HP TECH TAKES
Exploring today's technology for tomorrow's possibilities
How to Boost Your WiFi Signal at Home
December 17, 2018
Wireless internet seems like a need rather than a want these days. Whether it’s for work or play, most of us require the web’s functionalities during our day-to-day life. Staying in touch with friends, researching for a school project, or getting through your 9-to-5, it’s hard to imagine a time when the internet wasn’t a ubiquitous feature of our lives.
But it wasn’t so long ago that almost half of Americans didn’t even use the web. In fact, as recently as the year 2000, only 52% of adults in America were online. By 2018, that number had jumped to 89% .
WiFi is partially responsible for that dramatic surge because it made it easier for users to access the internet. In fact, public WiFi hotspots helped to democratize the web because it provided an opportunity for people to connect in places like libraries and cafes.
But what about your home WiFi? The convenience of having the internet at your fingertips is important and, for many, expected. However, we all know that there’s also nothing more frustrating than a slow or spotty WiFi connection.
A slow connection or one that works intermittently can mean excessive buffering time while you’re trying to stream television shows, improperly loading sites, and other distracting interruptions.
An occurrence here and there doesn’t make too much of a difference to most users. However, over time, these constant WiFi problems can make anybody frustrated enough to want to get off the grid. If your WiFi issues are getting you to this point - and the fact that you’re reading this article says they are - read on to learn a little bit about common problems and how to fix them.
What are the reasons for a poor WiFi signal?
Before we dive into how to fix your WiFi, it’s helpful to understand the common problems that arise with a wireless internet connection in general. Here are some typical issues you might experience related to your home router, internet provider, and channel congestion - among other complications.
ISP data limitations
Unfortunately, there’s only so much you can do regarding your internet service provider especially if you’re already locked into a contract for a set period of time. When you’re deciding on an internet service provider, pay attention to the terms and conditions. Why? Because hidden in the small print could be a policy allowing the company to throttle speed for users who surpass a certain amount of data usage.
For example, you might be categorized as a “high-volume internet user” if you’re streaming a lot of high definition videos. If there’s a particular limit set by your ISP that you exceed, the internet company could slow down your internet until it’s loading at a crawl.
If you do find there’s a threshold for downloading content in your service agreement, your best bet is switching providers unless you can lasso in your data usage to stay within your fast connection speed.
Wireless network range
Make sure you know your router’s maximum field of reach because it can affect your devices’ ability to connect as well as the quality of the connection. Your WiFi signal extends in a series of concentric circles that emanate from the router. As you move farther away, the signal gets weaker.
Most routers can have a spread of between 100 feet and 150 feet. Your router’s packaging and manual should give you the specific number. If you’ve lost those items, look up the model number on the internet to find its range.
Move devices closer to the router if you suspect a range issue, or move the router to a more centralized location.
Furniture, walls, and appliances can negatively affect your router’s signal. Position the router so it’s as free from obstructions as possible. This doesn’t mean you have to knock down walls, however. Just use your common sense and don’t place the router in a closet or behind large furniture. Try to put the router on a high shelf rather than anywhere low to give it the best chance of sending out a high-quality, unimpeded signal.
Too many devices
Have you ever noticed that when you’re working at a coffee shop filled with people busily typing away on their laptops the connection to WiFi is abysmally slow and spotty? There’s a reason for that.
Home networks and many public hotspots utilize a single wireless access point. This access point has limitations on how many people and devices can be connected to it at once. If there are too many people or devices, the connection can drop or be unreliable.
You might have even experienced maxing out your internet abilities at home if you’ve ever had multiple devices connected to WiFi while downloading a video or watching Netflix. The access point becomes overloaded and creates delays and annoying interruptions for the end user. There are ways to solve this, however, as we will discuss later.
How do I diagnose issues with my WiFi signal?
So, if you’re having issues with your connection and you’d like to improve your WiFi speed, you may be wondering where to start on your journey to troubleshoot your WiFi connection and solve your internet woes. Below are some of our tips for fixing your web issues.
Problem: My Connection is Slow
Is your internet slower than molasses on a cold winter’s day? Try these quick fixes.
Solution: Change the position of your router
As mentioned before, your router should be in as high of a position as possible, in a central location in your home. Keep your router several feet away from the modem.
If you find that you’re too far away from your router - a dreaded dead zone - try to maintain a direct line of sight between the router and your main internet-connected item like your laptop. It’s simple: if you can see your router, that means the WiFi signal isn’t being obstructed by walls.
Solution: Bring your devices closer to the router or use a range extender
If you suspect range issues, bring your device closer to the actual router. Or, you can use a range extender or amplifier to add coverage to weak signal spots in your home.
Solution: Check for signal interruptions
Your router may use the identical wireless channel (2.4 GHz) as other wireless items in your home resulting in a dampened WiFi signal.
