How to Boost Your Wi-Fi Signal: Increase Your Wi-Fi Speed
It’s frustrating to run a speed test and discover that you’re only getting half the internet speeds advertised for your broadband plan. Luckily, optimizing your Wi-Fi network for faster speeds isn’t rocket science. All it takes is a basic understanding of how your network operates. In most cases, you can boost your speeds significantly for little or no extra money. Here, we break down the basics of how your Wi-Fi network operates and walk through some steps you can take to boost your internet speeds.
How to Increase Wi-Fi Speed: Boosting vs Segregating Your Network
Methods of increasing your Wi-Fi network fall into two categories:
- Signal boosting: Changing the physical position of network points, and/or physically boosting or augmenting the signal with antennas or repeaters
- Signal segregating: Dividing your bandwidth between devices by manipulating the frequencies and channels available to your devices
Signal Boosting Strategies
1. Optimize Router Placement
The first consideration for boosting your Wi-Fi signal is the physical placement of your Wi-Fi router or gateway. Because the Wi-Fi signal radiates out from your router’s antenna in a spherical direction, the best place to put it is the direct center of your house. Even if positioning the router centrally isn’t an option, it’s important that the router isn’t on the floor, in a closet, in a corner, or directly next to any thick solid barriers. Concrete, brick, and stone are all very difficult for Wi-Fi signals to penetrate.
The ideal placement for a router is often in the middle of the ceiling, but anywhere elevated like a desk or shelf should work well. If optimal positioning and environmental barriers prove to be an issue, skip down to the section about powerline adapters and repeaters, which can help boost the signal in specific areas.
2. Boost Router Antenna
The appearance of routers varies widely from brand to brand, but the concept is always the same: a box with one or more antennas on top. The antenna is the broadcast point of your residential Wi-Fi network, sending the signal out in all directions in a spherical shape; that’s where the expression “Wi-Fi bubble” comes from. Most modern routers are compatible with external antennas designed to boost the range of your Wi-Fi network.
External antennas come in two flavors: omnidirectional and directional. Their signals are measured by dBi (decibel isotropic), with higher dBi corresponding to a greater range boost. Omnidirectional antennas boost the signal in all directions and are effective in situations where the signal is generally weak on the edges of the bubble. Directional antennas boost the signal in a single direction, useful for oddly-shaped buildings or if your router can’t be centrally located.
3. Update Router Firmware
Note: Always update firmware via an ethernet cable. Updating router firmware over Wi-Fi can damage the device.
Firmware is the software that runs on your router, sort of like an Operating System (OS). Similar to OS updates, firmware updates make small fixes to improve security and performance. Each update may not result in noticeable changes, but keeping your firmware up to date will maximize data security. Newer, more advanced routers should have information about how to update your firmware through the network admin panel, allowing you to check for updates and upgrade with just a few clicks. Older routers may require you to manually install updates via checking the website or downloading a ZIP file.
Because the process for determining what firmware you have and what updates are available varies by manufacturer, be sure to follow the manufacturer guidelines for performing updates. Advanced users can also consider installing alternative firmware. Third-party options like DD-WRT, Tomato, and OpenWrt provide extra security and advanced features like real-time network monitoring.
4. Powerline Adapters
Powerline adapters allow you to use your existing electrical wiring as a data network. While they don’t technically optimize your wireless network, they can take a load off your bandwidth by effectively wiring devices that otherwise would be struggling to get by on a weak signal. They’re a great solution for desktop devices like TVs and computers that you might normally hook up to an ethernet cable — but instead of dragging a cable all the way across your house to the TV den, you can hook the devices through electric sockets in either room.
Another nice thing about powerline adapters is that they don’t require much technical know-how to set up. All you have to do is plug one in by your router via ethernet cable, then plug another one in at the target device, connecting it via a second ethernet cable. The powerline devices connect through your electrical wiring automatically, and the speeds delivered can get pretty darn close to a gigabit.
Pro Tip: Make sure the outlets you hook your powerline adapters to are on the same side of your circuit breaker for optimal performance.
Also called repeaters, extenders are devices that pick up and amplify your Wi-Fi signal. The difficulty with extenders is that the signal they’re boosting is already diminished, often providing limited speeds by the time the boosted signal reaches your far-flung devices.
A powerline-enabled system and/or additional routers will generally provide better results than extenders, but extenders can work in a pinch if you’re looking for a quick fix to a specific area.
