Everyone is home, you might be working remotely, the kids are doing their virtual schoolwork, videoconferences, and streaming video everywhere. This is what the quarantine and the post-quarantine world look like. What’s one of the most annoying current choking points for any household? Their Wi-Fi. Here is how to make it better.
Let’s start with the basics and assume you have a high-speed connection but when you connect to your Wi-Fi, you don’t necessarily feel that. The remote connections may feel slow, sluggish and sometimes you can’t even enable video because of the poor quality.
Wi-Fi Location, Location, Location
In the beginning, there was a modem, cable or other connections that were, you know, not pleasing to the eye with little black boxes that would get shoved in the backroom somewhere so they would stay out of sight so Mom wouldn’t complain about the eyesore. This was OK for when things were connected with cables but in a wireless world, this is a bad idea. Why? Simple, your Wi-Fi prefers to have a line of sight connection with the devices it’s talking to, it’s not 100% but when they can “see” each other, the signal is so much better. There is also little to no interference, appliances and other parts of your house are not reflecting the signals and overall you get the best possible connection. So, in a few words, if you can see it, you can have a stronger signal so bring your router out from the dark room and put it in a central place in the house.
Change the channel
Since Wi-Fi routers are basically radios, they have channels, like when you are tuning the radio to different radio stations. The problem is that many of them come with the same channels already configured and, if you live in a populated place like an apartment building, a whole bunch of other people may be sharing your same channels. What do you do? Login to your router’s management webpage, go to the Wi-Fi or wireless configuration area and change the channels to see if you see an improvement.
There is a more geeky and effective way to do this. You can download an app for your phone that will scan the airwaves and let you know which channels are busy and which are free or less utilized. I like WiFi Analyzer for Android and Netspot for IOS. These apps will tell you which are the best channels to configure for your router so use either the recommended or just less busy channels and you are good.
Updates, Updates, Updates
I know, they are annoying, but I can tell you they are a necessary evil. Yes, your router is a mini computer that needs an operating system and like with anything coded by humans, there are newer versions that may fix anything from connection issues to security problems so it’s generally a good idea to do them. How to go about that? Go to your router’s admin page and this function is sometimes hidden under advanced. Click on update firmware and if it’s a modern router, it will connect to the manufacturer and download a new version of its software. If you don’t have this option and your router is over 5 years old, it may be a good idea just to get a new one.
With the newest routers, you’ll see that they have three or more antennas. These antennas are designed to transmit in different frequencies to maximize speed and coverage. What most people don’t know is that these antennas should not go horizontal or even completely vertical. What do I mean? Router manufacturers suck at giving good explanations about their equipment since until recently, it was a realm only inhabited by complete geeks (myself included) so, nobody tells you that when you see a picture of the router with the three antennas and the two outer most antennas are inclined to about a 60 degree angle, that’s for a purpose, not just for pretty. It’s actually to minimize crosstalk and to maximize coverage. What does this mean? You get better Wi-fi.
Use a repeater
Back in the day, and I’m totally dating myself, I used to be a ham radio operator and we would talk very long distances by using a repeater. The police and first responders still use these for their radios. It’s basically an antenna in a high place like a centrally located building that you can reach with your low-powered radio that will receive that signal and transmit it again after boosting its power. Basically, you can get a cheap version of this for your house. You can get a Wi-Fi extender and if you have an old router, you could even configure it to become a repeater so you get the signal to those parts of the house that might be difficult but necessary such as basements.
Call the Locksmith
What do I mean? Here is a simple piece of advice that can improve your connectivity, even if it creates a little chaos at first. Here it is, change your Wi-Fi’s network password. Why would you do this? Here is the locksmith’s reference. When you change your Wi-Fi’s network password it’s like changing the key to your house, you don’t remember who had it until you hear a knock on the door saying – Hey! Let me in! When you change your Wi-Fi’s password, you are forcing yourself to reconfigure all the devices using it and if you see a big performance improvement, you might have had a little Wi-Fi leech, basically a device misbehaving or sucking up a lot of bandwidth. This is a simple way to find out, especially when even refrigerators can have a Wi-Fi connection these days.
You might need a Mesh
These are the latest routers, they are fancy, expensive but they solve the problem of larger houses, older houses and overall Wi-Fi challenging environments. They are basically a system that contains three or more routers that talk to each other. You place them in different locations in your house and since they all act as repeaters, they extend the coverage and provide you with the best coverage for your home. They are not cheap but if everything else fails, throw some money at the problem.
I love Wi-Fi, it’s one of the unsung heroes of the quarantine and an even more important part of our lives these days. I hope these tips are useful and that you and your family can remain safe, healthy and connected through these crazy times.
Here is my tech segment on Despierta America from my home office where I gave some advice on how to get a better Wi-Fi signal at home. It’s in Spanish so enjoy!