Inexpensive ways to boost your Wi-Fi signal

In the short time it has been with us, WiFi has become a bedrock of everyday life. It is almost unthinkable now for wireless not be available in any home, office, café, restaurant, bar, leisure centre, train, bus, or anywhere else where people might conceivably want to make use of their smartphone, laptop or tablet.

But what happens when you can’t get the kind of WiFi reception you want? We have probably all experienced this at home or in the office. Sometimes it is down to external factors, such as the broadband connection and how intensively it is being used – and there is not that much you can do right away to fix that – but more of that later on in the article

At other times it can be due to internal factors, such as someone streaming a HD video or playing an interactive game; or a large file download being run. Or it could be interference or a poor connection to the router.

Whatever the cause, there are a number of things you can do to minimise the chances of your WiFi performance dropping off.

Back to top

Check your wired connection

First of all, you do need to make sure that your broadband connection is working properly. It should be, but you should check. First of all, just check that everything is plugged in correctly. That the cables are all in the right sockets, that all connectors are firmly plugged-in, and that cables not being inappropriately bent, twisted, or squashed by any furniture or other equipment. It is also worth checking that the cable between the router and the broadband wall socket is securely in place and undamaged.

If that all seems to be OK, it is worth checking your broadband speed is what it should be – or at least close to it. There are plenty of speed checkers you can use – for example, there is one available on the Ofcom site, at https://checker.ofcom.org.uk/broadband-test. Click on the Details tab to see the actual speeds you are getting.

If the speeds don’t come anywhere near what you are expecting, you should contact your broadband supplier as it won’t just be your WiFi performance that suffers – it will be everything.

Back to top

Update your router

Of course, you may just have an old or outdated router. If you have a really old device, most service providers will provide you with an up-to-date one free of charge. WiFi standards have moved on over the years and the amount of bandwidth we all use has increased, so an older router that runs an earlier standard (such as 802.11n, for example, which is now more than ten years old) may not be able to keep up with modern devices.

You really want a router that supports 802.11ac or even better, 802.11ax (aka WiFi 6), which is the very latest and best standard.

It is also possible that your router is just not performing very well or had a malfunction of some kind. Although this is rare, routers usually either work or fail completely. But if you are in any doubt, contact your service provider. If they can’t help, it may be worth buying an up to date router and installing it yourself – or with the help of a trusted third party reseller.

Back to top

Achieve optimal placement

WiFi uses radio frequencies and like any other radio technology, performance is dependent to a large degree on signal strengths. If you are a long way from the router – say 25 meters or more, you won’t get as good a signal and as good performance as if you were right by it.

Thick walls and certain materials, such as steel, concrete, or body of water, for example), can block WiFi signals. Another potential problem is interference from other devices that use radio frequencies, such as microwave ovens.

It’s important therefore, to find the optimal position for your router. In many cases, locating your router right by the broadband socket will be fine. But if that’s a bad spot, away from where people want to actually use devices with WiFi, you’ll need to run an Ethernet cable to wherever you believe you can get optimal performance. You might need specialist help to doing that of course, and if it’s not possible for any reason, there are other options you can consider, such as using extenders or a Mesh WiFi system (see below)

Back to top

Change the frequency

You may not realise it but your router will almost certainly be using two frequencies – 2.4GHz and 5GHz, and while most are set up to selects the best one to use with each device that connects automatically, it won’t always get it right. On most routers, most devices will be connected using 2.4Ghz. This is more efficient in terms of managing overall bandwidth and has a further range (as it needs less power), but 5GHz is faster – especially if you are close to the router and there are no obstructions in the way.

By using the administration console that you ought to be able to access through your Internet service account, you should be able to change the settings on the router. You could, for example, give the 5GHz connection a different identity (or SSID as it is known), so that it looks like a different WiFi network. You can then choose to connect to this frequency rather than the 2.4GHz.

Back to top

Reach further with a range extender or Mesh Wi-Fi system

Range extenders and Mesh WiFi systems are amazing pieces of technology that enable you to reach further with WiFi signals and make sure that the coverage is even all over the home or premises. An extender is a really basic-looking device that you simply plug-into an electrical socket close to where you want to get a better WiFi signal.

Typically, in the home this will be an upstairs bedroom or landing, or an office or workplace in a garden. This will make use of the electrical circuit in the house to pick up the WiFi and extend the signal to those areas.

A Mesh WiFi system uses several extenders and/or access points (usually two or three in a kit) to make sure that there is good coverage throughout the house or building, and that that the strength of coverage is the same everywhere.

Back to top

Control the quality

Most routers will also come with a Quality of Service set of options that allow you to prioritise certain types of traffic over others. This should be accessible through your account log-on with you service provider. If you can access this, you can change the priorities for different traffic types and applications, so you could prioritise Teams or Zoom calls over web surfing or video downloads for example.

Back to top

Look at alternative broadband and phones

If you really can’t get the kind of WiFi speed and performance you need, it may well be down to the broadband connection just not being up to scratch. You may need to upgrade or change your provider if this is the case. You may also find that when you are using collaboration apps such as Teams, Skype or Zoom – or a dedicated IP handset even, over WiFi, that the call quality is not up to scratch. If that’s the case, you may also need a better VoIP service – but upgrading the broadband will help a lot, as may some of the measures described above.

Back to top