To encourage a stronger signal, either move or turn off any of the items below:
Television remote controls
Automatic garage door openers
Solution: Check to make sure your router is using the best channel
Most modern routers are dual-band so they feature both a 2.4 GHz channel and a 5 GHz channel. Have a dual-band router? If it’s not automatically set, choose the 2.4 GHz WiFi for maximum reach.
To connect to your WiFi network, open up your computer or mobile phone’s WiFi menu. The 2.4 GHz channel will simply be WiFi network's name and the 5 GHz channel label will have a trailing “5 GHz” or “media” on its label.
With the 5 GHz channel, you’ll experience faster downloads and reliable internet. The major drawback is that the range of the signal is drastically reduced to between one third and one half of the range of a 2.4 GHz channel.
Problem: No Internet Connection
The dreaded “No Internet” symbol has been taunting you from your taskbar, what do you do next?
Solution: Unplug and restart
If you have no internet at all, you might be dealing with an unusual malfunction in the router or modem. They may have stopped communicating with one another for an unknown reason.
Disconnect or power down both. After waiting thirty seconds, turn them both on and be patient while they reboot.
Solution: Call your ISP
Another reason for a lack of internet could be a service outage. For this issue, your best bet is to go to the nearest WiFi hotspot to tell your ISP that you’ve been affected by the outage. Or give them a call. This won’t make your internet return any faster but it will give your internet service provider an idea of what region or area had the outage.
How can I boost my WiFi signal?
If you’re looking for other solutions to boost your WiFi signal, here are some products and ideas that can help you make connecting to the internet less of a hassle.
Upgrade your old router
If a router is a few years old, it might be time for it to enjoy its golden years and retire. There isn’t going to be a software update that will magically make it work like it did in its prime. Buying a new router is a good idea if you notice your internet performance has taken a nose-dive but troubleshoot the issue before investing in a new device.
Update your router firmware
Router manufacturers release updates periodically. These updates tweak routers to glean more performance and speed out of them. Most modern routers have updates built right into the admin interface, you simply have to press the firmware upgrade button.
Older models are where it gets tricky: you might have to download the updates directly from the manufacturer's website. While it takes a little more work to make sure your firmware is current, it will help your router’s overall performance.
Even if your WiFi network isn’t lagging or experiencing any performance issues, it’s still smart to regularly update your firmware for access to more features, system stability, and security upgrades.
Use tools to find WiFi weak spots
Besides placing your router in an open space on a wall or high shelf, oriented away from heavy duty appliances, you can also use online tools either on your PC or smartphone to figure out where the WiFi signal is weakest.
After you ascertain the dead zones, you can use a range extender or signal amplifier to boost the WiFi signal.
Use a range extender
A WiFi range extender may also be called a WiFi booster, repeater or amplifier. It’s one of the best solutions for figuring out how to boost a WiFi signal because an extender helps forward traffic to the router. These can extend the distance you’re able to be from your router and still enjoy reliable internet.
Change the channel
Most routers have the ability to switch between channels when communicating with different devices like laptops and smartphones. Most people will simply utilize the channel that’s been pre-set for the router. Sometimes, this is fine and you won’t have to ever worry about what channel you’re on.
However, you can run into problems with adjacent wireless networks if they’re also on the identical channel. This is called “signal congestion.”
You can view what WiFi network channels are being used around you if you have a Windows-based PC. Once you determine which channels are most heavily used, you can choose a less busy one. You’ll have to manually change the channel by going into your wireless network’s admin interface.
QoS or Quality of Service tools limits the amount of data applications can use. You can set what services and applications get first priority so you won’t experience a major decline in quality during a call or while watching a video. You can also set “prime time hours” so downloads get a lower priority during busy use hours.
Use a mesh-based WiFi system
This is a great solution if you have a house that’s multi-story and your router is in a room downstairs. A mesh-based WiFi system has a main router and a certain number of satellite devices you place throughout your home. They all work together on one wireless network and communicate with the main router to give you unbroken connectivity with the internet.
In most cases, these systems come with an app that will advise you where to place the nodes for maximum coverage in your house.
WiFi issues don’t have to be the norm
Even if you’ve resigned yourself to a life of constantly unplugging and restarting your router and modem, it doesn’t have to be that way. Sometimes, fixing your WiFi issues could be as simple as changing the position of the router. Or maybe you need to invest in a new router.
Use the tips outlined above for fixing and boosting your WiFi signal, and you’ll be on your way to seamless connectivity. Figuring out how to boost WiFi speed doesn’t have to be an impossible riddle to solve, after all.
 Pew Internet; Broadband Fact Sheet
Related article: How to Set Up a Router at Home
About the Author: Michelle Wilson is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Michelle is a content creation specialist writing for a variety of industries, including tech trends and media news.