Saturday, June 27, 2015

How To Optimize Your Home WIFI To Get The Strongest Signal And Coverage

One of the most frequently asked questions that I receive is "How can I improve the WIFI reception in my home." Any RF engineer will tell you that there are a myriad of answers to this question. Your WIFI router transmits RF (radio frequency) and it can be blocked and absorbed by most anything in your home. In addition, there are other transient RF waves, in your space, that will "interfere" with those that are being emitted by your router.

First, let's take a look at the more involved and costly solutions, and then we will look at the simple fixes that won't cost you a dime.


1. Update your router's firmware with an open source product like DD-WRT. This is not possible on all routers and it is rather "geeky" - not suggested for the average user. This will allow you to increase the output level of the RF signal and give you many more options for "fine tuning".

2. Purchase a new router. Most of the new routers like the TP-Link Archer C9 will provide a stronger signal and cover a larger area. In addition, they are "dual band" - transmitting on 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. This is a significant advantage in crowded areas where the 2.4 spectrum may be over-saturated. Areas like apartments or condos, where there are many WIFI routers in close proximity, create huge problems with interference. The 5 GHz band has many more channels and less chance for collisions.

3. Purchase a Repeater or Range Extender. These devices are bridges that basically grab the RF signal from your original WIFI router and extend it to another area of your home. While this setup will increase your range, it generally, reduces the throughput of your Internet connection. Sometimes a better solution is to purchase a Powerline Repeater. This transmits the signal via Ethernet through your electrical lines, as if the lines were Cat 5 twisted pair cable. The Powerline Repeater, coupled with a second router or access point in another part of the home has proved to be satisfactory solution for many users.

4. Of course, the ideal solution is often the most difficult to achieve. Run Ethernet cable from your main router to a distant part of your home and connect a second router (preferably the same brand as the first) in Bridge Mode. Easier said than done, in most homes.

Ok, now for the simple steps that everyone can perform - WIFI Channel Selection and Router Placement.

1. The placement of your WIFi router is crucial. Sometimes moving it 4 or 5 feet will make a huge difference. But, how do you know where to place it? Surely, trial and error is not a good solution. Fortunately, there is an "App for that". In fact, there are two good ones. I recommend WIFI Analyzer. Unfortunately, it's Android only. If you have an Android based Smartphone or Tablet, you can get it in the Google Play Store - free. There is no equivalent App for IPhone or IPad because IOS does not permit this type of hardware access. There is a, less elegant, alternative. NirSoft's WifiInfoView is a simple Windows application, with a few less features, but it gets the job done. These applications will allow you to test the WIFI signal strength of your router from different locations in your home. You can move the router, slightly, and recheck the areas that have weak reception.

2. Adjust the WIFI Channel. All WIFI routers allow you to change (Within the Administrative Settings) the transmit channel (frequency). Generally, WIFI routers have Channel Ranges 1 - 11. Channels 1, 6, and 11 are the most frequently used for 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi. These three channels are the only ones that don’t overlap with each other. When you scan your area with WIFI Analyzer or WifiInfoView, you will see the details of all of the WIFI routers close to your location. You need to put your router on a Channel that is the least crowded. If 5 neighbors are on Channel 1 you should use 6 or 11. The further you are from the congested channels, the better. Correct channel selection will significantly improve your signal strength and expand the broadcast area within your home.

Try the simple steps first - you may save a little time and money.