You know the routine. You fire up your browser or TV and start the next episode of your favorite show on Netflix. The video starts to buffer and you think, “great, here we go again.”
The internet is strained like never before with millions of people at home and off their higher-speed office networks. You and your neighbors are competing for speed.
There are a few factors that determine how reliable your Wi-Fi ought to be. Router speeds and range are important, as well as security settings that can prevent hackers and cybercriminals from meddling with your network. Tap or click here to see the best ways to secure your home network.
But even the fastest, most secure network is nothing without good coverage. Believe it or not, you don’t actually need to buy a thousand dollar router to get better service throughout your home. Here are some basic steps you can take to improve your signal and keep your favorite devices running seamlessly together.
1. Check your wires
Before you start looking at your Wi-Fi network, it’s important to troubleshoot your hardwired internet connection to make sure there’s nothing wrong with it. If the connection going into your router isn’t working, it won’t matter what you do to your Wi-Fi settings.
To get started, find your router and turn it around. You should see several ethernet ports — including the WAN port, typically yellow, that connects from your router to your wall or cable modem. Check to make sure that all cables connected to your router are plugged in tightly. If your computer isn’t physically connected to your router, use an ethernet cable to connect them.
Now that you’re hardwired in, connect to the web via ethernet. Next, it’s time to check your speed. Tap or click here for our favorite internet speed tests.
You can also test the hardwired connection directly to the cable modem if there’s a router in front of it. Note: You can’t do this with a combo device.
If you find your internet is still not connecting after you’ve plugged it in, it’s time to get your network checked. Call your ISP and let them know you’ve tested the internet through a wired connection and can’t get online. They should be able to dispatch a technician to figure out what’s wrong with your connection.
2. Firmware is everything
Just like your smartphone and computer’s operating system, your router needs regular updates. These updates often address security and performance issues, and neglecting to install them can kill your range and signal strength.
To check for updates, open your router administrator page. You’ll need the device’s IP address and admin password to log in, and these are typically printed in the user guide that came with your router. There are sites that can help you find this info, too. Tap or click here for a list of default passwords for 548 router brands.
Once you’re signed in to the admin page, find a section called Advanced or Management and look for firmware updates. Download any updates available. If there is an option in your router’s settings that enables automatic updates, turn that on, too. Now you have one less step to worry about going forward.
If you don’t have updates available and still want to try to improve your service, you can also check with DD-WRT to see if a patch is available for your router. DD-WRT is an open-source, Linux-based firmware image for routers that can optimize your settings for performance. Tap or click here to visit the DD-WRT site.
To find your model, click on Router Database from the menu at the top of the website. Type your router’s model into the search bar and click on the correct entry. Download the files you need from here.
You can install the firmware update using the same admin page you visited earlier. Navigate to where you found the option to update and click any option that says Browse or Upload. Locate the files you downloaded and click them to begin custom firmware installation.
The installation process will vary depending on your device, and not all routers allow you to install update files manually. Improper installation can potentially brick your router, so proceed with caution.
3. Location, location, location
The position of your router plays a big role in your signal strength. If it’s stored behind a cabinet, couch or table, the signal may not reach the rest of your devices. This results in poor-quality connections and spotty coverage.
To get a good idea of where to position your router, visualize what your signal looks like. Your wireless router is an antenna that produces radio-waves in all directions. These radiate out from your device in the shape of a sphere. Put that router on the ground, and a good portion of your signal gets absorbed into the floor.
Instead, place your router somewhere high up and unobscured by furniture. Try putting it as close to the center of your home as possible for best results. If you have a cabinet, a high-shelf within it can be a good place for your router — so long as it’s not made of metal.
Another thing to remember: Always avoid the microwave. The radiation it produces can cause significant interference and performance issues if placed between the access point and your devices. If you have your router in your kitchen, that might be the reason you’re having signal issues.
If you want to know the exact problem areas for Wi-Fi in your home, the NetSpot app can help you figure out where your strengths and weaknesses are.
NetSpot helps you map your Wi-Fi network by measuring signal strength in specific areas. It is available for Mac and PC, and there are also app versions for iOS and Android.
To get started, open NetSpot and toggle the menu selection from Survey to Discover. You’ll get a quick assessment of your current location and the strength of every wireless network available in that spot. You can also use Survey mode to sketch out your home’s layout and measure relative network strength in each room.
4. Set up dual-band Wi-Fi for optimal speed
Did you know your router can put out its signal at different frequencies? The two primary frequencies, 2.4GHz and 5GHz, each have their own strengths and drawbacks. The lower frequency 2.4GHz Wi-Fi is able to travel much farther around your home. The higher-frequency 5GHz, on the other hand, provides a faster connection at the expense of distance.
To get the most out of your home network, you should use both frequencies at the same time. Connect your bandwidth-hogging devices to the 5GHz signal. This will prevent them from bogging down speeds on the 2.4GHz network.
To set up both frequency bands, make sure your router offers simultaneous dual-band Wi-Fi. Next, open your admin menu using your web browser and navigate to the wireless settings page. Usually, this will be under a tab called Wireless or Network settings.
Once there, change your settings to Manual, if not already enabled, and change one band setting to 2.4GHz and the other to 5GHz. Then set SSID broadcasting to enabled, if available. This will make it so the two bands show as different networks to connect to.
