Browsing slowing to a crawl, the inability to stream, dropped Wi-Fi signals, wireless dead zones—every one of these problems is maddening in a world where getting online has become, for some, as necessary as breathing. (Well, maybe not that critical…but still important.)
If you feel like your Wi-Fi has gotten sluggish, there are many tools you can use to test the speed of your internet. There are also a few tricks you can try to troubleshoot your network issues. However, if the only way you can get decent reception is by standing next to your wireless router, these simple tips can help optimize your network.
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Before you blame the Wi-Fi, make sure the internet coming into your house is performing as it should. Find an Ethernet cable and plug your computer directly into your modem—you may need a USB to Ethernet adapter(Opens in a new window) if your laptop doesn’t have an Ethernet port.
Run a speed test(Opens in a new window) to see your internet speed. If it doesn’t match the speed on your internet bill, you may need to call your ISP or replace your modem. If your speed test does match your internet bill, but it still seems slow, it may be time to pony up for a better plan. (My grandmother was convinced her Wi-Fi was faulty, only for me to tell her she was subscribed to a snail’s-pace 3Mbps connection.)
If the modem seems okay, try running the test again wirelessly, standing right next to the router. If you get similarly good speeds next to the router, but not elsewhere in the house, then your Wi-Fi coverage may be to blame. If your internet is still slow standing right next to the router, you may have some outdated gear that needs an upgrade.
Before you start tweaking things, it’s a good idea to update your router. Router manufacturers are always improving software to eke out a bit more speed. How easy—or how hard—it is to upgrade your firmware depends entirely on your device’s manufacturer and model.
Most current routers have the update process built right into the administration interface, so it’s just a matter of hitting a firmware upgrade button. Other models, particularly if they’re older, still require you to visit the manufacturer’s website, download a firmware file from your router’s support page, and upload it to the administration interface. It’s tedious, but still a good thing to do since it would be such a simple fix.
In fact, even if your wireless network isn’t ailing, you should make it a point to update your firmware on a regular basis for performance improvements, better features, and security updates. For help with this, we have a guide on accessing your router’s settings.
If you really want to get the most out of your current router, the adventurous should look at a third-party firmware, like the open-source DD-WRT(Opens in a new window). This can ramp up performance and give you access to more advanced networking features, including the ability to install a virtual private network (VPN) right onto your router. It’s a bit more complex to set up, but for tech-savvy users, it may be worthwhile.
Not all homes will distribute Wi-Fi signal equally. The fact is, where you place the router can hugely affect your wireless coverage. It may seem logical to have the router inside a cabinet and out of the way, or right by the window where the cable comes in, but that’s not always the case. Rather than relegating it to a far end of your home, the router should be in the center of your house, if possible, so its signal can reach to each corner with ease.
tempting to put that ugly black box in a closet or behind a bunch of books, you’ll get a better signal if it’s surrounded by open air (which should prevent the router from overheating, too). Keep it away from heavy-duty appliances or electronics as well, since running those in close proximity can impact Wi-Fi performance. If you can eliminate even one wall between your workspace and the router, you can drastically improve performance.
If your router has external antennas, orient them vertically to bump up coverage. If you can, it even helps to elevate the router—mount it high on the wall or on the top shelf to get a better signal. There are plenty of tools to help you visualize your network coverage. We like Ekahau’s Heatmapper(Opens in a new window) or MetaGeek’s inSSIDer(Opens in a new window), which show you both the weak and strong spots in your Wi-Fi network. There are plenty of mobile apps, too, such as Netgear’s WiFi Analytics(Opens in a new window).
(Editors’ Note: Ekahau is owned by Ziff Davis, the parent company of PCMag.com.)
Take a look at your network’s administrator interface and make sure you have it configured for optimum performance. If you have a dual-band router, you’ll likely get better throughput by switching to the 5GHz band instead of using the more common 2.4GHz band
Not only does 5GHz offer faster speeds, but you’ll likely encounter less interference from other wireless networks and devices, because the 5GHz frequency is not as commonly used. (It doesn’t handle obstructions and distances quite as well, though, so it won’t necessarily reach as far as a 2.4GHz signal does.)
Most modern dual-band routers should offer you the option to use the same network name, or SSID, on both bands. Check your router’s administration interface, look for the 5GHz network option, and give it the same SSID and password as your 2.4GHz network. That way, your devices will automatically choose the best signal whenever they can.
(If your router doesn’t offer you the option to use the same SSID, just give it another name—like SmithHouse-5GHz—and try to connect to that one manually whenever possible.)
Interference is a big issue, especially for those who live in densely populated areas. Signals from other wireless networks can impact speeds, not to mention some cordless phone systems, microwaves, and other electronic devices.