As the number of PCs, smartphones, gaming systems, garage doors, and more with wireless internet increases, it becomes even more important to have reliable Wi-Fi access at home.
But, it can be incredibly difficult to get a fast, reliable Wi-Fi internet connection. Whether devices experience unbearable speeds or intermittent connectivity, many issues with Wi-Fi can be solved with a few troubleshooting tips. And, for the most part, many fixes for wireless internet issues aren’t obvious.
This guide presents several factors that may be causing Wi-Fi issues in a normal home along with what can be done to solve the issue.
Identifying wireless interference problems
The biggest step towards fixing a wireless connectivity issue is understanding and identifying the factors contributing to possible issues.
Many connectivity issues are related to interference from other wireless devices. A home router controls the wireless network for the immediate area, but other wireless networks in the area or other devices on the same channel or band contribute to poor performance.
Consumer wireless devices operate on two frequencies: 2.4GHz and 5GHz. Most routers operate on the 2.4GHz band, which provides high speeds coupled with good range, making it the preferred band for most manufactures. 5GHz provides stronger speeds, but it’s available on less devices and has less range than its 2.4GHz counterpart. Most routers with 5GHz are dual band devices, meaning they come with support for 2.4GHz and 5gGHz signals, ensuring they’ll work with all your devices.
Along with ranges, different wireless devices have different classifications based on the type of technology its using. 802.11b/g represents the technology used in older wireless devices. While it’s backwards compatible with many newer routers, these devices have limited speed and range compared to newer technologies. 802.11n is the most common networking standards available today, with most consumer devices and routers receiving the N classification. 802.11ac, which is in the early stages of deployment, provides faster connections with lower interference, but this standard is often only available on the newest devices, requiring consumers to spend more out of pocket for AC devices.
Knowing which device you have and how it contributes to performance allows the use of other means for improving connectivity.
Learn proper techniques for measuring wireless strength
Signal strength meters on devices don’t always paint a full picture; users might show full signal strength at high speeds on their devices, but actual speeds for the most part aren’t measured in these readings.
The best way to figure out what, if any, slowdowns exist on your network is to run tests and measure your results. Speedtest.net calculates your internet speed, and this can be a great tool for figuring out performance issues if used correctly.
First, measure your internet speeds using a wired ethernet connection. This provides a control, showing you what speeds you should be getting under normal conditions not influenced by the wireless settings. If you see slower speeds on wireless compared to your wired connection, this could indicate that there is in fact an issue with your wireless connection.
Another useful test, pingtest.net, shows your connection quality and can help determine if there’s packet loss, which means information communicated across the internet is lost. Like the internet speed test, it’s best to use a wired connection as a control to see what results you should be getting on your wireless network. Any packet loss on your wired connection could indicate a problem with your internet service provider, while packet loss on the wireless only is likely the result of interference.
Router placement and settings
Your wireless router, the device that connects all of your connected devices to the internet, relies on proper settings and placement to deliver maximum performance.
The best practices for router placement involve locating it as close to the center of the house as possible. This helps to prevent situations where the router on one side of the house might not reach rooms on the other side of your house. You should also place your router on the upper level of your home, or on a high bookshelf if you have to place it on the lowest level of your house.
Many times, it’s impossible to move the router because of where the internet feeds into your home; for those cases, an extender or repeater, listed in the steps below, can solve this issue.
It’s also important to make sure the router’s settings are configured for proper performance. If you don’t have any older devices that use the older 802.11b/g technology, you can on some routers disable support for b/g, which might provide a performance boost. Some routers also provide the ability to control channel width. Having a higher width such as 40MHz might provide greater range, but it increases the chance of interference, especially if you live in close proximity to your neighbors. Switching to 20MHz decreases your range slightly, but for many people, having less interference improves Wi-Fi connectivity.
Depending on what type of router you have, there may be different steps to access its control panel. Howtogeek.com provides a useful guide for how to access your router’s control panel.
Change your wireless channel and other settings
Many people don’t think to adjust the wireless channel on their routers because it’s often an automatic process.
But, the vast majority of 2.4GHz wireless routers by default only use three default channels: 1, 7 and 11. This helps to minimize interference by keeping devices separated on the wireless spectrum (normal 20MHz channel width can cause interference within three channels of its setting). If you live in a populated area, chances are there’s several wireless routers on the same channel as your router. Programs like inSSIDer can help identify what channels have high usage, which helps to pick a channel without a lot of other devices occupying the same channel.
One useful strategy can be to switch your wireless channel to something outside the normal 1, 7 and 11 selections. Your best bet is to use trial and error, selecting different wireless channels and running tests Speedtest and Pingtest listed above to find the channel that yields the best speeds.
Supplement your network with Powerline, Extenders and Repeaters
Extra hardware can go a long way towards improving your home wireless network. Many different technologies exist that can help improve a wireless network, with costs ranging from a few cups of coffee to hundreds of dollars depending on what services and speeds are needed.
When wireless access across your house is problematic or you need wired internet in different places in your house, Powerline networking provides a quick and easy way to create a wired network using your home power: just plug the two adapters into a power outlet and you’ve created a Powerline network. The price of Powerline adapters continues to decrease each year, but you may need to shell out extra cash for more expensive adapters to achieve the same speeds as your wired network. Additionally, Powerline might not work reliably in older homes or across long distances.
Extenders and repeaters provide another solution for increasing wireless range. These devices essentially create additional wireless access points, increasing wireless range within your home. Repeaters/extenders can be placed partway between the router and a place in your house with low coverage, so this might not solve the problem for larger homes.
It’s possible to purchase Powerline adapters with wireless repeaters such as the TP-LINK AV-500, which helps create quick extended wireless networks.
Minimize interference from other devices
Because of the limitations in wireless channels available for public use, many devices operate on the same 2.4GHz channel and create interference.
Some common household items like microwaves, cordless phones and Bluetooth devices contribute to congestion on the 2.4GHz band, creating wireless slowdowns. Other unusual items might also contribute to wireless interference. Christmas lights have been attributed to poor wireless performance.
To avoid 2.4GHz interference, consider investing in routers and wireless devices that operate on the 5GHz frequency, which has less interference issues.