require a lot of technical know how. Don’t be worried about trying something new, Google is your friend. About every major router brand has tips and how-to’s on their websites or YouTube. Changing the setting is easy, once you know how. It’s also a good idea to while you are in there, to make sure you have a password on your WiFi, to keep your neighbors from “borrowing” your signal.
What tips and tricks have worked for you? Share them in the comments.