6. Upgrade Your Router
If you’re using an old router, sometimes the simplest solution is to replace it with a new model. High-end routers with beamforming, the ability to direct its signal to specific devices, can automatically concentrate the signal to work around problems that may require hours of tinkering in older routers. Although it’s not yet widely required, investing in a more advanced router may save you from having to do so later down the line if you have or plan to purchase a new laptop or smartphone that supports Wi-Fi 6, the latest standard for wireless connection.
Signal Segregating Strategies
For signal segregating strategies, it’s important to understand the basics of how your router functions. Wi-Fi routers function just like cordless phones, baby monitors, Bluetooth, and any other wireless connection between two or more devices. Your router is the “base,” broadcasting the Wi-Fi signal; your laptop, phone, or tablet is the “receiver,” which picks up that signal.
Just like Bluetooth, Wi-Fi only works on a device that has an embedded Wi-Fi chip. Virtually all laptops, smartphones, and other consumer digital devices come with Wi-Fi chips.
Routers broadcast over a variety of wavelengths and channels, and the channels available to your network are determined by the Wi-Fi standard your router and devices support.
The Wi-Fi standards change from year to year. The common standards you’ll see on the market (or printed on your router) are:
- 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6)
- 802.11ac (Wi-Fi 5)
- 802.11n (Wi-Fi 4)
The newest Wi-Fi standard, 802.11ax, more commonly referred to as Wi-Fi 6, is exceedingly fast and is considered to be a revolution in the world of Wi-Fi. If your router doesn’t have any of the above standards printed on it, you may have an extremely outdated router that is slowing down your internet.
If you run anything older than Wi-Fi 5, your router is most likely the reason your internet is slow. If you want to speed up your internet, consider upgrading to a new Wi-Fi 6 router.
Pro Tip: Your ISP will upgrade your equipment at no extra cost if you rent your ISP’s modem and/or router.
1. Choose the Optimal Wi-Fi Channel to Increase Your Wi-Fi Speed
For most routers, changing the channel is as easy as navigating to the router’s IP address in your browser and selecting a new channel from the dropdown.
Note: Think of Wi-Fi channels as highway lanes. When one lane is congested, you switch to another to try to bypass the traffic. The same applies to Wi-Fi channels.
Simply type in the IP the same way you would a dot-com website address. The IP should be available from your router’s manufacturer, and the most common are:
- D-Link: 192.168.0.1
- Netgear, Linksys: 192.168.1.1
- Clear: 192.168.15.1
- Apple: 10.0.1.1
2. Segregate Older and Newer Devices
Because Wi-Fi is a broadcast medium, home Wi-Fi networks are limited by the slowest device connected to a network. An 802.11g device will slow down an 802.11ac network, so long as all the devices are being used at the same time – regardless of Wi-Fi standard. The solution: 802.11n and 803.11ac routers both offer the ability to segregate your devices between two networks, called “dual-band,” running newer devices on the more advanced 5 GHz Wi-Fi band and older devices on the more dated 2.4 GHz band. Slower devices still receive their fair share of bandwidth, while the faster devices can take advantage of a less congested 5 GHz network.
Using the 5 GHz band for your newer devices has the added advantage of avoiding the trouble with channel congestion common in apartment buildings and other densely populated areas. While the 2.4 GHz band only has 14 channels, the 5 GHz band gives your devices room to spread out over 24 channels and is on a different frequency than the competing signals from baby monitors, microwaves, and etc. that can interfere with 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi networks.
The only notable disadvantage to 5 GHz networks is that they have a limited range compared to 2.4 GHz, making them less ideal for irregularly shaped spaces where thick walls and other obstacles can block the signal.
QoS (Quality of Service) is a router feature that gives you control of how bandwidth is shared among your household’s devices. QoS comes in two flavors:
- Traditional QoS: Allows you to prioritize traffic types manually
- Intelligent QoS: Prioritizes traffic automatically
With both, the concept is that you can reduce latency and network clutter by prioritizing streaming and other latency-sensitive data. For intelligent QoS, the term to look out for on router packaging is WWM, the Wi-Fi Multimedia standard.
Optimizing Wi-Fi Networks Requires Work, But It’s Worth It
The Wi-Fi standard is constantly evolving, but the goal of network optimization will remain the same: avoid obstacles and allocate bandwidth for specific devices. Your home internet network is like a pie, with each device on your network requiring a slice. A cutting-edge 802.11ac beamforming router may do some heavy lifting, but getting the most out of your Wi-Fi network comes down to your router placement and, if possible, how you prioritize your data.