Wi-Fi is almost a necessity for modern living, which is why having a good router is a must! They allow us to connect our devices, many of which aren’t even equipped with an Ethernet port, to all the vast wealth of the web — or maybe just an app of your choice. 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.
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. Sometimes simply rebooting your router can help apply updates and allow for more efficient use of RAM!
Step 3: Change the Wi-Fi band
Today’s Wi-Fi routers use both the 2.5GHz band and the 5GHz band (tri-band routers will actually use two full 5GHz bands for even more options). The 5GHz band can be a bit slower, but it covers a wider range, making it suitable for stationary or mobile devices farther away from your Wi-Fi. By moving devices over to the 5GHz band, you can both support longer distance connections and free up bandwidth on the traditional 2.5GHz band, improving performance all around.
You can assigned devices to different bands individually, but most routers allow for easier manage through their settings. Access your router’s main configuration settings to change the channel. Sometimes you can do this via app, but you can always access administrator settings by browsing for your router IP address on any handy web browser. If you aren’t sure about your password, refer to your router’s instruction manual, the manufacturer’s website, or check out routerpasswords.com.
If you have an older router that only uses 2.5GHz, you still have an option! In your router administrator settings, look for the option to switch the channel your Wi-Fi uses. The 2.5GHz band covers more than a dozen different specific channels. Choosing a different band besides the standard one can help move your Wi-Fi signal away from more common radio frequencies, which may help clear up interference.
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 suit 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 its 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 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.
. 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 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.
This is also a good time to check out if any unknown devices are on your network, eating up precious bandwidth. You can block these devices and change your password to prevent unwanted guests, but it’s important to keep an eye on your network to see if any trespassers find a way back on.
Step 7: Upgrade your router
When all else fails, consider purchasing a new router all-together. In 2019 we saw Wi-Fi 6, the “ax” standard, finally come to most router brands on the market. While the Wi-Fi 6 transition is ongoing (only new smartphones, for example, are compatible with it), the new standard offers many quality of life upgrades. It improves more direct connections to specific devices with advanced MU-MIMO, reduces latency, and even helps save battery life, among many other benefits.
Wi-Fi 6 also means that now is a great time to get a new router so when you upgrade to new devices your router is already compatible and waiting for improved connections. We have a list of some of the best Wi-Fi 6 routers currently available, and highly encourage you to look at it. At this point, buying a router without Wi-fi 6 support will end up requiring an earlier replacement, ultimately costing you more money.