Wow-Fi: How to Get the Strongest Signal You Can at Home

Share

Ten years ago, getting a steady Wi-Fi signal at home was almost unheard of. People were using routers with hardwired connections rather than trust the fleeting and often flaky connection that most communications providers were offering. It wasn’t until Netflix really started to push the streaming of movies into homes (and the impending demise of DVD deliveries) that Wi-Fi became a huge concern. And now, Wi-Fi is present in almost every home in the country, and part of almost every product in those homes. Cameras, gaming consoles, smartphones—even your printer relies on Wi-Fi.

An increasing concern at the consumer level is “Why is my Wi-Fi so slow?” There are a lot of reasons, and there are just as many solutions to boost your Wi-Fi. We’re going to take a look at some common problems and the ways to fix them.

The Modem

First, let’s start with the basics. A high-speed Internet connection comes into your house through an Internet service provider (ISP). These communications companies usually provide “package” deals, which include Internet service, phone service, and cable television service. There’s an increasing demand for Internet and phone only, or Internet-only service, as many people are cutting their ties to cable TV companies and going with streaming services like Hulu Plus and Netflix.

The wire that powers your Internet comes from outside your home, and is run (usually by coaxial cable, or in some cases fiber-optic cables) into your home or business. Regardless of how the signal comes in, it’s useless without a device to handle and interpret the signal. That device is called a Modem.

Modems are boxes that do one thing—connect your incoming data line to your computer. They provide no security or protection, but they are the only way to receive the signal inside the house. Other connections to the modem are made to supply service to your phone and TV. And to your Router.

Looking for a good modem? Consider the SB6141 SURFboard DOCSIS 3.0 Cable Modem, which features a 75 Ω F-connector and a 10/100/1000Base-T Ethernet Interface. It supports both IPv4 and IPv6 Internet protocols and can provide up to eight downstream and four upstream channels.

The Router

A router is a device that takes the signal from the modem and delivers the signal, both wired and wirelessly, throughout your house or business. Routers come in single-band or dual-band varieties. Bands are the “highways” along which data travels—either the 2.4 GHz or 5.0 GHz band—and like a highway, the older 2.4 GHz is crowded with traffic from everyday devices like wireless phones, speakers, and even microwave ovens. The less crowded highway is the relatively new 5.0 GHz band, which may soon become as choked with traffic as the 2.4 GHz band, but for now delivers a much smoother ride. There are combo modem/routers, but most people are familiar with individual routers, like the ASUS RT-AC68U Dual-Band Wireless AC 1900 Gigabit Router. It uses the fastest protocol to date (802.11ac, three times faster than 802.11n routers) and comes equipped with a host of security features like WEP,WPA2-PSK and WPA/2 Enterprise. It includes two USB ports, five Gigabit Ethernet ports.

Dual-band routers use both bands for added speed. If you connect with a dual band that travels the 2.4 GHz highway at 300 Mbps (megabits per second, which refers to the speed that data travels at optimal conditions) and you also connect to the 5.0 GHz highway at 600 Mbps, then your dual-band router can attain transfer speeds of 900 Mbps (300 Mbps+600 Mbps).

The speed of your router is only as good as your slowest incoming connection, however. If your modem is only delivering a 100 Mbps Internet connection, then that’s the apex of what your router will deliver. If you’re lucky enough to have a Gigabit Ethernet connection, your router will blaze on. If you want speed, buy a fast router—and consider paying your ISP for a faster connection.

Extenders and Repeaters

One way to boost your signal is to add a repeater or extender to your home Wi-Fi network—but beware. Don’t expect immediate boosts in your speeds. These devices do exactly what they say: they repeat your signal and extend the range of your Wi-Fi, but they’re basically chained to the same restrictions as a router. The thickness of the walls, the strength of the connection to your ISP, interference from other devices will all degrade your signal. If you’re finding that the connection in your attic isn’t as strong as the connection in the kitchen, however, consider getting an extender like the Amped Wireless High Power 700mW Dual Band AC Wi-Fi Range Extender. Not only does this model extend the signal, it also uses the 802.11ac protocol for the fastest speeds available. It acts as a mini-router, complete with USB and hardwired Ethernet ports, WPA/WPA2, and WEP protection and access to both 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz bands. You could also use a more low-profile repeater, like the Amped Wireless High Power Wireless-N 600mW Smart Repeater. This extends the signal up to 10,000 square feet and also includes WPA/2 and WPS security and hardwired Ethernet ports. It does not include USB ports, and only employs 802.11b/g/n transfer speeds.

