What is the Range of the Average Wi-Fi Network?
We often refer to being out of Wi-Fi range or having low signal strength when troubleshooting wireless apps or phones. Signal strength is a key component of connectivity and is related to the range of a network. So what is the range of the average Wi-Fi network? How close do you have to be to your router or wireless access point to get a sustained connection?
Wireless networks use radio signals which degrade the further from its source the signal travels. It can also be inhibited by thick walls, metal objects, electrical objects, and interference. There is a lot to setting up a wireless network and signal strength is just part of it.
In this article, we’re going to cover everything you need to know about your wireless network and how far the signal extends.
Wireless Network Standards and Their Signal Strengths
The wireless standard 802.11 was created and is currently maintained by IEEE. Each version has a different range so will have an effect on your wireless signal. Currently, there are 802.11a, 802.11ac, 802.11b, 802.11g, and 802.11n. There is 802.11x, but that’s more of an added layer of security to networks than a wireless network standard.
- 11a has an 115ft range indoors and 390ft outdoors.
- 11b has an 115ft range indoors and 460ft outdoors.
- 11g has an 125ft range indoors and 460ft outdoors.
- 11n has an 230ft range indoors and 820ft outdoors.
- 11ac has an 115ft range indoors.
Wi-Fi Frequencies and Channels
Typical Wi-Fi networks operate at two main frequencies, 2.4GHz and 5GHz, the main reason for that being the standards of the FCC and the allotted frequencies that something, such as a radio station, home network, or CB radio, can legally broadcast on.
The 2.4GHz frequency has three channels that don’t overlap and is generally regarded as stronger than the 5GHz range. The higher frequency is faster but more easily interrupted and susceptible to thick walls and interference.
Determining the Range of Your Router’s Wireless Access Point
The router you use has a major influence over the range of the average Wi-Fi network. The strength of the signal your router is able to generate, the sensitivity and number of antenna, and the wireless channel and frequency are key in determining its range.
For the sake of being a little pedantic, most routers used in homes nowadays are SOHO (Small Office Home Office) routers that contain a modem, switch, access point, and router all in one device. So, Wi-Fi range depends on your router’s wireless access point (WAP) and how good its antenna is. Range is also influenced by the building and the version of 802.11 standard. Each of these three things will influence exactly the range or how strong your wireless signal is.
Different manufacturers use different aerials and signal strengths so I can only provide averages but as a rule of thumb, a router that supports 802.11a has an 115ft range indoors. A router with 802.11n goes up to 230ft indoors. Outdoor ranges are longer because there are generally fewer walls or interruptions in outdoor spaces.
Some router firmware includes signal strength sliders. The third party Tomato firmware allows you to adjust your wireless signal to the maximum your router can emit. Otherwise, your standard firmware will likely have a safe maximum that won’t stress the hardware while giving you maximum practical range.
You can change the antenna that come with your router if you’re not getting the range you need. The manufacturer may offer them or a third party may make them. These long range antenna will extend the range slightly depending on what’s affecting it. Otherwise you can boost the range using a Wi-Fi extender.
There are many things that influence the range of a wireless network. The make and model of router, the building you’re in, the frequency and standard you use, other wireless networks and even your appliances. It’s a fascinating subject but one that needs a lot of research!
Causes of Wi-Fi Interference
Radio waves can be interrupted or slowed down by all kinds of things. With Wi-Fi, that’s usually thick walls, metal objects or sheeting, certain types of insulation, other electronic or electrical objects, and other radio sources.
It is rare that anyone experiences the full indoor range of any wireless standard as the signal weakens at every obstruction it hits. Every time it has to pass through a wall or floor, every time it has to content with electronic interference or pass close to appliances, the signal is weakened. This can significantly lower the signal range.
The signal strength I mentioned earlier comes from wave attenuation. The lower the frequency, the lower the attenuation. If you look at a radio wave, lower frequencies have a lower and slower wave on an oscilloscope. Higher frequencies have a much more pronounced wave much closer together. Lower frequencies tend to be stronger because of that slower wave.
Lower frequencies are also more susceptible to interference. More devices use radio around the 2.4GHz range than any other. So if you live in an apartment block or dorm, you may find lots of other devices competing for airtime in the 2.4GHz range. Typically you would want to set your wireless to the 2.4GHz range and only change it to 5GHz if you have too much interference on too many channels at that lower frequency.
If in doubt, use the 2.4GHz wherever possible. It provides a stronger signal and the ability to connect more devices within range. If speed is your priority, 5GHz is faster but has half the range and is more susceptible to interference.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I use a second router as a Wi-Fi extender?
Yes, you can configure a second router to act as an extension of your main router’s wireless network, known as a Wi-Fi extender. All you need to do is set up the same network on the second router, i.e. use the same SSID and password as the main router. For best results, place the second router in another room or floor of the house, apartment, etc.
Wireless Network Ranges
Although the theoretical range of a Wi-Fi network are well known, interference from the environment will most likely prevent it from achieving maximum potential.
Share your experiences with network ranges in the comments below.