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WiFi is becoming more and more common all the time. It’s great for getting around, as long as you have a strong signal. However, when your computer is all alone in your room, that’s when things get a bit problematical. There, you’re at a disadvantage because the computer can’t see other people in the room. And even if it could, they might not be CNET’s type of customer.
That’s why it’s important to have a ~real-world~ WiFi network. One that can reach other people in your area. And that’s where CNET comes in.
CNET is one of the most popular online news sources in the world. We’ve reached into many different industries, and our news is some of the most current and interesting than ever before. We’re always working to keep you updated on the latest happening in technology, business, and life.
Before you point the finger at the Wi-Fi, check to see if the internet connection coming into your home is functioning properly. Locate an Ethernet cable and connect your computer directly to your modem—if your laptop does not have an Ethernet port, you may need to purchase a USB to Ethernet adaptor to complete the connection.
To find out how fast your internet is, do a speed test. If the speed does not match the speed shown on your internet bill, you may need to contact your internet service provider or change your modem. If your speed test results match those on your internet bill, but your internet still appears to be running slowly, it may be time to upgrade to a more expensive plan. (My grandma was certain her Wi-Fi was malfunctioning, only for me to inform her that she was subscribing to a 3Mbps connection, which was a snail’s speed.)
Try conducting the test again wirelessly, this time while standing very close to the router, if the modem seems to be working properly. Alternatively, if you obtain identical speeds close to the router but not elsewhere in the home, it is possible that your Wi-Fi coverage is the problem. If your internet is still sluggish even when you are standing directly next to the router, it is possible that you have old equipment that has to be replaced.
First and foremost, it is recommended that you update your router prior to beginning your configuration process. Router makers are always refining their software in order to squeeze out a little more speed. Whether it is simple or difficult to update your firmware is largely dependent on the brand and model of your device.
The majority of recent routers have the firmware update procedure incorporated directly into the management interface, so it’s just a question of selecting the appropriate option from the menu. The manufacturer’s website, the router’s help page, and uploading the firmware file to the administrator interface are required for certain models, especially those that are more than five years old. It’s time-consuming, yet it’s still a worthwhile endeavour since the solution is so straightforward.
In fact, even if your wireless network is in good working order, you should make it a point to upgrade your firmware on a regular basis in order to benefit from speed enhancements, improved functionality, and security updates. We have a tutorial on how to access the settings of your router if you need assistance with this.
If you truly want to get the most out of your present router, the more daring should consider installing a third-party firmware, such as the open-source DD-WRT, on it. This may improve speed while also providing you with access to more complex networking functions, such as the option to create a virtual private network (VPN) directly on your router’s hardware. It requires a little more effort to set up, but for those who are technically skilled, it may be well worth it.
Not all residences will disseminate Wi-Fi signals in the same manner. The reality of the matter is that the location of your router may have a significant impact on your wireless coverage. The placement of the router within a cabinet and out of the way, or just next to the window where the wire enters, may seem sensible at first glance, but this is not always the case. Rather of placing it at the far end of your home, the router should be placed near the middle of your home, if at all feasible, to ensure that its signal can reach every part of your home with relative ease.
Furthermore, wireless routers need wide locations that are free of walls and other barriers. While it may be tempting to hide that unsightly black box in a closet or behind a stack of books, you’ll receive a better signal if you place it in an open area with plenty of natural light (which should prevent the router from overheating, too). Likewise, keep it away from high-capacity appliances and devices, since operating such in close proximity might have an adverse effect on Wi-Fi performance. It is possible to significantly enhance speed by removing even one wall that separates your workstation from your network router.
If your router is equipped with external antennas, position them vertically to increase coverage. To receive a stronger signal, it may even assist to raise the router—mount it high on the wall or on the top shelf of the cabinet if at all possible. There are several tools available to assist you in visualising your network coverage. We recommend Ekahau’s Heatmapper and MetaGeek’s inSSIDer since they both show you the weak and strong locations in your Wi-Fi network, which is useful for troubleshooting. There are also several mobile applications available, such as Netgear’s WiFi Analytics.
Take a look at the administrator interface on your network and make sure it’s set up to provide the best possible performance for you. If you have a dual-band router, switching to the 5GHz frequency instead of the more often used 2.4GHz channel will most likely result in faster throughput.
Not only does the 5GHz frequency provide quicker speeds, but it also means you’ll likely have less interference from other wireless networks and devices, since the 5GHz band is not as widely utilised as the other frequencies. (However, since it does not handle obstacles and distances as well as a 2.4GHz signal, it will not necessarily travel as far as a 2.4GHz signal does.)