Access Points

When looking to extend the range for business purposes, consider Access Points. Access Points act as repeaters, but usually feature more stringent security control. You also need a hardwire connection to your router in order to power and communicate with Access Points. Models like the Cisco WAP321 Wireless-N Selectable-Band Access Point support both bands, and support 802.11 b/g/n speeds with transfer data at speeds up to 300 Mbps, but there are no USB or hardwired ports to prevent unwanted access. It supports Power Over Ethernet (PoE) so once you have an Ethernet connection established, you don’t need an external power supply. It can connect up to twenty users and also includes QoS (quality of service) features that let you prioritize the bandwidth traffic. If you want streaming video to take precedence over streaming music, you can set the access point to deliver on your demands. If inconspicuousness is your goal, the EnGenius EAP300 Indoor Long Range Wireless-N Access Point mimics a smoke detector and transmits on the 2.4-2.484 GHz band and includes a 10/100 Ethernet port and omnidirectional antennas for greater range.

Powerline Adapters

Another way to get a signal without complicated setups is to use a Powerline adapter. These plug-and-play adapters simply plug into the nearest outlet and act as an extender. They use the electrical layout of your structure to deliver your signal through your home or business. Are you going to see blazing-fast speed with a Powerline adapter? Probably not, but if there is a dead spot in the house, these adapters will cover it without installation CDs and complicated menu navigation. If there’s a power outlet near a device through which you want to deliver your Internet, these are the answer.

The Netgear WN3000RP Universal Wi-Fi Range Extender is one such device. You simply plug it and connect to your network. No CDs, no complicated menus, no fuss. It also includes an Ethernet port, so if you plug this near your home entertainment system, you can jack right into the device. It delivers 300 Mbps data-transfer speeds on the 2.4 GHz band.

The ZyXEL 500 Mb/s Mini Powerline Ethernet Adapter is a set of two wall plug adapters that deliver 500 Mbps in a tiny, compact form factor. You hardwire your router into the wall plug, plug it in, and hardwire another device into the second wall plug, spreading the signal through your home electrical network and connecting the devices to your Internet.

Linksys has a similar product with the Linksys Powerline AV Wireless Network Extender Kit. It works the same: plug an Ethernet cable from your router into the adapter, plug that adapter into the wall, and use any other outlet to attach the second adapter for instant access to another Ethernet connection with 300 Mbps speed on the 2.4 GHz band.

The Actiontec PWR511K01 500Mbps Powerline Adapter Kit works in a similar fashion. It delivers 500 Mbps over the electrical circuit and has up to a 300-meter operating range. It’s perfect for connecting network devices like wireless Blu-ray players, wireless speakers, or just about anything that needs a boost in Wi-Fi speed.

Tips and Tricks for Slowpokes

So, how’s your signal strength at home? Finding dead spots? Ghost zones, no-signal blackouts? Before you buy anything on this list, go through this checklist to make sure the problem isn’t you.

Checklist for Wow-Fi

  1. Upgrade your Router’s Firmware

You won’t believe how many times I’ve repaired a friend or relative's Wi-Fi by simply upgrading the router’s firmware. Even recent routers, straight out of the box, should have their firmware updated (many routers ship as the firmware becomes available—keeps the cost down of adding a CD to the product).

  1. Interference

This is a big one, especially if you’re using a single-band router on the 2.4 GHz band. Check your phones, microwave, and other devices, turn them all off or disconnect them through the router’s control panel. Then check a single wireless device and see if the slowdown abates. Other things you can do: move your router away from any device that may be interfering with the signal.

