As we all shelter-in-place and work from home more, figuring out how to make your internet faster has become a necessity.
That makes the internet to your front door less of a bottleneck, but eliminating subpar speeds and Wi-Fi dead zones around the house is largely up to you. To help, we’ve put together some suggestions on ways you can troubleshoot, and hopefully improve, the quality of the Wi-Fi inside and outside your place.
Updated May 2020: We’ve added a bunch of new tips and buying advice to this guide.
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1. Move Your Router
That router in the closet? Not a good idea. Walls, cupboards, even bookshelves can potentially dampen your Wi-Fi signal. Physically moving the router can make a real difference to the speeds you get and how far its wireless transmissions can reach. The perfect spot will depend on your home, but try not to hide your router in a corner, or under a cupboard, or inside a drawer—the more central and prominent it is, the better. For more info, read our guide to where to put your router for the best possible home Wi-Fi.
You might need to apply some creative cabling to get your router in a better place, but it’s going to be worth the effort for the end results. The goal is to get your main devices—consoles, laptops, and so on—as close as possible to your router. Devices that don’t need quite so much bandwidth, like smart thermostats, don’t have to be a priority in terms of physical proximity.
If you don’t have a flat surface near the best spot, you can mount your router halfway up a wall. If possible, keep it away from other devices that use electromagnetic waves; that includes baby monitors, wireless keyboards, and even microwaves.
2. Use an Ethernet Cable
We sometimes forget: wires still exist! You don’t need Wi-Fi. A wired connection to your router is usually preferable to a wireless one. It’s faster and more stable, and can’t be affected by other devices or large fish tanks. The downside is, of course, that it limits where your devices can be, and it’s less convenient overall.
Still, for devices that need the fastest internet possible—a gaming console or a streaming box, for example—it’s often well worth the effort to run a wire. The router will have a handful of Ethernet ports to spare, so all you need is a cable.
To do a really tidy job and avoid having wires trailing across your floor, you’ll need to deploy some cable management. Wall brackets like these ($14 for a pack of 40) keep the Ethernet cable fixed to the walls. If you have several cables running the same direction these wall mounts ($13 for a pack of 50) work well. For one or two gadgets, it can be worth the extra setup.
3. Change the Channel or Band
Wi-Fi signal is divided into channels. Your router uses a particular Wi-Fi channel to communicate with the devices around your home, and if you have neighbors living very close who have routers using the same Wi-Fi channel, then everything can get congested quickly. Switching to a different channel can solve this problem.
Every router will handle this differently. Check its documentation or look up the instructions online if you’re not sure, but you should be able to find the option somewhere in the device settings. Channels 1, 6 and 11 are the ones to try, as they’ll have the least interference when multiple devices get hooked up.
Most routers now use dual band technology, broadcasting at the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequencies. If your router settings allow you, you might be able to prioritize one or the other for certain devices—the 5 GHz band will get you a faster connection to the internet, though it has a shorter range than 2.4 GHz.
4. Upgrade Your Router
Routers vary significantly in functionality and price, but in this case the upgrade to make is generally in terms of how far your Wi-Fi is broadcast. If you have a large house, you’re likely better off with a router that can pair with “repeaters” that broadcast signal into the furthest reaches of your home. Smaller homes and apartments can generally get by with a simpler system.
Routers we’ve tested and like:
TP-Link AX6000 ($80 at Amazon)
For larger homes we recommend a mesh network, where you install multiple router nodes around your house.
Mesh network systems we like:
5. Get a Wi-Fi Extender
If messing around with your router settings seems too daunting, and you have a few dollars spare, invest in a Wi-Fi extender or repeater. These devices plug into a spare wall socket, connect to the wireless internet getting beamed out by your router, and then extend it further.
They’re (usually) simple to set up, easy to use, and can instantly get rid of Wi-Fi dead zones in your house. The extended or repeated wireless signals won’t be as strong as the ones coming straight from your router, though, so again positioning is important. Try and use these devices to connect up gadgets that don’t need a huge amount of bandwidth.
You’ve got plenty of options to pick from: Take a look at the Linksys AC1900 or the Netgear EX7300, for example. Make sure the maximum supported Wi-Fi standard (e.g. 802.11ac) matches that of your router, so that you get as speedy a connection as possible.
6. Use Your Electrical Wiring
An alternative to extenders is a powerline kit. Digital signals can pass through electrical wiring, and powerline devices are designed to take advantage of this. Several manufacturers make powerline networking kits, including Netgear and TP-Link.
It works like this: You connect a powerline plug up to your router, and then put the plug into a wall socket. Add another powerline plug in any other room in your house, and it can then provide a wired or wireless connection to that room. There will be some drop in speed, but it’s a simple and effective option.
Unless your home is particularly old, it should have electrical wiring that supports this, but it’s best to buy your kit from a retailer with a robust return policy, just in case.
7. Password Your Wi-Fi
We probably don’t have to tell you this, but you need a password on your Wi-Fi. It’s good for keeping hackers away, and keeping neighbors from Netflixing off your bandwidth, which will definitely slow you down. Make sure you use AES encryption, which is both the most secure and most speed-friendly security option.
8. Cut Off Unused Devices
It also helps to reduce the number of devices on your network. Having dozens of things tapping into the Wi-Fi at once can be problematic. Plug anything you can into Ethernet, and unplug anything you have connected but don’t need (like that “smart” tea kettle you never once got to work). Make sure only the things that need internet get internet.
Good routers (all of the routers listed above for example) offer controls to prioritize a particular device or service. It’s a handy way to make sure your games never get interrupted by someone else streaming videos on Facebook.
9. Check Your PC
This tip is specific to computers: If the internet on your PC or laptop is perpetually slow, but other devices seem fine, open your Task Manager or Activity Monitor and see what programs are running in the background. Certain programs could be set to auto-update that don’t need to be. If they’re always updating in the background, that could be the cause of your slow internet. Check it out and adjust the settings.
10. Restart Your Router?
We’ve read this tip many times on the web, but we were skeptical. Restarting your router on a regular basis sounds like an extension of the age-old pseudosolution to everything digital: Reboot it. Yes, we know restarting your router can sometimes fix dead internet, but we asked router maker Netgear: Does regularly rebooting your router help speed things up? The short answer is probably not.
Sandeep Harpalani, VP of product line management for Netgear, tells WIRED that the company does not recommend rebooting its routers “unless you are actually encounter issues with connectivity or slowdowns due to radio frequency interference.” He did also say that if you’re still using 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi and you’re having speed troubles, rebooting might help since it will force the router to choose the best channel with the least interference during bootup. If you’ve made the jump to 5 GHz, you don’t need to worry—it will automatically switch to the channel with the least amount of interference.
Either way there’s no reason to reboot regularly, the way some people have suggested. If you are having problems then it may be worth restarting your router, but for the most part, stick with our other tips.
11. Call Your ISP
If you’ve tried it all, and still have problems, you can always reach out to your internet provider and see if they have any suggestions. They may want to send a service technician out. They might be able to pinpoint an overlooked issue that is getting in the way of you and fast Wi-Fi. With the ongoing coronavirus situation, you may not want strangers in your house, and your ISP may not have technicians available to send. Still, if none of the rest of these tips solves your problem, it’s time to reach out to your provider to ask some questions.
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