How To Improve Your Wi-Fi

Dodgy Wi-Fi is the bane of human existence (or close to anyway), and even worse when it’s at home. There always seems to be a black spot (hint, it’s on the toilet, or in bed), or random hard to pin down interference that causes Netflix to buffer. Fortunately, there are a bunch of easy ways to diagnose and improve your Wi-Fi woes.

Wi-Fi seems simple, but the way it can interact with other radio waves, electronic devices and walls can be really weird and counterintuitive.

Worse, as we cram more and more Wi-Fi devices into our houses, things get a little crowded and other interference issues raise their heads.

Handily, your smartphone or laptop can be used to diagnose a range of Wi-Fi issues with a few free apps. There are also router tweaks that can help, but sometimes you just need to start from scratch.

Wi-Fi Channels

Wireless networks have a limited chunk of spectrum to play with, and split that into a limited number of channels.

By default devices should try and connect to the a channel that is not in use, but that doesn’t always happen.

As more and more devices try and use the channels, they start to fill up. Worse, the channels overlap slightly, and eventually you can get interference issues.

It’s not usually not an issue at short range, but being on a congested channel can reduce transfer speeds, and cause dropouts when further away from the router.

The solution is to manually scan for congestion, then set your devices to use the best channels.

First, download the app WiFi Analyzer, available for Android and Windows. For iOS users, try Network Analyzer.

Running the app will give a graphical representation of the channels currently in use, and depending on the app, give a recommendation on which one to use.

When scanning, it’s important to do so in different areas around the house, especially where there is any interference. For example, your neighbours many Wi-Fi devices might be causes issues in one room of your apartment, but not another.

The next step is to change the channels – though the process varies depending on device. Delve into the manual, or search online for instructions.

Heat Mapping

It can be hard to visualise where exactly your Wi-Fi signal travels, as it can be absorbed or reflected by all sorts of materials.

The best way to get a better idea of exactly where your problem areas are is to create a heat map.

Free software is available for smartphone or laptop, which can scan and record your Wi-Fi strength, and compile it into an overall map.

A smartphone is the easiest option, but the more sensitive antenna in a laptop can give a more accurate map.

One of the best apps for smartphone is Telstra’s WiFi Maximiser on Android or iOS. Check out Cam from Gizmodo’s write up of the app from back when it was first released.

For laptop users, try Ekauhau HeatMapper or NetSpot.

The app needs a floorplan to overlay the WiFi signal strength map on. This can be created online using a floor planner such as RoomSketcher.

Keep in mind the floor plan does not have to be super accurate – it’s fine to just hand draw one, then snap a picture of it to use.

Next you locate the router on the floorplan, then perform scans at as many different locations around the house as possible. More scans improves the accuracy, especially near problem areas.

Once you have a baseline map, the next step is to make changes to your wireless setup, then compare the signal strength. You don’t need to create a whole new heatmap – just redo the areas with problems.

If possible, try moving the router to a more central location. If not possible, changing the antenna angles can help. For example, having antennas pointing straight up is generally best, but sometimes positioning one or both horizontally helps.

You can also buy larger aftermarket antennas, which can improve signal strength.

Another options is to install a Wi-Fi repeater. These days they are pretty cheap, and can help remove any black spots. For best effect, try and position them slightly outside the black zone itself, not in it.

Dealing With Interference

Wi-Fi can be affected by other sources of interference, such poorly shielded microwave ovens.

Loads of devices communicate on the same frequency as Wi-Fi, such as cordless phones, IP Cameras and baby monitors.

Your own Wi-Fi signal can even create interference if reflecting off metal objects.

One potential solution is to switch to a 5GHz network. For now, the 5GHz frequency is not as congested as 2.4GHz and can offer relief.

The downside is that 5GHz generally has a shorter range, and can be more easily absorbed by internal walls.

What are your Wi-Fi improving tips? Tell us in the comments.

The Cheapest NBN 50 Plans

Here are the cheapest plans available for Australia’s most popular NBN speed tier.

At Lifehacker, we independently select and write about stuff we love and think you'll like too. We have affiliate and advertising partnerships, which means we may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. BTW – prices are accurate and items in stock at the time of posting.