The joy of Wi-Fi is that you can use your gadgets anywhere in your house. Want to browse the Internet on your couch with a tablet? Sure. Want to download the latest recipes on your laptop in the kitchen? Great.
Of course, like any tech, it isn’t perfect. You’ll often find that there are spots in the house the Wi-Fi signal doesn’t quite reach. Or if it does, it’s so inconsistent that you really can’t get anything done. Fortunately, there are several ways to boost a Wi-Fi signal and eliminate dead spots, and most of them are free.
But first …
Before you can take some of these steps to boost your signal, however, you need to know where it’s weak. You might already think you do; after all you can’t connect in a certain room. However, you might have other spots with a weaker signal you don’t know about.
As you’re trying to improve your coverage in your current dead spots, there could be new dead spots. It could turn into a game of Whack-a-mole where the mole is invisible. That’s why it might be a good idea to make a heatmap of your home’s Wi-Fi.
There are computer programs that can help you do this. Simply install them on your laptop and move around the house. They’ll map out where the Wi-Fi is strong and weak. HeatMapper is an option for PC, and Netspot works for Macs.
You can also use an app like the free Wi-Fi Analyzer for Android that has a real-time signal strength meter. While it doesn’t create a map automatically, you can use it to make your own map.
Once you know where your dead spots are and where potential ones could be, it’s time to start making changes to your network.
1. Location, location, location
It’s important to remember that your Wi-Fi antenna is omnidirectional, i.e., the signal goes every direction equally. In other words, if you put your router along an outside wall, you’re sending half your signal outside. For the best all-around signal, place your router as close as possible to the middle of the house, or the middle of the area where you need it.
You should also pay attention to what’s around the router. You’re probably tempted to hide the nest of cables, but it’s better to have it out in the open. Putting it inside a bookcase or near anything metal can partially block the signal.
2. Direct the signal
If you need to send a strong Wi-Fi signal in just one direction, you can add a reflector to your router’s antenna, such as a beer can.
It sounds crazy, but it really works. If your router has an internal antenna, a sheet of curved aluminum foil set behind the router can work as well.
3. Tweak the settings
If you’ve moved the router and it didn’t help as much as you’d hoped, then you might need to tweak a few router settings. This mostly applies to 802.11g and older 802.11n routers. If you have an 802.11n router purchased in the last few years or an 802.11ac router, it should handle this for you automatically.
You can access the settings by opening a browser and typing in the router’s IP address. The IP address will be in your router’s manual. It will also tell you the default router username and password if you’ve never changed them.
Can’t find your manual? Download free manuals for thousands of gadgets.
Once you’re in the settings, you can adjust the router broadcast channel to reduce interference with other routers. Most 802.11n and g routers are set to channel 1, 6 or 11, and you should stick to one of those. For example, if your router is set to channel 1, try switching to 6 or 11 and seeing if that improves your signal.
You can also use the programs and app we mentioned above to see what other Wi-Fi routers are operating in your area, and the frequencies they’re using. That gives you a better shot of finding one that isn’t heavily used.
4. Upgrade your router
If you do have an 802.11b, 802.11g or older 802.11n router, you should probably just upgrade to a new router. Newer routers have better range, faster speeds, upgraded security, multiple networks and more. Click here to find out the best routers you can buy in 2017.
Of course, you won’t be able to take advantage of the range or speed if you have older gadgets that don’t support the latest Wi-Fi standards. So that old laptop still might not connect well. In that case, you can buy a $10 to $30 USB Wi-Fi adapter that lets you connect to newer standards.
5. Add a range extender
You can also buy a Wi-Fi booster or range extender. This is a special kind of router that receives the Wi-Fi signal and rebroadcasts it to areas of the house your router can’t reach.
A range extender will set you back $30 to $130 depending on what kind of Wi-Fi it supports. You’ll want one that matches the type (802.11n, 802.11ac) and speed (150Mbps, 300Mbps, etc.) of your router. It also helps to buy the same manufacturer as your router for the best compatibility. Get more details on range extenders and how to use them.
If you’ve tried all these steps and you’re still seeing problems with your network, it could be something else. For example, your neighbors might be logging in to steal your Internet. Find out how you can spot network intruders and how to kick them out.
No matter what, as you’re making these network adjustments, you need to make sure your network security stays intact. In fact, if you haven’t touched it since you set up your router years ago, it’s probably time to make it strong. Learn how to lock down your network to keep criminals out.
Note: If you’re using the Komando.com app, click here to view the video for tips on fixing dead spots in your Wi-Fi.