5 ways to optimize your home Wi-Fi network for the work-from-home era

Working from home is great, but with all those video calls, file transfers, and other work-related activities happening on your home Wi-Fi network, it’s now extra important to dial in your setup and make sure that you’re getting the most out of the internet service you pay for. So if you want to make sure you never have another spotty Zoom call again, check out these five helpful tips for optimizing your Wi-Fi for the work-from-home era:

1. Get a multi-band router

If the router you’re using doesn’t offer multiple frequency bands, then you’re missing out on one of the best parts of modern routers. Whereas most single-band routers operate on the 2.4GHz frequency band, newer dual- and tri-band routers also provide additional networks on the 5GHz frequency band, which offers a number of big advantages. Most importantly, the 5GHz connections can transmit data faster than 2.4GHz ones, which makes them better for households where lots of high-bandwidth activities take place — like Zoom calls, online gaming, and 4K video streaming.

2. Place your router strategically

The only downside of a 5GHz connection, however, is that the higher frequency doesn’t travel through walls, furniture, and other obstacles quite as well as a 2.4GHz connection can. This is why router placement is important. Ideally, you should place yours near your most important internet-connected devices, as high off the ground as possible, and in a place that’s free of obstructions. Doing so will ensure that you get the best possible speeds for all your devices — especially those that have fixed locations and can’t move around to wherever reception is good like phones and laptops can.

A laptop on a desk with router nearby.

3. Choose your frequency wisely

In order to avoid congestion on your network, it’s helpful to strategically decide which devices are connected to which frequency. For example, it’s often a good idea to place all your smart home devices — video doorbells, smart speakers, connected thermostats, etc — on the 2.4GHz band, as these won’t typically benefit much from being on the faster 5GHz band. Keeping them on 2.4GHz ensures that your devices with higher speed requirements — computers, game consoles, etc — aren’t competing for bandwidth. Also, since 2.4GHz travels through obstructions better, it’s usually a better choice for IoT devices anyway, as they’re often spread further throughout the house.

4. Set bandwidth priorities

To further avoid congestion, We also highly recommend that you set bandwidth priorities within your networks. Doing so will require you to dig into your router’s settings and make some adjustments, but it’s well worth the effort. Essentially, these settings let your router know what devices to prioritize when there’s not enough bandwidth to go around.

So, let’s say you’re on a Zoom call with your boss, but your kid fires up a game of Fortnite to play with her friends online, and at the same time, your significant other starts streaming a 4K movie on Netflix. If you don’t set bandwidth priorities and your internet service isn’t robust enough to handle all these things simultaneously, your super important Zoom call might start to freeze or cut out intermittently.

These situations can be avoided by setting bandwidth priorities and telling your router which devices/applications are most important. Then, instead of throttling your very important Zoom meeting, your router will understand that your connection shouldn’t be slowed and that it should probably just make your significant other’s Netflix movie buffer for a little bit longer than usual.

The specific settings you’ll need to change will vary depending on your router model, but generally speaking, what you’re looking for is the Quality of Service (QoS) settings. Here’s how to find and configure them on most Netgear, TP-link, and Linksys routers. For other brands, you can usually find guidance by searching “[router brand] QoS setup” in Google.

5. Set bandwidth limits

Similar to setting bandwidth priorities, many modern routers also allow you to set hard limits on how much bandwidth a given device can use. This is useful if you have bandwidth hogs in your house and simply setting bandwidth priorities doesn’t fully alleviate your network congestion issues. Sometimes you just have to set ceilings.

Doing so makes it possible to designate a predetermined hunk of bandwidth for, say, your roommate who thinks it’s a good idea to download every season of Game of Thrones while also livestreaming for his 16 Twitch followers. Ultimately, setting bandwidth limits allows you to be 100 percent certain that you’ll have enough bandwidth to work, no matter what other people on your network might be doing.

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