PC Tuning

How to Maximise your wireless signal (WiFi)

There’s little in life more frustrating than having all the virtues of unfettered mobile internet access limited to half the house. Want to look up some recipes online in the kitchen? No problem. Fancy a quick film in bed? Now you’re out of luck. So, this article is to help you reduce one of life’s little stresses – maintaining a consistent WiFi signal from your broadband router throughout the whole of your house.

Step 1 – understand how WiFi signals work

A friend once told me that the Internet was ‘nowt but Beams’, and actually that’s a great analogy for us to use here. Your broadband router sends out a signal in all directions (at least, if it has an omnidirectional antenna, which most routers do). This means that the signal it sends out can be blocked, reflected or transmitted by certain kinds of medium. What’s a medium? It’s stuff – your concrete floors won’t let anything through, but the glass door between your kitchen and the hall will let signals pass through easily.

Step 2 – take a look at your house

Your house is built of many different media, each with their own Wifi permittivity (how much signal they let through). Major things to look out for are 1) concrete floors – in-between floors, there tends to be a layer of structural concrete, which will sap any signal. There’s a reason that nuclear bunkers are built of the stuff. 2) thick walls, or multiple layers of walls – each time a WiFi signal tries to pass through a wall, it gets weaker. That means that if there are four walls between your bedroom and your router, the signal is probably being lost in one of the walls in between.

Of course, a complete remodel of your house probably isn’t necessary – but have a think about where you can position your router to optimise the signal in the most relevant directions.

Step 3 – changing the channel

If you’ve ever tried to have a one-on-one conversation in a crowded room, you’ll know how distracting external ‘noise’ can be. This is a great way to think about your router – all through the house, signals are travelling all over the shop. If it’s too noisy, your router will get drowned out in the melee. Luckily, there are a couple of ways to solve this. Firstly, check for ‘electromagnetically noisy’ – i.e. things that put out a strong signal – things in the vicinity. Top culprits include microwaves, home phone handset docks and nearby WiFi enabled computers.

Secondly, take a look in your router settings (usually by going to your router’s default IP address, often and play around with the ‘Channel’ setting. This slightly modifies the frequency of the router signal, which could make it easier to hear in the crowded signal-space around your home. Just like lowering your voice in a crowded room. Much easier to hear.

Step 4 – consider a repeater

Moving the box typically does the trick, but if you happen to live in a concrete-ridden mansion your router is still not going to push signal to everywhere you want. In this case, you’ll have to consider use of a repeater. There are a bunch of companies online that sell repeaters, from Belkin to Apple. Many companies also offer their own router-repeater solutions ready-made. A repeater simply takes an ailing WiFi signal at the limit of its broadcast distance and amplifies it back up (it de-attenuates the signal), so it’s fresh, strong and ready to transmit through a few more walls. Multiple repeaters are fine – if you’re teching-up your castle, you can use repeaters all over the shop to make sure your main router signal gets as far as possible.

Step 5 – consider a better router

We’re now getting more expensive, but there is a lot to be said for a higher-quality router. Besides increased broadcasting power, branded routers offer a wider range of customisation options and typically lower drop-out rates. There are plenty of good brands out there.

Step 6 – think about a high-gain antenna

Is that piddly little antenna on your router simply not cutting it? Many routers offer you the option to replace it with your own. There are a number of companies online that offer ‘high-gain’ antennas – ones that will take the router signal and blare it out much more strongly. They’re often pricier to purchase and harder to mount (they’re pretty sizeable, sometimes), but they are virtually guaranteed to pump up your signal emission.

Step 7 – use a specialist antenna

If your WiFi requirements are quite niche (say, broadcasting between two houses, or in a specialist configuration) you can pick up a specialist antenna at the same places as supply high-gain ones. These could be a dish, for high directional signal amplification (say, serving a router signal directly to a room a few hundred metres away but nowhere else), or a huge omnidirectional antenna designed for outdoor use (say, for setting up consistently good campsite WiFi). They’re not cheap, and they’re often awkward to mount and maintain, but very often they’re the only available solution that’s going to work.

So, we’ve seen that there’s no good reason to abide poor WiFi signals, and there are a bunch of solutions – from free to fairly pricy – you can deploy to enjoy your broadband connection anywhere. Any further ideas? Feel free to post them in the comments below! It would be great to have your input.

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