Improve my Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi icon

In a perfect world Wi-Fi would be like all the adverts, and all the advances would mean that it works in every corner of home no matter whether its a one bed flat or a film stars mansion, alas the real world for Wi-Fi is vastly more complex and improving Wi-Fi is a very trial and error based process. Hopefully our tips will help you get the best from your Wi-Fi and also help you avoid spending £100's of useless hardware that just gets binned.

If your Wi-Fi kit is several years old it may be time for an upgrade
Remember that Wi-Fi is easily blocked by bodies
Optimise the Wi-Fi router location
More antenna and bigger price does not always mean better Wi-Fi
Wi-Fi Interference - myth or reality
Ditch your very old wireless CCTV or old IPTV cameras

If your Wi-Fi kit is several years old it may be time for an upgrade

Wi-Fi has had many standards over the years and used to operate using the 802.11b standard at 2.4GHz. Since then, we have had 802.11a/b/g/n and now 802.11ac. We would recommend you use a broadband router or wireless access point which operares both on 2.4 and 5GHz bands simulentaneously. You should also ensure your network is WPA2-protected (WEP encryption is considered fairly useless these days and no encryption is really asking for trouble!). 5GHz helps significantly because it's far less crowded than 2.4GHz so you can get much faster speeds if you're using spectrum that your neighbours are less likely to be on. Whilst 5GHz supports much higher speeds, it also doesn't reach as far, so you may need Wi-Fi extenders.

Remember that Wi-Fi is easily blocked by bodies

We aren't joking, but the 2.4 GHz wireless band is very easily blocked by living tissue, and a myriad of other devices such a fish tanks, fridges, freezers and even the metal foil insulation on the plasterboard that saves you money on your heating bill.

Optimise the Wi-Fi router location

The ideal place for a wireless router or wireless access point is probably at ceiling height in the middle of the room you occupy most, but you will need to experiment. Sitting on top of a bookshelf without a lot of clutter around it is usually a good location. If your wireless router is also your broadband router, balancing the wireless coverage against extra cabling decreasing your connection speed is a consideration, and many prefer to add an Ethernet cable between the router and a wireless access point, thus ensuring the best coverage.

We recommend these dual-band Wi-Fi extenders:

If you are a gamer and play first-person action (e.g. Call of Duty) then the best thing is to connect your PC or games console to your broadband router via an Ethernet cable; losing a match because your cat decided to get warm by sitting on the Wi-Fi router (they do that as it's a warm surface) is a very poor excuse for losing a big match!

My cat approves of my overheating router. from aww

Wireless mesh units are becoming more popular, but at £100 each many of these systems are not cheap but often they do much better job than all in one wireless routers in terms of covering a property with a broadband signal.

If you cannot get decent wireless coverage a cheap solution (£30 or so) with no extra wiring are wireless broadband extenders, which just plug into the mains and pick up the existing wireless signal and re-broadcast it. You do lose some speed but the extra coverage is usually worth it - you need to make sure the extender is still within decent range of the current broadband router.

Features such as beam steering, MIMO and ever bigger plastic antenna can improve coverage in a home, but at the end of the day by far the best option is an additional device that covers the not-spot adequately. You can configure the wireless networks to all share the same names and security passwords, but experience does show that some devices work best when forced to only connect to a single band, so sometimes giving your 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz wireless router/access point signals different names is better.

More antennas and bigger price does not always mean better Wi-Fi

Remember the wireless speeds quoting by manufacturers are the theoretical speeds once all the overheads for carrying your Internet data over the wireless network are taken into account you invariably will get a best half the big figure mentioned on the box in the store. Also a big ugly box with what looks like lots of great antenna may actually be no better than the router that has no external antenna, unfortunately the only way to really tell is to try them out and this is where finding out what others experience is with different devices will help.

External antenna that you can move can sometimes help with directing the signal, so you may find that by trying different antenna locations you can change the levels of coverage substantially.

Some of the latest features such as MIMO which allow devices to make use of signals from two or three antenna at once will only be a benefit if your device has the support too.

Wi-Fi Interference - myth or reality

Wi-Fi actually does an amazing job of coping with interference, the biggest problem is usually congestion caused by the shared nature of the radio spectrum and other wireless networks, hence why at any big conference they will beg everyone to switch off their own personal hot-spots so the conference Wi-Fi stands a chance.

Microwaves can sometimes create problems, but the solution is easy; don't put your wireless router in the kitchen near the microwave. Interference from LED lights is potentially an issue, but seems more theoretical to date, radio interference affecting the ADSL and VDSL2 signals as the result of cheap switched mode power supplies is a much bigger issue.

While the temptation is to turn your wireless routers signal power up to the maximum, it is actually better if neighbours can agree and arrive at a power setting where networks do not overlap, both in terms of the channels used and overall signal power, ie. if everyone turns their power down slightly so signals do not leak from their house so much may improve Wi-Fi reliability.

Ditch very old wireless CCTV and other Wi-Fi appliances

Old CCTV systems (e.g. gate cameras sharing the 2.4GHz spectrum with Wi-Fi devices without using Wi-Fi as such) and other wireless devices (think baby monitors) can mean more intereference on the Wi-Fi Network. New alternatives have much better picture quality anyway.

Another major factor is some very old IPTV cameras (or other Internet-connected Wi-Fi appliances such as thermostats, televisions, games consoles) only use 802.11b/g wireless standards, and presence of these devices on a wireless network may force the entire network to run slower than if you only connect devices that support the newer 802.11n and 802.11ac standards.