Settings may vary depending on your router manufacturer, so check your router’s instructions to see if any additional steps are needed, or if any menus or options are labeled differently.
5. Use Windows to channel-surf and find the best signal to use
Even if you’ve set dual-band broadcasting on your routers, it’s not uncommon for others nearby to do so as well. This goes double if you live in close proximity to neighbors or in an apartment building.
Changing the channel on your router isn’t as simple as changing the channel on your TV, but it can go a long way in boosting your connection.
Wi-Fi networks become bogged down the more users are connected to them, and manually switching to one that’s less crowded can help you avoid interference from neighboring networks.
To do this, open the admin menu for your router and visit the Wireless or Network settings tab. In the same area where you changed your band settings, you should see channel options as well. If your settings default to Automatic, set them to the following channels:
- For the 2.4GHz network, choose channels 1, 6 or 11.
- For the 5GHz network, choose channels 40, 80 or 160. You can also leave it set to automatic or default settings if it seems to be working fine.
If you’re wondering which channel to choose, no problem. Windows users can actually use a system process called Netsh WLAN to see all the nearby wireless networks and the channels they’re using.
To do this, click on the Search icon from the taskbar and type Run. This will open the Windows Command Prompt.
Once the command prompt is open, paste the following text into it:
netsh wlan show networks mode=bssid |^findstr /I /R "^ssid | channel | signal
This will display a list of all available wireless networks in your immediate area, as well as the channels these networks are using. Look through the other networks and choose your channel based on whatever is used the least by your neighbors.
And if you have a Mac, not to worry: macOS gives you the option to scan your local networks as well. Here are the steps to take:
- Hold the option key on the keyboard and click on the Wi-Fi icon in the Menu Bar at the top of your screen.
- Click Open Wireless Diagnostics. A Wireless Diagnostics window will open. Leave the window as is, for now.
- Click on Window in the Menu Bar at the top of your screen.
- Click Scan from the drop-down menu. macOS will then show you all of the Wireless Access Points in your area.
- Click Scan Now to refresh the list of networks (in case you have any issues, or too few show up at first).
Look through each network and note the channels they’re using. You can also use the Summary tab to see the best specific channels to use for your 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz networks. Handy!
6. Quality of Service Wi-Fi: What is it?
Different types of data use more bandwidth than others, which is why Quality of Service Wi-Fi can help. This protocol lets you prioritize data by category, which can help speed up your connection significantly.
To set up QoS Wi-Fi, open your router admin menu again and look for a tab labeled Advanced or NAT/QOS (the layout may vary depending on your router). If there is an option to Enable or toggle QoS On, do so.
Next, your router should give you the option to prioritize specific kinds of data. If it doesn’t pop up automatically, you may need to look for an option that allows you to add a rule for your web traffic.
On Netgear routers, for example, you can click QOS Setup followed by Setup QoS rule. Then, click Add Priority Rule. You can then choose to set your priority for certain kinds of traffic (like online gaming) to Highest, High, Normal, or Low.
We recommend putting your most important or frequently used items, such as streaming video or video conferencing, at the highest priority level.
7. When all else fails, swap the antenna
If you’re still having issues with Wi-Fi after applying these fixes, a new antenna might be in order. Most routers come with a stock omnidirectional antenna, which means the signal is sent out in all directions. A high-gain directional antenna can boost your speed and coverage as long as it points in the general direction of your most-used devices.
This dual-band high-gain antenna from Alfa will give you access to double-band broadcasting, and it’s easy to install and set up. Once you’re plugged in, you’ll see improvements in Wi-Fi throughout your home.
And if you want to extend your reach beyond the walls of your home, this multi-band antenna from Tupavco will give you a full-powered Wi-Fi signal across your property. If you have multiple structures or a larger piece of land, you can even set up several to build a stronger network.
Now that you know how to boost your Wi-Fi signal, there’s no excuse to keep struggling with slow or spotty internet. And even better news, your Wi-Fi is about to get stronger in the future.
8. Picking a new router
If you’ve already replaced your antenna and fully troubleshot your network issues, it might be time to just get a new router altogether. Choose one that features the latest WPA 3 encryption settings and 6GHz broadcasting — better known as Wi-Fi 6.
Wi-Fi 6 runs on a wider frequency band than older routers, which means Wi-Fi 6-equipped routers are better at handling multiple devices. This is great for those of us with smart home tech and lots of Internet of Things gadgets. Tap or click here to see all the benefits of Wi-Fi 6.
If you’re looking for a new router that has both WPA 3 and Wi-Fi 6, consider our sponsor, eero. These routers create a 6GHz mesh network across your home — blanketing all your spaces, inside and out, with Wi-Fi.
Kim’s home is made of steel, which can act as a Faraday cage and interfere with wireless connections. She used eero to fix her spotty connection, and you can too. The eero 6 covers up to 1,500 square feet while the eero 6 Pro covers up to 2,000. Eero’s extenders can also cover an additional 1,500 square feet.
Want to know which eero is the best fit for your home? Tap or click here to take this quiz from Eero that can show you. The main factors to keep in mind are how big your house is and how many devices you need to connect.
By clicking our links, you’re supporting our research, as we may earn a very small commission. Recommendations are not part of any business incentives.