Most new dual-band routers should allow you to use the same network name, or SSID, on both bands, which is a convenient feature. Make sure you have the same SSID and password on both your 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks by checking your router’s administrative interface and selecting the “5GHz network option.” As a result, your devices will automatically choose the best signal available whenever possible.
To connect manually to another SSID if your router does not let you to use the same one as your computer, just give it a different name, such as SmithHouse-5GHz, and attempt to connect manually whenever feasible.
There is a significant amount of interference, particularly for individuals who reside in heavily crowded regions. Not to mention the fact that certain cordless phone systems, microwaves and other electrical gadgets might interfere with the transmission of signals from other wireless networks.
Have you ever had the opportunity to use walkie-talkies as a child? Remember how the units had to be on the same “channel” in order for you to be able to communicate with one another? Even when you were on the same channel as your neighbours, you could listen in on their discussion even if they were utilising an entirely different set of radio frequencies. In a similar manner, all current routers have the ability to switch between several communication channels while connecting with your devices.
Most routers will automatically choose a channel for you, but if other wireless networks in the vicinity are also using the same channel, you may have signal congestion. A decent router with Automatic channel selection will attempt to choose the least crowded channel available, while older or less expensive routers may just pick a predetermined channel, even if it is not the best option. That has the potential to be an issue.
On Windows-based PCs, you can view which Wi-Fi channels are being used by nearby Wi-Fi networks. From the command line, run netsh wlan show all, and you’ll get a list of all wireless networks in your neighbourhood, as well as the channels that are being utilised by them. The network analyzers listed above may also provide you with same information, but in a more visually appealing graphical style.
For example, in the PCMag office, the majority of our networks, as well as those of our neighbours, use channels 6 and 11. On the 2.4GHz band, you should stay with channels 1, 6, and 11 because these are the only ones that do not overlap with other frequencies (which can degrade performance). 5GHz, on the other hand, often employs non-overlapping channels, which should make picking the most appropriate one considerably simpler.
For those of you who discover that the Auto option isn’t working for you, go into your router’s administrator interface and navigate to the basic wireless category, where you may choose a network manually (preferably, one that isn’t already in use by many other networks in your vicinity). Check the results of another speed test to determine whether the Manual option delivers a better signal and quicker speeds in your issue locations than the Automatic setting.
Always remember that channel congestion may vary over time, so if you pick a channel manually, you may want to check in every so often to ensure that it is still the best choice.
If the issue isn’t caused by interference or Wi-Fi range, it’s conceivable that it’s something else completely. If your network is accessible to the public or if your password is weak, you may find yourself with an unwelcome visitor or two piggybacking on your network. If your neighbour is downloading numerous 4K movies on your Wi-Fi while you are video chatting, your video conversations will suffer as a result.
These programmes may assist you in locating a list of devices connected to your Wi-Fi network, which may be useful in identifying unwelcome neighbours. Your router’s admin interface may also have a traffic analyzer of some form, which will allow you to see which devices are using a lot of data. You could even discover that one of your own children is consuming a lot of data without you even aware. (If this is the case, here’s how to get them to stop.)
Once you’ve tracked out the invader and resolved the issue, you should encrypt your network with a strong password—preferably WPA2, since WEP is famously difficult to crack—to prevent others from connecting.
Most current routers have Quality of Service (QoS) capabilities, such as the Netgear menu seen above, that allow you to control the amount of bandwidth that applications use. It is possible to employ Quality of Service (QoS) to prioritise video chats over file downloads, ensuring that your video connection with grandmother does not be dropped merely because someone else is downloading a large file from Dropbox. (Yes, their paperwork will take longer to process, but granny is more essential than that.) Some Quality of Service (QoS) settings even enable you to prioritise different applications at various times of the day.
QoS settings are often available under advanced settings in the network’s administrator interface, which is accessible via the web browser. One-click entertainment or gaming settings are available on certain routers, which means you can be assured that particular programmes will be prioritised when you use them. It is possible to improve the experience of streaming games while sharing a network by following a few simple measures.
The addition of an external antenna to your router is recommended if your router has an internal antenna, since the latter tends to deliver a stronger signal than the former. Many router manufacturers offer antennas separately, so if your router did not come with antennas that you can attach yourself (or if you threw them away years ago), you may purchase them separately from them online.
It is common to be able to select between omnidirectional antennas, which transmit a signal in all directions, and directional antennas, which send a signal in just one direction. As a rule, built-in antennas are omnidirectional, so if you’re purchasing an external antenna, make sure it’s labelled “high-gain” to ensure that it makes a noticeable difference in performance.
