10 Tips to Boost Your Wireless Signal
Whether your surfing has slowed to a crawl, you’ve got dropped Wi-Fi signals, or you’ve even got dead zones that receive no signal at all, our tips can help.
There are many ways to extend your wireless signal, and most of them simply involve a bit of tweaking to your wireless network. Some involve purchasing reasonably affordable components. I’ll walk you through ten of the most useful fixes for your connectivity woes.
1. Change the Channel:
Not the TV’s; your router’s. Wi-Fi routers operate on specific channels. When you set up a typical router, it usually chooses a certain channel by default. Some routers choose the least-crowded channel, but yours may not have. Check for yourself which Wi-Fi channel is the least crowded to boost the router’s performance, perhaps boosting signal range. A good, free tool to use is inSSIDer. Don’t be put off by the graphs and excess information. What you want to focus on is the column “Channel.” See how many routers in this area are on channel 6 in the slide below? If your router is on the same channel, you want to switch it to a less-crowded one (in the U.S., routers operate on channels 1, 6, and 11 at the 2.4GHz band). You can change the channel of your router by going into its interface. All routers have different ways to access the interface, so check with your manufacturer.
2. Update Router Firmware:
Updating router firmware is often overlooked by home users. Business networking devices usually display some sort of notification when newer software for the device is available for download. Consumer wireless routers, especially older routers, don’t always offer this notification. Check often for firmware updates for your router. There is typically a section in the router’s interface for upgrading the firmware. However, you often have to go the router manufacturer’s website and search for the firmware (most vendors make searching for firmware pretty easy) and then upload it through the router’s interface. There are often accompanying release notes that tell you what the firmware helps to fix. These fixes often help solve connectivity problems.
3. Update Adapter Firmware:
Just like routers, network adapters on PCs and laptops are subject to firmware updates. Remember, good wireless range and performance is dictated not just by the router but also by the network adapter on clients. (Other factors, can have an impact, too, but these are the biggies.) Most laptops have on-board adapters. Go into your Network settings to find the name of the adapter (via the Control Panel in Windows OS) and then to that corresponding manufacturer’s website to make sure you have the latest firmware.
4. Change the Router’s Position:
Do you have your wireless router nestled up against the broadband modem, tucked away in the entertainment center in a basement that’s been converted into the family den? Move it, if you have range issues. You don’t have to have the router in close proximity to your modem. Ideally, a Wi-Fi router should be in a central location. If you need more flexibility in centrally positioning the router, you can purchase custom-length Ethernet Cat 5 cable from Best Buy or any place that services computers. If you do that, however, this is technically no longer a free option, of course.
The adventurous might try DD-WRT, open-source software for routers. It’s known to ramp up router performance and extend the feature set beyond what’s typically offered by most routers. Not every router supports it, but the number of supported routers are keeps growing. Warning: Installing DD-WRT may invalidate your router’s warranty. Many manufacturers will not help you troubleshoot router issues once you have DD-WRT installed. Therefore, this is not a recommended option for routers under warranty or in a business network. There are also no guarantees that DD-WRT upgrades won’t negatively affect a router. However, many users use it as a free way to trick-out their routers. If you have an older spare router laying around, or if you want to take the plunge to see if DD-WRT firmware helps your range issues on a newer router, check if it’s supported on the DD-WRT site. Also note that it’s not easy to remove DD-WRT from some routers, so rolling back may require quite a bit of work and research.
6. Set Up a Second Router as an Access Point or Repeater:
You can set up just about any router as a wireless access point. To do so, you need to connect the second router’s LAN port to the primary router’s LAN port. If your primary router’s IP address is 192.168.2.1 and its netmask is 255.255.255.0, you could make the second router’s IP 192.168.2.2 and use the same netmask. It’s also important that you assign the same SSID and security on the second router and turn DHCP off on the second one as well.
Newer routers make this process easier. If you have a second router that’s only about a year old, it can probably be set to operate in “access point” or repeater mode. Configuring is often as simple as clicking a button (in the UI). Check your router’s manufacturer or documentation. You can also just purchase a dedicated access point. This is a more expensive option, but will likely save you some network-configuration headaches. Your best bet, if you go this route, is to use an access point from the same manufacturer as your router.
Newer 802.11n Wi-Fi routers are increasingly coming with internal antennas. But some still have or support external ones, and these antennas can often be upgraded. Consider a high-gain antenna, which you can position so that the Wi-Fi signal goes in the direction you want. Hawking Technology offers the HAI15SC Hi-Gain Wireless Corner Antenna. Though we have yet to test it, Hawking claims it boosts wireless signal strength from 2dBi to 15dBi. Antennas like these can attach to most routers that have external antenna connectors. High-gain or “booster” antennas run from $40 to $100.
8. Repeaters and Extenders:
Most major wireless networking vendors offer devices that act as repeaters or wireless extenders. While they can extend a Wi-Fi signal, they can be tricky to set up, can cause interference with the signal, and can be expensive. A good repeater or extender can set you back almost $200.
9. New Router/Adapters:
How about getting new routers and adapters altogether? Upgrading your home network to 802.11n and using the 5GHz band should give noticeable performance improvement. 2.4GHz is said to actually have greater range than the 5GHz band, but that only becomes apparent when supplying wireless coverage to large areas such as college campuses or municipalities. In our router testing, for smaller areas, such as that found in a typical home network, 802.11n and the 5GHz band typically delivered better throughout than 2.4GHz, at greater distances. It’s a more expensive option, but if wireless connectivity is crucial for you, it’s a plausible one. If you go with an 802.11n router, you will of course, need to replace client adapters that don’t support “N” as well. USB-based 802.11n adapters are convenient ways to update a laptop that may have an older on-board adapter.
Solution Vendors are quick to say that their products will work with other vendor’s products. But it just makes sense that a vendor’s own products will be most compatible with other products produced by the same vendor. If possible, try to limit your network devices to one vendor. That means not only your router or adapter, but also your antennas, repeaters, and access points.