  1. Usage

Are your kids constantly watching Netflix? Are you always playing Guild Wars 2 at the same time? Is your teenager downloading tons of torrents of music? These are all Bandwidth Hogs.

  1. Move It

Just because your router worked great when you bought it and placed it on top of your desk doesn’t mean that’s the optimal spot. If possible, move that puppy around and see if your Wi-Fi strength increases. There are also apps that can help you determine where your signal is the strongest. If moving it isn’t possible, look into extenders.

  1. Check the Channels

Wi-Fi routers operate on different channels. Just because the factory set it to deliver on Channel 2 doesn’t mean that’s the best for you (especially if you live in an area where everyone’s router is set to Channel 2). Switch the channels up through your router’s administration page and see if the signal weakens or strengthens.

  1. The Biggest Loser: Someone is Stealing Your Wi-Fi

Let’s not get paranoid. This isn’t always the case. But almost 80% of the time, signal is degraded by someone piggybacking on it. Make sure you secure your router as much as you can; change the default password (if you're using admin as your password, you’re in big trouble). Again, there are apps that can help you locate a signal bleed, but the best thing to do is go into your router administration pages and check the “Attached Wireless Devices” (it may be called something else on your page). If you see something unfamiliar, block it. And change that password every six months.

So there you have a comprehensive look at how to turn your Wi-Fi into Wow-Fi. Remember that speeds advertised by manufacturers will not always be what you get. There are so many things that can throttle the optimal speed of Wi-Fi delivery products.

Add new comment

"And now, Wi-Fi is present in almost every home in the country"???

Perhaps, in the upmarket neighbourhood where you live, it might be. Out here in the real world, it is not a given. Any more than broadband is.

You might do well to remember that not everyone is as well-off as you are.

THANK YOU, for such a succinct comparison. Exactly what I needed to compare products. Salespeople just do not talk about the options, and every office/home situation is different. I have an office separate from the house so the signal is degraded (ie. useless) and I need to upgrade my router and probably an extender/booster/repeater. Thank you for this article. I feel I can digest the information much better. L.

What about external WiFi antennas? I'm using a wireless N USB adapter that has a removable antenna which, if you opt to, can allow another antenna with a female SMA connection, or using an SMA extension cable, to get into a better location then the computer might be. There is an issue with signal loss via extension cable, BUT, if you use an "active" USB cable, and I'm using a 30' that cost $12 on Amazon, that issue seems gone, so the USB N adapter is directly attached to the antenna, in my case a 16" +9DB straight type that was about $10, and in a much better location then my computer area.
My notebook does have native N wireless, but it's just not pulling the signals in. I don't know why all computers don't have external wifi antenna connectors....
(By the way, I am connecting to an outside public - provided wifi source, I'm not taking someone's un-encripted wifi.)

I live in a condo which has one large bedroom, two small bedrooms, we use as studies, and something called a great room which has a kitchen, dining room and living room combined.

I have a Linksys ea6500 router in my study. I need to send streaming video to a roku player in the great room and also data to Nook e-readers usually placed in that room. I keep losing the connections, particularly with the Nooks. I've tried a variety of range extenders, but I still have problems.

The Nooks when not connecting typically tell me they are connected to the router but there is no internet connection although my computer in my study has no problem connecting.

The distances are not very large, but the signal has to go through a wall lined with books on one side and cabinets on the other. It can also go around some corners through a hall or through two glass windows over an outdoor terrace.

What are the most likely sources of my problems?

I recently upgraded to the ASUS RT-AC66R router, set it up and apparently had major conflicts with my cordless phones. We have 2.4GHz and 5.8GHZ cordless phones...both started dropping calls. After 5 visits from our ISP, one of the repairmen suggested getting a hardwired phone to see if that would solve the problem. We got a $6 phone, plugged it in, and...so far...all is good. He did suggest we upgrade to DECT 6.0 phones as this should eliminate conflicts between the cordless phones and wifi. Your thoughts on making this change would be appreciated.

