1. Check your Wired Internet Connection
Before you blame Wi-Fi, make sure the internet coming into your house is performing as it should. Find an Ethernet cable and plug your computer directly into your modem— if your laptop doesn’t have an Ethernet port, you’ll need a USB to Ethernet adapter. Then run a speed test.
If your speed-test result doesn’t match the speed on your internet bill, you may need to call your ISP or replace your modem. If your result does match your bill, but your connection still seems slow, you might have to pony up for a better plan. (My grandmother was convinced her Wi-Fi was faulty, only for me to tell her she was subscribed to a snail’s-pace 3Mbps connection.)
If the modem seems okay, run the test again wirelessly, standing right next to the router. If you get similarly good speeds next to the router but not elsewhere in the house, then your Wi-Fi coverage may be to blame. But if your internet is still slow when you’re standing close to the router, you may have some outdated gear that needs an upgrade.
2. Update your router firmware
Before you start tweaking things, it’s a good idea to update your router. Router manufacturers are always improving software to eke out a bit more speed. How easy (or hard) upgrading your firmware is depends entirely on your device’s manufacturer and model.
Most current routers have the update process built right into the administration interface, so it’s just a matter of hitting a firmware upgrade button. Other models, particularly if they’re older, still require you to visit the manufacturer’s website, download a firmware file from your router’s support page, and upload it to the administration interface. This is tedious, but it’s still a good thing to do, since it’s a simple fix. In fact, even if your wireless network isn’t ailing, you should update your firmware on a regular basis for performance improvements, better features, and security updates.
To get the most out of a router, the adventurous should look at a third-party firmware, such as the open-source DD-WRT. It can ramp up performance and give you access to more advanced networking features, including the ability to install a virtual private network (VPN) right onto your router. DD-WRT is a bit more complex to set up, but for tech-savvy users, it may be worthwhile.
3. Achieve optimal router placement
Not all homes will distribute Wi-Fi signal equally. The fact is, where you place the router can hugely affect your wireless coverage. It may seem logical to have the router inside a cabinet and out of the way or right by the window where the cable comes in, but that’s not always the case. Rather than relegating it to a far end of your home, the router should be in the center of your house, if possible, so its signal can reach to each corner with ease.
In addition, wireless routers need open spaces, away from walls and obstructions. So while it’s tempting to put that ugly black box in a closet or behind a bunch of books, you’ll get a better signal when it’s surrounded by open air (which should prevent the router from overheating, too). Keep it away from heavy-duty appliances or electronics as well, since running those in close proximity to your router can impact Wi-Fi performance. If you can eliminate even one wall between your workspace and the router, you’ll drastically improve your connectivity.
If your router has external antennas, orient them vertically to bump up coverage. It even helps to elevate the router—mount it high on the wall or on a top shelf to get a better signal.
Plenty of tools can help you visualize your network coverage. We like Heatmapper or inSSIDer, both of which show you both the weak and strong spots in your Wi-Fi network. There are lots of mobile apps, too, such as Netgear’s WiFi Analytics.
4. What’s your frequency?
Take a look at your network’s administrator interface, and make sure you have it configured for optimum performance. You’ll likely get better throughput with a dual-band router by switching to the 5GHz band instead of using the more common 2.4GHz band.
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