We remember the days before Wi-Fi more vividly as we age. If we wanted to play Halo 2 online in high school, we had to run a 50-foot Ethernet cable out of our parents’ ramshackle garage into our living room, snaking it under two cars, through the kitchen, and down a narrow hall leading to the room that housed our television. Oh, how the world has moved on in a matter of six or seven years.
Wi-Fi is now a staple for much of the world. It allows us to connect our devices, many of which aren’t even equipped with an Ethernet port, to the vast wealth of the Web and all of its grandiose treasures like Craigslist, Facebook, and the like. However, your Wi-Fi signal can be a capricious beast, constantly fluctuating and sporadically dropping off during the most inopportune moments and scenarios. Rest assured there are ways to fix the problem on a small or nonexistent budget.
Here’s our quick guide on how to boost your Wi-Fi signal to make worrying about your connection issues a thing of the past. What you do with your newly renovated signal is entirely on you.
Step 1: Change router location
We know it might be enticing to lock away that ugly router of yours in a cupboard or cabinet, but that’s not going to help your wireless-boosting crusade. Wireless routers essentially work as omni-directional receivers, shooting their signals in all directions within a dome-like radius. However, like talking or shouting, walls, objects, and overall distance will all adversely affect signal strength. Try to position your router within an open, central location in your house away from walls and other dense objects that might obstruct the signal from reaching the far corners of your living room and other parts of your home.
Step 2: Update router firmware
Manufactures are always rolling out new improvements and stability upgrades via firmware and driver updates. They might not be as frequent as Apple’s refresh of its iPhone lineup, but they often will smooth and improve your overall router performance, occasionally helping boost the Wi-Fi signal in the process. Keep an eye out for updates on your device manufacturer’s website or anywhere else you might go to download maintenance updates.
Step 3: Change the Wi-Fi channel
Changing your router’s Wi-Fi signal, though moderately complicated, is not the toughest thing in the world to do. Like radio stations, wireless routers are capable of broadcasting on different channels (channels 1, 6, and 11 in the U.S.), and some are more clear than others when it comes to interference and signal strength. Because wireless routers are restricted to 802.11 standards and transmit at 2.4GHz wavelength, other devices – cordless phones, garage door openers, Bluetooth headsets, etc. – are all fighting for limited bandwidth when competing on the same frequency. Thus, changing your router’s channel to one with less interference may help strengthen your signal and eradicate the obnoxious bleeding that goes hand-in-hand with radio stations and routers alike.
Access your router’s main configuration settings to change the channel. This is typically done by entering a standard router address into your browser’s address bar and entering the appropriate name and password. Below are some of the most common default addresses for different manufacturers. However, refer to your router’s instruction manual, the manufacturer’s website, or check out routerpasswords.com if you’re still having trouble finding the default IP address, username, or password.
Step 4: Add a high-gain antenna
While the cheap omni-directional antenna your router is probably equipped with may be great for dispersing the signal in all directions, it’s not the best when it comes to focusing the signal. A high-gain antenna allows you to concentrate your router’s signal in a specific direction – a nifty feature that is incredibly useful in boosting signal strength depending on the layout of your house or business. For instance, if your home or business is relatively narrow opposed to a more open environment, it might be worth building or buying a high-gain antenna to better suite the architectural layout of the building.
Assuming you don’t have a built-in antenna, you could purchase a high-gain antenna to utilize your Wi-Fi strength more efficiently, or you can simply build your own using a few, easily-attainable tools and supplies laying around the house.
Follow the instructions and images below to craft your very own Wi-Fi reflector using an aluminum can. The metal reflector will better direct the omni-directional signal, narrowing it toward a specified direction and minimizing it’s overall signal radius. Alternatively, check out the Cisco-Linksys High Grade Antenna ($15) or the Hawking HAO15SIP ($150) if you’re looking for something with a little more power behind it.
Clean the can: Empty and thoroughly wash your can using soap and warm water – you don’t want your reflector coated in a sticky residue that will attract bugs. Afterward, let the can air dry or dry it yourself.
Remove the pull tab: Optionally, remove the the pull tab from the can as it’s not necessary for the project.
Cut off the bottom: Using a box cutter or a utility knife, horizontally cut the base of the can at the point where the sides start sloping inward to create the bottom. The cut doesn’t have to be perfect, but be sure to watch for hazardous, jagged edges.
Cut off the top: Horizontally cut the top of the can the same way as you cut the bottom but leave about an inch of aluminum attached to the top to keep the reflector intact.
Cut open the side: Vertically slice the sides of the can opposite the pull tab and pull back the sides to create a shape similar to a radar dish.
Attach the reflector: Flip the can upside down and position your router’s antenna through the hole. Afterward, secure the new reflector to the body of the router using tape, putty, or any other easily-removable adhesive you might have.
Position the reflector: Lastly, position the aluminum reflector in the direction you wish to send your Wi-Fi signal. Keep in mind that diverting the signal a specific direction will compromise the omni-directional radius, meaning you may receive a better signal in one spot, but also lose the signal entirely in others.
Step 5: Add a Wi-Fi repeater or extender
Adding a repeater or extender is a nice way to daisy-chain your Wi-Fi signal without adding any additional wiring that seems to only get in the way. There are plenty of affordable options on the market – we personally recommend the Amped Wireless SR300 ($90) or the Hawking HWREN1 ($55) – but the setup process can be a bit complicated depending on the model. Regardless, the repeater should be placed on the fringes of your router’s Wi-Fi signal between the router and the area you’re attempting to extend the signal to.
Alternatively, you can use a second router as an extender by wiring the spare router to the primary router’s LAN port and assigning it the same address information as the your main router (i.e. gateway, SSID, netmask). Like wired daisy-chaining though, extending the reach of your Wi-Fi signal can diminish its performance and reduce network speeds to a subpar level.
Step 6: Secure your network
Securing your wireless network should be a must regardless of if you’re trying to boost your Wi-Fi signal or just trying to maintain your security. If unsecured, your Wi-Fi signal is a susceptible hole in your network security that allows unwanted poachers to infiltrate and use your bandwidth at their own digression. They may not cause any irreparable harm or wreak major havoc on your network, but keeping them out is just another step toward maintaining and boosting your signal. Take a closer look at our article on how to secure a wireless network if you really want to get down to the nitty-gritty of it all.
Step 7: Upgrade your router
When all else fails, consider purchasing a new router all together. Many Wi-Fi products on the market were designed and engineered for across-the-board compatibility from manufacturer to manufacturer, allowing us to use routers and network adapters from two different vendors interchangeably. If you have an older router that exclusively complies with the more common IEEE standards, such as wireless-B (802.11b) or wireless-G (802.11g), think about upgrading to a device compatible with wireless-N (802.11n) or wireless-AC (802.11ac). You’re going to want to make sure the new router is still compatible with your other hardware, but a simple equipment upgrade will likely increase your signal stability and overall connection speeds at further distances.
Be sure to check out our top picks for the best wireless routers if you’re having trouble deciding which direction to go with your new network.
What do you think of our guide on how to boost your Wi-Fi signal? Did we leave anything out or do you have an alternate trick up your sleeve? Let us know in the comments below.
[Banner image courtesy of Daily Advisor]