WiFi Internet is pretty much a staple of life nowadays, and its not cheap. Internet plans vary between $50-100 a month or possibly more, and as consumers we should be making sure we are getting our money’s worth and squeezing every last drip of bandwidth for our devices. This week, I’ll be sharing some tips for WiFi optimization, to hopefully boost the reliability and speed of WiFi in your homes. Note: If you need to accomplish tasks that require a concrete internet connection, plugging in directly to an Ethernet port is always the best option.
1. Don’t rely on Rogers/Bell/etc’s built in router.
When the average person thinks router, they think the box Rogers/Bell gives them, and they are half right. To be consumer-friendly, that box is actually a combination of a modem and a router. The most important part is the modem, this is the portal in which you access the internet. The router however, is actually of very low quality. The big telecom companies will boast that they are bundling the newest and best routers, but in reality they are mass-purchasing cheap routers from Asia to keep costs low. The biggest improvement you can make to the speed and strength of your WiFi is to purchase a separate router, and bridge your modem into it. Basically, you want to supply your own router to carry the signal, and bypass the built in router supplied by your provider. I won’t go into detail on how to bridge your router as there are different methods for different providers/models of modems. Rogers supplies a good setup guide here however Bell does not, so in the interim, here‘s a forum thread where some people have troubleshooted through it.
When looking for a new router, you pretty much cant go wrong with anything in the $100-200 range. Almost any commercial router made by a reputable company (TP-Link, NetGear, D-Link, Linksys) at this price point will improve your WiFi. I personally recommend the TP-Link Archer C9, as this is the router I use and it’s boosted WiFi in my home in some places by almost 10 fold. If you want to do further research, here’s a a top router list for 2018 by PCMag.
Most newer routers will offer 2 frequencies of WiFi – 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz. The difference between these frequencies is range and reliability. 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz are frequencies of waves, very similar to the way different radio stations have different frequencies. The range of 2.4Ghz is useful because it provides long range and can pass through most solid objects without too much loss in signal strength. The 2.4Ghz range however is very popular, so a lot of different devices use it and cause feedback. For example, a common household microwave also uses the 2.4Ghz spectrum, so expect to potentially have a drop in WiFi when the microwave is on. The 5Ghz wave is less commonly used and therefore has less feedback, but it also has a much shorter range, and is not good at passing through walls. Because most homes have many rooms/walls, positioning of the router is very important. Unless you plan to be in the same room as the router to utilize the 5Ghz signal, you will most likely be connecting to the 2.4Ghz signal. Like i said earlier, the 2.4Ghz signal can go through most walls, but will still suffer some loss. Different materials will cause different amounts of signal decay, with plywood being the weakest and metal being the strongest. Best practice is to place your router closest to the are where you will be using it most, and avoid putting it inside of any metal cabinets or housings.
3. Choose a less noisy channel.
So you’ve got your router set up, placed it in an optimal location and you’re ready to go. There is one last step to make sure you’re WiFi signal is as clear as possible. Open your phone or laptop, and scan for nearby access points. Assuming you don’t live in a remote area, you will see that there are several access points all around you, and you can see them because the 2.4Ghz signal carried from them is able to reach you. Like I said earlier, the 2.4Ghz spectrum is very busy. To avoid overlapping signals, the spectrum is divided up into channels. There are 14 Channels for the 2.4Ghz band, but unfortunately they overlap in groups of 5. This means that to have 3, clear signals that do not overlap, you would need to utilize channels 1, 6 and 11. Most routers will pick a channel for you, usually channel 1. The problem here is that some routers are not smart enough to detect how many other people are using channel 1. You can download free android apps (sorry IPhone users, apple doesn’t let apps use WiFi scanning), or download programs for your laptops to analyze which channels are being used. I use a program called Vistumbler that’s free and easy to use. You simply open up the program and being scanning to see the nearby access points.
Then by clicking ‘Extras’ on toolbar and clicking ‘2.4Ghz channel graph’ you can get a visual representation of which channels are busiest.
The height of each box is the strength of the signal, and I’m currently on Channel 6. The next strongest signal is on channel 11, so I would want to avoid being on that channel if possible. You can also see above how busy channel 1 is.
Changing your channel is very easy, but it differs based on the model of your router. Generally, you would log in to your router using it’s IP address, which is usually 192.168.0.1, 192.168.1.1 or 192.168.2.1. Type your routers IP address into the address line of whatever browser you use (just like accessing a website) to access the settings page. You’ll need to login, but if you have not changed the username and password yourself, the login will usually be admin/admin. If you’re unsure of what your login is, google “(Insert router brand) default login”. Once you’ve logged in, you will need to navigate to the WiFi settings and look for something like this:
Simply change the channel setting from Auto to your desired channel and you are set!
Hopefully these tips have helped you get stronger WiFi in your household.If you’re going to implement any of these steps, its always neat to see a before and after of your speed. You can use a site like Speedtest.net to test your speed before and after making any of the optimization changes. If you have any questions or come across any problems implementing any of these, please reach out!