How to boost your Wi-Fi signal
How to boost your Wi-Fi signal: Change your Wi-Fi channel
If you accepted the default settings when installing your router, your wireless network is probably sending and receiving data in the 2.4GHz band, and specifically on channel 1, 6 or 11. This means packets are broadcast and received over a fairly wide radio band, centred on 2,412MHz, 2,437MHz or 2,462MHz.
These frequencies have been a standard part of the 802.11 wireless protocol since its introduction in 1997 so using them as defaults ensures that pretty much every Wi-Fi device in your home (and, indeed, in the world) should be able to talk to the router.
The downside is that if you live in a dense urban area, such as a block of flats, your neighbours’ networks will be using these frequencies too, resulting in interference that slows down the connection for everyone. Other electrical appliances such as cordless phones and wireless video extenders may use these channels as well. And while microwave ovens are normally well shielded, these too can generate radio “noise” at frequencies in the 2.4GHz range, which is highly disruptive to radio communications.
The simplest answer is to switch your network to a different frequency. Your router’s settings page should provide a dropdown allowing you to switch to a different channel within the 2.4GHz band – they’re numbered from 1 to 13. Experiment by changing this to see whether one end of the spectrum provides a better connection than the other: your devices should automatically rediscover the network and reconnect soon after you change the channel.
If you prefer a more methodical approach, use a free tool such as NirSoft’s WifiInfoView, or a smartphone app such as Wifi Analyzer for Android. These will survey all the wireless networks within range and their relative signal strengths, so you can avoid them as far as possible. Remember, though, that such tools won’t show up interference from other sources; if all your neighbours are avoiding a particular channel, there may be a reason for this.
Change your Wi-Fi band to 5GHz
“If switching channels doesn’t help, consider hopping to a different frequency band altogether.”
If switching channels doesn’t help, consider hopping to a different frequency band altogether. The 5GHz Wi-Fi band came into use in 2009 as part of the 802.11n standard, and since there’s less interference in this band, it may provide better performance. (Strictly speaking, the 5GHz band had in fact been introduced a decade earlier in the old 802.11a standard, but this never became popular.)
Some older devices may not support 5GHz, but this isn’t necessarily a showstopper: most routers that support a 5GHz wireless network will let you run it alongside a regular 2.4GHz network. This does mean that you’ll have two separate SSIDs to manage, which complicates the job of administering things, especially if you want to ensure your devices connect to the right one.
A second possible issue with 5GHz is that a higher frequency means lesser penetration, so you’re less likely to experience interference from three doors down – but, by the same token, if you’re trying to extend your network through an interior wall or two, you may find that the drop-off at 5GHz is barely preferable to the interference at 2.4GHz.
It is still worth trying to use different Wi-Fi channels, though, even on a 5GHz network. This is because, theoretically, the lower frequency 5GHz channels should penetrate walls more effectively than the higher frequency 5GHz channels, so you may be able to eke out a little more coverage – it can make the difference between getting a usable Wi-Fi signal in the far corners of your property, or not.
Continues on page 3: Improving Wi-Fi coverage with a signal booster / Upgrading your Wi-Fi antennas