WiFi is one of the most important developments in the evolution of the internet — no one wants to be chained to a desktop — but it's also one of the most frustrating. If you're plagued by slow speeds, bad reception, and other WiFi issues, here are 10 ways you can power up the WiFi in your home.
#10 Use the Latest Wi-Fi Technologies
One of the best ways to make sure your network is as fast and reliable as possible is to use up-to-date hardware. We've gone through the basics of router hardware before, so check out the first lesson of our networking Night School for the full lowdown. The main thing you need to know: Wireless A, B, G, and N are older wireless standards, with wireless AC being the most current offering.
If you're streaming more and more HD video to devices like Chromecasts or smartphones, having a wireless AC connection will alleviate video stuttering or buffering thanks to its ability to move more data at a faster rate than the older N standard. Its successor, AX, isn't due out until 2019, so you won't have to worry about updating your wireless tech for a while if you're already caught up. Note that you'll need both a wireless AC router and a device, networking card, or USB dongle with wireless AC support in your computer if you want the full speed boost. With more smart devices like light bulbs and switches scattered throughout the house, a strong WiFi signal that can propagate throughout your home is essential. But if you've only got one crappy router, and don't feel like learning how to convert your second one into a repeater, consider purchasing a wireless mesh network system.
Companies like Luma, Eero, and even Google have released mesh network routers, smaller routers you place throughout your home to blanket it in WiFi. They usually operate with one functioning as the base station while the others are plugged in at various points throughout the home. They all feature an easy setup process through a smartphone application that let you monitor nearly everything going on inside your network, including sites visited and devices connected to your setup.
#9 Find the Perfect Spot for Your Router
Routers may be ugly, but that doesn't mean you should hide them behind the TV cabinet. If you want the best signal, you'll need it out in the open, free of any walls and obstructions. If your router's optimal location is a space without a table or flat surface, check to see if you can wall mount it either using its pre-installed mounting holes or a third-party mounting bracket. Point the antennas perpendicularly, and elevate the router if you can (one reader found that his attic was the perfect spot). Lastly, make sure it's in the center of your house, so you have the best coverage possible throughout your home.
Routers are often confined to particular locations based on where your Internet connection enters your home and connects to your modem. You can alleviate the issue with some longer Ethernet cables and a few cable clips to hold your cable against the wall and out of the way.
#8 Find the Right Wireless Channel
If you have neighbours, their routers may be interfering with yours and causing the signal to degrade. Wireless routers can operate on a number of different channels, and you want yours on a channel with as little interference as possible. Use a tool like Network Analyser Lite or WiFi Analyser to find the perfect channel in your house. We have more detailed instructions on how to do that here.
You've picked your router and set up all the basics, so now it's time to optimise your network. In this lesson, we're going to look at how to improve your network's speed and wireless signal so it's operating at full capacity.
#7 Get Rid of Interference from Other Appliances
Photo by looseid.
Other routers aren't the only thing that can cause interference. Cordless phones, microwaves, and other appliances can muck with your signal as well. Buying a dual band router can help with this, but you can also buy cordless phones on other bands too. If you don't want to buy new hardware, you can always try moving your router further away from interfering appliances, too.
#6 Thwart Wi-Fi Thieves with Better Security
There's more than one way to protect your WiFi connection from prying neighbours or malicious attackers. A combination of simple trickery and the proper password protection will keep most of the rabble out.
Cloaking is an effective measure to keep your data-mooching neighbour off your internet connection (though more tech-savvy users can use free network scanners to find it with relative ease).
If they can't see your WiFi network, they probably can't connect to it. You can keep prying eyes away from your router by hiding its SSID (the name of the WiFi network) and forcing everyone who wants in to type it manually. You can toggle the SSID broadcast option in the firmware settings of your router. While your SSID is hidden, it won't show up if you're setting up new devices or scanning for a connection on your smartphone; you'll have to enter it yourself.
