August Tech Challenge: Boost Your Wi-Fi

How should I start this month’s challenge?

“Boost your Wi-Fi” sounds relatively easy, doesn’t it? As if all you have to do is turn a dial or put in new batteries or switch internet providers. In reality, once you start reading about ways to improve your internet speed and Wi-Fi signal, you’ll find there are a LOT of variables that can impact your internet experience, and a lot of fixes that range from simple to technical, cheap to expensive. We’ll start simple and work up.

Is there a quick fix to improve my network?

If you haven’t tried the Fibernetics Self Help App, that should be your first move. It’s designed to assess the health of your network and provide you with suggestions for improving your network health.

Fibernetics Support App

Download the Fibernetics Support App from the App Store or Google Play. Run a Network Scan and get suggestions on how to improve your network’s health.

If you’ve done that and things don’t seem to have improved much, let’s move on.

Is something interfering with the Wi-Fi signal?

There are any number of obstacles your Wi-Fi signal may have to navigate so the next step is to ask: Is my router in the best possible location in my home?

Competing signals can come from microwaves, bluetooth devices, other Wi-Fi networks (from neighbours or within your home if you have multiple networks set up), and baby monitors. There may also be physical impediments like water (have a large fish tank?), large TVs, and building materials in your home (concrete, masonry, or thick wooden walls).

water can block signals

Wi-Fi signals can be blocked by baby monitors, microwaves, and large amounts of water

The best advice is to place your router in an open area, close to the middle of your home (vertically and horizontally), off the floor, out of the kitchen, away from walls… starting to sound like an impossible task? The trick is to not settle for the first spot you find. Move the router to different floors and different ends of the house. The “best advice” is just advice after all; you might have a nice large open space in the middle of your home, but if one of the walls is a two story glass aquarium, then your router will struggle (sounds nice though, can I come over some time?). Take your time to figure out which location provides the most coverage. You can actually map your home to see which areas are getting the best and worst coverage, using a free app called NetSpot.

antennas on router

If your router has multiple antennas, don’t have them all facing the same direction.

And don’t forget about those antennas, they aren’t just for decoration. If your router has two or more external antennas, make sure they’re pointing in different directions. As mentioned before, Wi-Fi signals may be navigating a lot of obstacles in your home to reach your devices. Having multiple antennas gives your router options and it will pick the antenna with the signal that has the most direct route to your device. Getting a higher quality router with more antennas, gives your router more signals and more routes to pick from, and a better chance of improved coverage throughout your entire home.

Do I have the best router? Best modem? What’s the difference?

Let’s start with the difference between them: The modem is the box that brings the internet into your house through cables. The router is the box that creates a network in your home which wireless devices can use to both access the internet and talk to each other.

Your Internet Service Provider may equip you with a router, a modem, or a combination box that does both, but there’s no need to stick with the one they installed. There are a lot of different routers on the market to satisfy many different customer needs. If you’re a single person living in a small apartment, with only a few devices, the standard-issue router may suit your needs just fine. But if you’re a family of ten all using different devices in an 8000 square foot mansion, that router your ISP installed just isn’t going to cut it.

wifi extender

Use a Wi-Fi extender or mesh system to increase coverage throughout your entire home

If you tried the NetSpot app and found dead zones in your house, you have a few options: you can try a wi-fi extender (a relatively cheap solution for smaller spaces), a mesh router (a more expensive but better option for coverage throughout your entire home), or get a new router. The choice you make will depend on how much you’re willing to spend, the amount of devices being used in your home at any one time, the amount and type of data being moved, and the number of square feet you want to cover. Use those data points to do your research and find the best option for your particular needs.

Are my router and devices configured with the best settings for my needs?

Here’s where things start to get a bit more technical. The following may give you some options for further improvements, or might make you say, “Uh, I can live with my connection the way it is!”

Depending on the type of router you have, there are a number of different settings which can improve your network. For example, some routers come with the ability to switch between 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies. The 2.4GHz frequency reaches farther but moves data more slowly (wider range, lower bandwidth) while the 5GHz frequency moves more data but not as far (greater bandwidth, shorter range).

Deciding which to use is again based on your needs: overall you’ll get better throughput with the 5GHz and you should use it for streaming video or games at close range or in direct line of sight with your router where possible. If you’re using 5GHz and aren’t getting great coverage, then you may need to switch back to the 2.4GHz or try the aforementioned extender or mesh options.

To find out how to switch your router switch between 2.4GHz and 5GHz, consult your router manual. In some cases, your router will transmit both frequencies simultaneously and, depending on the technology in the device you’re using, your device may automatically navigate between the two to make use of the strongest one (although be mindful of the fact that older technology will not support 5GHz). Again, research is required to know exactly what your device is capable of and what frequencies your router transmits.

There’s a lot more we could say here about frequencies and channels… but maybe we’ll save some of the more technical fixes for another day. There really are so many options when it comes to improving your Wi-Fi network so for now, run through the ones we’ve provided and we’ll see you in September for another challenge!

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