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Why does my Wi-Fi connection keep dropping?

Why does my Wi-Fi connection keep dropping?
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Q. My home's Wi-Fi connection seems to drop constantly, especially in certain rooms around the house? What could be causing this and are there fixes I can do to stop this annoying problem? - Eric B. from Los Angeles listens to The Kim Komando Show on 790 AM KABC.

A. I'm sorry to hear that, Eric, but there are a number of different reasons why your Wi-Fi connection keeps dropping. It can be due to something as simple as your router's position or in worst cases, you might need new hardware.

Let me highlight and explain the common reasons why a Wi-Fi connection could drop and ways to solve them:

Signal Congestion

This is the most common problem in many households - radio signal congestion. This is noticeable if your router is still running the 2.4GHz frequency that's meant for older gadgets.

The 2.4GHz frequency is particularly congested because, aside from other Wi-Fi routers in your vicinity, other devices like cordless phones, Bluetooth speakers, microwave ovens and baby monitors occupy this band. This causes interference, slowdowns and unpredictable connectivity.

The solution: Move from one channel to a less crowded one.

To check the optimum channel or the least used channel in your area, try using a Wi-Fi scanner like "Wireless Diagnostics" for Macs or "Acrylic Wi-Fi Home" for Windows. For Android users, there's a bunch of Wi-Fi scanning tools available, but the most popular one is Network Analyzer. Click here for more details and download information.

With these tools, check each channel's quality and move your router to the least crowded one. This could be tricky in apartment complexes or neighborhoods with multiple Wi-Fi routers occupying the same space but these software tools can evaluate your area for the best channel possible.

Once you have the channel info you need, to prevent trampling on other channels, the recommended channels for 2.4GHz are 1, 6 and 11, since they don't overlap with each other.

Just choose the one among these that is least crowded then evaluate your improvements. Changing your router's channel and minimizing radio interference should improve your signal and even speed your network up.

For detailed instructions on how to change your router's channel, check out our Wi-Fi tweaking guide.

Location

Another important factor that affects your Wi-Fi network's connectivity is its physical location. If you keep dropping your signal in certain rooms in your home then relocating your router might solve your connectivity woes.

Try placing your router as close to the center of your home as possible. It's also a good idea to keep it elevated and free from any physical obstructions like furniture and appliances. Avoid reflective surfaces like glass, mirrors and metal too since Wi-Fi signals tend to bounce off these types of materials. Walls, especially those made of concrete, can also severely degrade your Wi-Fi signal.

You can also try adjusting or repositioning your router's antennas. 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.

Aside from choosing the optimum channel I mentioned earlier, it is also a good idea to keep your router at least a meter (3 feet) away from other 2.4GHz appliances like cordless phones, microwaves and baby monitors.

However, your house may just be too big for your router. If this is the case, no amount of tinkering can solve your connectivity problems especially in certain areas of your home. For distance issues, try installing Wi-Fi extenders around your house to boost your network's range.

Firmware and software updates

Aside from security fixes that keep hackers out, updating your router's firmware can also fix your connectivity issues. Sometimes, router manufacturers roll out patches to fix issues with network adapter drivers or even boost your router's efficiency. You should check for router firmware updates at least once every three months to keep in tip-top shape.

Even your gadget's network adapter drivers can get outdated too and this might lead to connectivity issues so make sure you have the latest updates or system updates for gadgets as well.

As a side-note, some tech-savvy users even opt for custom router firmware like DD-WRT to boost their router's performance. This method is strictly for advanced tinkerers, though. For regular users, it's recommended to just stick with your manufacturer's official router firmware.

Inadequate hardware

If your connection intermittently drops during high network load times, for example, during the evening when everyone in your household is at home streaming video, then your router may not be capable of handling such amounts of traffic.

Routers are basically computers too and depending on their processing capabilities, they can only handle so much. Excessive traffic that's beyond a router's capabilities can lead to shutdown and failures due to overloading and overheating.

If you think your router is too outdated or simply not powerful enough to handle your household's network needs, the best fix is to buy a new router.

Newer routers have better and much more powerful hardware and they can support the newer Wi-Fi protocols and features like 802.11ac, beamforming and multi-user MIMO. They have outstanding range too. To help you choose, here are our picks for the best routers you can buy.

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