In terms of password protection, your router's default administrator username and password should be changed immediately, and stored wherever you keep the rest of your passwords. In addition, you should enable WPA2 password protection on your WiFi network. It's encrypted, making it more secure than the older WPA or WEP security protocols.
Dear Lifehacker, Lately it seems like my high speed connection is bogged down, and I'm getting a creepy feeling that someone's stealing my bandwidth on my Wi-Fi network. How can I find out if other people are leeching my Wi-Fi, and how do I stop them if they are? Signed, Paranoid or Not?
#5 Control Bandwidth-Hogging Applications
If someone in your house regularly video chats, plays online games, torrents files, or uses services like Netflix, they may be hogging bandwidth and making the internet slower for everyone else. Luckily, you can use something called Quality of Service — or QoS for short — to reign in those bandwidth hogs. With QoS, you can prioritise certain applications (say, video chat) over others (like video games) so the most important applications get the bandwidth they deserve. For more info, check out our full guide to setting up QoS on your router.
#4 Increase Your Wi-Fi Range with DIY Tricks
If your router still won't reach far enough, you can extend its range with simple DIY tricks. Our favourite is the Windsurfer tin foil hack, though you can also use an old beer can or a cooking strainer to extend your router's range. The results won't necessarily be mind blowing, but you should be able to eke a bit more distance out of your WiFi network with minimal effort.
You can spend a little money to boost your network range without breaking the bank. Nearly all routers and PC network cards, usually those with adjustable antennae, use twist-off antennae with RP-SMA connectors. You can buy RP-SMA antenna extension cables, or even a directional antenna to boost your WiFi's performance.
#3 Boost Your Router's Signal with a Bit of Hacking
Another great way to extend your range is to hack your router and install the DD-WRT firmware. Not only will it give you a ton of great security features and other enhancements, but it gives you the option to boost your transmitting power. This can be dangerous for your router, but most routers can handle an increase up to 70 mW without causing any issues, and you'll be able to access your network from much further away!
Few routers utilise their full potential out of the box, because their firmware limits their functionality. Thanks to an open-source project called DD-WRT, you can unlock your router’s potential to broadcast a stronger signal, manage network traffic, remotely access all your home computers and a whole lot more. Here’s how to install it, set it up and supercharge your network.
#2 Turn an Old Router Into a Wi-Fi Repeater
If that still doesn't help, you'll need to get a range extender for your home. They aren't super expensive, but if you don't want to pay for another piece of hardware, you can actually turn an old wireless router into an extender with the aforementioned DD-WRT firmware. Note that you may not be able to get as fast of a connection through your extender, but if you just can't seem to get WiFi on the edge of your house, this'll get the job done on the cheap.
You could also connect one router to another via Ethernet cable and create another access point in your home.
When you upgrade to a faster, better router, don’t throw out your old one. You can turn it into a repeater that will carry your Wi-Fi signal to the dark corners of your home.
#1 Set Your Router to Reboot on a Schedule
If you're one of the many folks that has to reboot their router every so often so it doesn't drop out, there is a solution. You can run a few tests to make sure the problem isn't caused by heat, old firmware, or excess downloading, but an easy way to solve the problem is just automatically reboot it once a day or so. You can do this with DD-WRT or just a regular old outlet timer. When you're done, you shouldn't have to reboot your router so often (which is great if your router's all the way up in the attic).
Dear Lifehacker, My router sucks. My connection goes wonky once every few days, and I have to unplug the router and reboot it (I believe this is called a hard reset) to fix the problem. Obviously, this is incredibly annoying. What can I do to just make the darn thing work properly?
After going through these tweaks, you should find that your home WiFi is faster, more reliable, and more secure than ever. When you're done, make sure you check out our favourite clever uses for WiFi, too — after all, it isn't just for connecting to the internet.
Additional reporting by Patrick Austin.
This story has been updated since its previous publication.