The author does not seem to know what a Router is or does, it has nothing to do with radio frequencies or wireless, except that a router is sometimes combined in the same box with a switch or a radio. The function of a router is to assign IP addresses to each device on the network, and more sophisticated ones can do a lot of other things, but it does not transmit radio signals or is not a wired switch.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Router_(computing)

I have a triple play from Comcast- Cable, internet, and telephone. They upgraded my service 2 weeks ago and sugested that I should upgrade my modem to take advantage of DOCSIS 3.0. I've been shopping for a new modem and almost bought the one this article mentions (with a link to B&H) until I took a hard look at the equipment and realized that there is no telephone connection. The article should differentiate between 'Cable Modem' and 'Telephony Cable Modem'. There is a world of difference in availability and price.
Ed

Why no discussion of any options for Apple users who very likely have "Airport" models. For example, do I have to use the Apple products to extend my network, or can I use some of the products that you named?

my headphone jack is broken on my laptop, so can i use a usb to rca jack, to hear the audio signal, running through my mixeer ??

Hi Verju -

I am not sure how your question relates to our article.  However, I strongly doubt if the connection you describe will work under any circumstances,

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

good

Looking to cover about 4000 lf of boat docks at a marina.

What would be your recommendation to extend 2000 lf north and 2000 lf south of the ISP Modem.?

Thansk

Mike

Hi Mike -

The High Power 700mW Dual Band AC Wi-Fi Range Extender from Amped Wireless is a high powered range extender designed to boost your existing Wi-Fi signal (Extends Wireless Signal up to 10,000 ft) through the use of advanced amplifiers and high gain antennas. This range extender  is compatible with 802.11a/b/g/n/ac standards and works on both the 2.4GHz and 5.0GHz frequencies ensuring you can achieve enhanced data speeds up to 867Mbps. Backing up the advanced hardware is a 660MHz processor helping to maintain the enhanced data transfer speeds.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

Pls email me the above articles. Thank you

Hi Angeline -

I have e-mailed this article to the address you furnished when posing this question.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

hi i have a tb-link_a16272 what is your thought on this router it sames to work ok but if some one downloads something it slows to a crull and even if some one goes not it still gets slow what do you think the problem is

Hi Lewellyn -

I cannot find a reference to the router model you mention but it would seem that  you may need to upgrade this router to a faster, more advanced model and/or check with your  ISP for help troubleshooting the service you are suscribed to.  You can check the speed of your internet by proceeding to:  http://www.speedtest.net/

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

My retirement housing addition has a community wifi installation.   Signal is good outside my home, but the concrete block construction greatly reduces the signal entry into my house.   Signal can be read by my computer but not my iphones.  How can i get stronger signal inside the house retaining the wireless arrangement so the phones can pick it up too ?

 

Hi John -

The High Power 700mW Dual Band AC Wi-Fi Range Extender from Amped Wireless is a high powered range extender designed to boost your existing Wi-Fi signal (Extends Wireless Signal up to 10,000 ft) through the use of advanced amplifiers and high gain antennas. This range extender  is compatible with 802.11a/b/g/n/ac standards and works on both the 2.4GHz and 5.0GHz frequencies ensuring you can achieve enhanced data speeds up to 867Mbps. Backing up the advanced hardware is a 660MHz processor helping to maintain the enhanced data transfer speeds.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

The signal is very low so,how to increase the wifi adapter signal

hi, i want to catch my neighbours wifi signal  from my tablet

so tell me how to make antenna  from household material

Hi my names Tamara

Thanks for all the infomation yourve explained, for me this sort of thing is really complicated to understand as their are so many devices available and they all do one thing or another.

I live in menorca and iv tried to start up a job working as telesales and they from england installed their necessary setup on my computer from there to here

But at the end when the technician was doing a speed run to see if it was possible to connect at a good speed , the results stood as 

ping 137ms, 2.57mbps, upload speed 0.20 , they told me this was way too low and had to be 0.70 to be able to work on their level of contacting.  So ,even though i had called out the tech from vodafone a number of times and in this area it has a low signal anyway and therefore unable to pick up a good quality even though i might be right near the adsl router wifi, so if my daughter is on her laptop and i am too or just one of us we still lose the connection.  Vodafone dont seem to know what to do as i have been in the shop of assistance and they are aware and telephoning them doesnt seem to get us anywhere either , i think we have this problem and they dont know what to advise or suggest as this has been going on for about 5 months now.

