How to boost your Wi-Fi signal

If your Wi-Fi connection is crawling along, the first question to ask is whether it’s really the network that’s to blame. The true culprit could be a specific program or device clogging up your network – perhaps a backup job beaming terabytes of data to your NAS box, or an infected device that’s been subsumed into a botnet, and is now, without your knowledge, flooding out malicious datagrams to destinations around the world. Or, alternatively, it could just be your kids watching Youtube. 

How to boost your Wi-Fi signal

Who’s using my Wi-Fi?

With free software such as Wireshark, you can inspect all the data packets on your network as they fly through the air, and easily discover whether one device is taking up more than its fair share of bandwidth. Your router’s web-based administration interface may also offer reports and logs: the way you access these will differ between models and manufacturers, but they’re well worth looking at since they’ll also include activity from wired clients.

Several current router models also make it possible to assign a set amount of bandwidth to each device on the network. If you want to make sure that no one device is hogging your internet connection to download multi-gigabyte updates – or just stop your housemates from monopolising the bandwidth – then it’s well worth checking through your Wi-Fi router’s setup pages. 

“Don’t assume that you know about every device on your network.”

Don’t assume that you know about every device on your network: if your network is open, or has a guessable password, your neighbours or others could be leeching bandwidth and hoping you won’t notice. You can boot them off, or use your router’s QoS settings to prioritise the traffic that’s important to you.

If all that sounds like too much hassle, try simply switching off your network-connected devices one by one, and keep checking network speed as you go. For obvious reasons, an online speed-tester isn’t the right tool for this, as results will be limited by the speed of your internet connection rather than your domestic wireless network. Don’t trust the wireless link speed reported by Windows either: this gives an idea of the theoretical throughput of your wireless connection, but if you’re interested in real-world performance, there’s no substitute for copying files back and forth between devices.

Sometimes, though, the simplest troubleshooting methods are the best. For instance, if switching off a spare PC causes things to suddenly start zipping along, it suggests a little housekeeping may be all that’s needed to give your wireless network a boost. And if you have cordless phones in your house, then it may be worth making sure that they’re not positioned directly next to your router, as these can often cause a huge amount of interference. 

There are plenty of other methods to speed up your Wi-Fi connection, though, and we’ll explain the key methods over the next few pages.

Continues on page 2: Changing your Wi-Fi channel 

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