Boost Your Home's Wi-Fi

a year ago

If you're working at home now because of the COVID-19 outbreak, you might have a moment when you know that your Wi-Fi just doesn't cut it anymore — it may be a frozen video feed, a rainbow spinner on your phone, or a scream from your kids when their favorite game doesn't load up. Here are only a few things you can do to make the most of your bandwidth.

1. Measure Your Speed:

Your first step is to understand the essence of your question, and to calculate your Wi-Fi efficiency. You can do this from the browser of your laptop; you can also use your phone by entering Airplane Mode and turning on Wi-Fi (you want to make sure you don't use cellular data for this). Then point your browser to a website like fast.com or Speedtest to see how quickly your Wi-Fi is running.

Test your speed in several different spaces, and take note of areas that rank significantly lower than others.

2. Check Your Network:

It sounds dumb but still: make sure all your computers use the network you think they are. Often (and for no reason) apps glom onto, say, the low-speed wireless hotspot of your ISP, rather than the high-speed network of your house. It just takes a second, this is double-check.

3. Buy Enough Bandwidth:

Data requirements are creeping up on us, and you're definitely eating up more bits than you used to. You could have purchased a higher-resolution HDTV and enjoy 4K Netflix, or you've started using a laptop while watching videos, or you've taken up social gaming, or your children's school has closed, or you're working from home and doing loads of video conferencing. And a mix of those and it all adds up.

If traffic is getting blocked by your ISP, it won't do you any good to boost your Wi-Fi coverage around the building. To find out how much bandwidth you are paying, look at your bill or contact customer service. Getting plans with 100Mbps and up is now easy to find, but if you haven't searched lately, you may have an older plan with much slower rates. You may also be nudging up against monthly data limits, while ISPs typically warn you if this is the case.

If your local phone company still has DSL service, check to make sure that no faster alternative has materialized in your town.

Many ISPs are offering deals related to COVID-19. For example, Altice, Spectrum, and Xfinity provide two free months of service via college students to new customers with kindergarten. In addition, major ISPs raise data caps and open their Wi-Fi hotspots to non-subscribers (in fact, all carriers have opened their mobile hotspots to the public for 60 days, on request from the FCC). To current customers, some are also rising Internet speeds. Look at and check the website of your provider.

4. Move Your Wireless Router:

If the bandwidth check you've done reveals dead spots at home, try to switch your wireless router. It's not at all uncommon for a Wi-Fi router to be stuck in the corner of a house or apartment, close to the wall where service goes into your home. That's its the worst spot. Wi-Fi is radio; it has a small range of radios and often has trouble penetrating walls. If this is practical, consider shifting your router from the wall jack to a more central position by running a longer coax or Ethernet cable.

Seek to keep the router away from large pieces of hardware, such as fridges or microwave ovens. Wi-Fi still doesn't do well in tons of water, so stay away from 100-gallon aquariums.

And again try speed tests to see if it succeeded.

5. Change The Channel:

It is a especially fruitful idea to do if there are plenty of other Wi-Fi networks near you, because you might encounter radio interference. Some routers are designed to sense interference and select uncluttered frequencies themselves, but not all are great at that or at finding clearer frequencies as conditions change. Go into the settings of your router, and try other channels regularly to see if that helps.

6. Move To 5GHz:

Modern Wi-Fi operates on frequency band 2.4GHz and 5GHz. The latter is quicker and less susceptible to attack, but it does not move as far as it is and also can not penetrate walls. The former is more stable, but is vulnerable to microwave oven interference and some older cordless phones.

If you can, if your devices support it, opt for 5GHz. If you have an old router that doesn't support 5GHz (i.e. 802.11ax, 802.11ac, 802.11n or 802.11a), you should consider getting a new one seriously.

And note: The 5GHz band doesn't have anything to do with 5G cellular service. Name-likeness is a coincidence and don't get confused.

7. Get a Wi-Fi Extender:

It's likely you can't switch your router or it didn't help you to switch it. Look at having a range extender in that situation, and position it where the signal is low.

8. Get a Mesh Network:

Replacing your entire Wi-Fi network is the nuclear choice to increase your capacity, but if your network is more than five years old you should think about it — especially if it's more than 10. In terms of speed and usability, mesh networks such as Google Nest, Netgear's Orbi, Eero, or TP-Link Deco (and there are several others) are a major step up from older point-to - point systems.

The very new routers support the current 802.11ax standard, also known as Wi-Fi 6, but any of your devices are unlikely to do so. When you're purchasing for the future, however, system updates will gradually be able to use the standard for the next few years.

Overall, ensuring that your home Wi-Fi network is working well — especially when it comes to your income or education for your kids — is worth the effort, and possibly the cost, too.

Frequently Asked Questions

If you have an old router that doesn't support 5GHz (i.e. 802.11ax, 802.11ac, 802.11n or 802.11a), you should consider getting a new one seriously.

Seek to keep the router away from large pieces of hardware, such as fridges or microwave ovens. Wi-Fi still doesn't do well in tons of water, so stay away from 100-gallon aquariums.