Can you advise me please of what i need to get or do ? as i have asked is there anything i can do or get to change this so i have a better signal so i can work from the computer and at home doing the job iv been applicated for but i cannot do because of the signal vodafone can only offer because of the area we are in.

Thankyou  Tamara

Hi Tamra -

Unfortunately the products we describe in our article will not help remedy your internet speed issues.  This solution rests solely and squarely within your provider's responsibility.  Please re-contact them or change your internet provider.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

Is there something wireless that will boost (or catch) the signal from our provider? We get one or 2 bars on my Verizon Hot Spot and with one it sometimes it drops. I see antennas to all seem to want a routing in the house. My spouse has a tablet to connect to Verizon & a phone, but he has deadspots since we are next to a75' hill.

Thank you,.

Is there something wireless that will boost (or catch) the signal from our provider? We get one or 2 bars on my Verizon Hot Spot and with one it sometimes it drops. I see antennas to all seem to want a routing in the house. My spouse has a tablet to connect to Verizon & a phone, but he has deadspots since we are next to a75' hill.

Thank you,.

Hi Joan -

Boost indoor cell phone signals with the Wi-Ex zBoost ZB545X Soho Xtreme Dual-Band Cell Phone Signal Booster. This cell phone booster includes an indoor panel antenna for enhanced coverage and an external omnidirectional antenna for capturing outdoor cellular broadcasts. The Wi-Ex zBoost ZB545X Soho Xtreme supports a variety of networks including GSM and CDMA, and also supports multiple mobile devices like Apple and Android smartphones.

High performance dual band signal booster - coverage up to 5,500 sq. ft. (up to 77 dB gain)
Indoor panel antenna for enhanced in-building signal penetration
Designed to reduce dropped and missed calls and can provide faster 3G data performance for multiple simultaneous users
Boosts performance on iPhone, Samsung, Android and other phones and mobile devices
Automatically operates at maximum gain - no manual adjustments needed
Extends phone battery life - phone uses less power when the indoor signal is stronger
Includes window entry cable for easy set up
Designed in Silicon Valley - Made in North America

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

When WiFi is shared the range extenders do not work. I have a big collection of range extenders. Optimum sends disrupting signals through their modem and routers because they want people to upgrade their internet speed with them and pay more. It's bad enough paying $123.60 per month for nothing in the Town of Brookhaven.

Nice network sign

trying to boost cell service in house my phone had great service my wifi went down and now I get no service at home but everywere else I go ...........Suggestions?

Hi Mike -

Boost indoor cell phone signals with the Wi-Ex zBoost ZB545X Soho Xtreme Dual-Band Cell Phone Signal Booster. This cell phone booster includes an indoor panel antenna for enhanced coverage and an external omnidirectional antenna for capturing outdoor cellular broadcasts. The Wi-Ex zBoost ZB545X Soho Xtreme supports a variety of networks including GSM and CDMA, and also supports multiple mobile devices like Apple and Android smartphones.

High performance dual band signal booster - coverage up to 5,500 sq. ft. (up to 77 dB gain)
Indoor panel antenna for enhanced in-building signal penetration
Designed to reduce dropped and missed calls and can provide faster 3G data performance for multiple simultaneous users
Boosts performance on iPhone, Samsung, Android and other phones and mobile devices
Automatically operates at maximum gain - no manual adjustments needed
Extends phone battery life - phone uses less power when the indoor signal is stronger
Includes window entry cable for easy set up
Designed in Silicon Valley - Made in North America

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

I did try everything and it does not work! It seems that person who wrote this does not know much. My laptop wich I bougt six years ago is able to pick up signal -83dBm but none of modern WiFi adapters are capable to pic up that signal as well as -80dBm because receivers in those adapters are not sensitive to pic up those signals.

Hi Andre -

I'm sorry you are having issues with your Wi-Fi reception. Perhaps a new wireless router would do the trick for you.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

Wifi signal