A directional antenna is often a better choice since the chances are that you aren’t encountering weak areas in your network in every direction are greater. If you point your external antenna in the direction of your weak location, it will transmit the signal in that direction as necessary. Details on what to purchase may be found on the website of the router manufacturer.
Making the most of your current equipment is a smart idea, but if you’re operating on ancient gear, you shouldn’t anticipate the finest performance. When it comes to back-end devices, particularly networking equipment, we have a propensity to adhere to the “if it ain’t busted, don’t repair it” approach. However, if you purchased your router some years ago, it is possible that it is still utilising the older, slower 802.11n protocol (or God forbid, 802.11g).
Older routers may have a bandwidth limit of just a few megabits per second and may even have narrower ranges. As a result, all of the adjusting we’ve discussed will only go you so far; the maximum throughput for 802.11g is 54Mbps, whereas the maximum throughput for 802.11n is 300Mbps. The most recent 802.11ac technology provides 1Gbps, but next-generation Wi-Fi 6 routers have the potential to reach 10Gbps. If you’re looking for a speedier wireless router, our list of the best wireless routers is an excellent place to start.
Even if your router is brand new, you may have some older devices that are falling back to older, slower standards as a result of the upgrade. If you purchased a computer within the previous couple of years, it is probable that you have an 802.11ac wireless adapter, or at the very least an 802.11n adapter. However, the older your gadgets are, the less likely it is that they will have contemporary technology integrated in. If you have an older computer, you may be able to purchase a USB Wi-Fi adaptor that will make things a little more manageable.
Remember that a higher-quality router will not only handle those quicker standards, but it will also perform better at all of the other tasks we’ve listed above. It will have improved channel selection, will conduct better band steering for 5GHz devices, and will offer improved quality of service (QoS) capabilities.
Others, such as the Editors’ Choice TP-Link Archer AX11000 tri-band gaming router, may have capabilities such as Multi User-Multiple Input Multiple Output (MU-MIMO). MIMO routers are capable of sending and receiving numerous data streams concurrently to various devices without causing bandwidth degradation. However, MU-MIMO routers must be tested with a large number of clients, and the clients must also be MU-MIMO compliant.
If you do decide to purchase a new router, the procedure of configuring it will not be too difficult. How to set up and configure the device is covered in detail in our tutorial.
However, although some modern routers may have greater range than your old beater, you may still not be able to acquire the range you want in many residences. If the network needs to span a bigger area than the router is capable of broadcasting to, or if there are several corners to be navigated and barriers to be penetrated, performance will always suffer. If none of the suggestions above work, it’s conceivable that your home is just too large for a single router to effectively transmit a strong signal throughout. A second device would be required in such instance to expand your signal range.
Router range extenders receive a signal from your router and rebroadcast it to your devices, and the reverse is true for wireless devices. However, despite the fact that they are affordable, they are not always as successful as mesh Wi-Fi systems, which completely replace your old router. Instead of just replicating a router’s signal, many units work together to intelligently send traffic back to your modem, blanketing your whole home in a single Wi-Fi network that reaches anywhere you need it to go.
It is still recommended that you employ the same placement principles when setting up these mesh points: one node will be linked to your modem, and each of the other nodes should be near enough to pick up a strong signal while yet being distant enough to provide coverage to your dead zones.
The typical disadvantage of Wi-Fi mesh networks has been that they are often more costly than just adding a range extender to your current router. However, this is changing. As a result of Amazon’s Eero 6 and Eero Pro 6, which are approximately $100 to $200 less expensive than much of their mesh competition while also offering Wi-Fi 6 compatibility and even a Zigbee smart home device hub built into the main router, we expect to see a shift in this trend in the near future.
Keep in mind that even with a mesh system, you may still experience some performance degradation on the far ends of your house, especially if your Wi-Fi has to make multiple “hops”—again, placing the main unit in the centre of your house and connecting the nodes with Ethernet will produce the best results. Trust me when I say that if you genuinely want trouble-free Wi-Fi, it’s worth paying an electrician to connect a couple of Ethernet wires to each mesh device. Anything else, in my experience, is a compromise that may or may not meet your requirements.
Mesh Wi-Fi systems are not inexpensive, particularly if you have a big house that would need the installation of several nodes. In any case, if you’re in the market for a new router in any case, they’re a viable option to take into consideration as an alternative. If you’re technically competent, you may be able to save money by installing a few Ubiquiti UniFi Lite access points, which are less expensive but more hard to set up.