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11 Top Tips for Boosting Your Home Wi-Fi Wireless Network Speeds

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015 (2:31 am) - Score 268,383

As a rule I usually check for an update every 6-12 months (there’s not much point in checking more frequently because router manufacturers are notoriously slow to post updates). Applying firmware is usually a simple matter of downloading the file, logging into the router (via a web browser) and then uploading via the appropriate page. Note: If you have an ISP supplied router then this is often done automatically via remote management, so just let your provider perform the magic.

Otherwise it’s always wise to make a backup of your router settings before doing a manual firmware flash, which means you can restore them afterwards (if necessary). Most routers will include a simple backup system on the same page as the firmware update feature.

Now, if you’re feeling really brave and have some good IT knowledge, then there is another thing you can do – completely change the router software to DD-WRT (only works on certain models). This is a fairly secure and feature rich third-party developed firmware released under the terms of the GPL for various WiFi routers based off a Broadcom or Atheros chip. Often it’s possible to deploy this and suddenly your router will perform better and be able to do a lot more than it could before.

Admittedly this is arguably better for WiFi routers that don’t depend upon a built-in VDSL (FTTC) or ADSL2+ modem because that component won’t always work after flashing (i.e. you’d need a separate ADSL or VDSL modem/router for broadband), but if you don’t need those then this might well be worth trying, especially if you want to resurrect an old router and make it useful again (manufacturers stop their support after a couple of years so DD-WRT is also one way to stay secure and current).

6. Location, Location, Location

It perhaps goes without saying that you’ll want to position your WiFi router in a location that does not obstruct its radio signals (e.g. not under a desk or bed) and which is as near or central as possible to the place where most people will be using it. Placing the device slightly higher up, just above the normal level of room furniture (this also helps to avoid those pesky wifi blocking human flesh bodies that like to walk all over the place), may be a good start.

Equally you’ll want to place it well away from any other potential sources of Electromagnetic Interference (EMI), which can sometimes also impact DSL based broadband connections. So try to keep it as far away as possible from any DECT phones, Microwaves, Baby Monitors, Christmas tree lights, TVs or other electronic devices (i.e. let it have its own open bit of space).

Similarly if you have any particularly solid internal doors then consider leaving them open, if possible, as this may help the signal to travel further into your home (note: in reality most internal doors are just thin bits of wood, which isn’t really a problem). Pay particular attention too if you have any walls with chicken wire or foil style insulation, as these can really kill WiFi reception.

Take note that older versions of the Bluetooth wireless communication standard were also known to cause interference for WiFi networks, but this was resolved a few years back. Never the less, if you use Bluetooth via an old device then be aware that this might still be a problem.

7. Use Hardware from the Same Manufacturer

Admittedly consumers can’t control what wifi chipset comes with embedded devices (e.g. Smartphones, Tablet computers etc.), but in the areas where you do have a choice (e.g. USB adapters, third-party routers etc.) then where possible it’s always advisable to try and buy all of the kit from the same manufacturer as the WiFi connectivity will often work better this way.

Furthermore some manufacturers may also employ their own unique design and performance tweaks, which might not be available if you mix and match devices from different manufacturers.

In fairness most modern WiFi hardware is fairly good and so this recommendation shouldn’t be taken as a strict rule, although a lot of pre-802.11n spec kit was notorious for being unreliable across different brands and chipsets.

8. Try a WiFi Range Extender / Booster / Repeater

wifi range extender netgear

In some situations no amount of tweaking will improve your signal and so the best solution may be to purchase a cheap WiFi Range Extender (Booster / Repeater), which simply plugs into a power socket and boosts the signal from the point where it’s installed. Devices like this typically range in price from £15 to £40 on Amazon (e.g. Netgear WN1000RP or Netgear EX2700). You can also buy HomePlug adapters, which extend your wired network via the building’s existing power cables and some of those also include a WiFi extender (see the earlier Alternatives to WiFi article).

Alternatively you could re-purpose an old router and have it perform the same task by acting as a repeater or slave to your existing network. Sadly not all routers will allow you to do this (e.g. ISP supplied routers are too restrictive) and it often requires some networking knowledge in order to get working, not least because you’ll usually need to setup your network address assignments manually via static LAN IPs (no DHCP). As a result it’s usually simpler to just buy a dedicated extender.

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Keith is a computer engineer and website developer from Dorset (England) who also assists, on a part-time basis, in the general upkeep of ISPreview.co.uk's systems and services. He also writes the occasional editorial and special offer article. Find me on Contacts.
Leave a Comment
5 Responses
  1. Avatar Kekle says:

    Point 4 – With the 2.4Ghz network you should only be using channels 1, 6 or 11 as these are the only 3 channels that don’t overlap, more information here – http://www.metageek.com/support/why-channels-1-6-and-11/

    1. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      Good point. I will reflect it in the article.

  2. Avatar Chris says:

    I was going to make the same point as Kekle. Unless you have a totally free non-overlapping range then you are often better to pick the same center channel as your neighbors because this allows more efficient use of the spectrum. Can’t remember the details but I think it comes down to all devices on the same channel co-operate to minimize transmitting at the same time causing signal loss through interference – think taking turns to talk rather than talking over each other. Due to there only being 3 non overlapping channels in 2.4Ghz, 1,6 & 11 then these should be the ones used if you want to play nicely with your neighbors. Of course because this is poorly understood many people screw it up by selecting a channel like 7.

    Another thing is remember that if you need to transmit through a solid wall then doing so at 90 degrees is much better than say at 45 degrees due to the amount of material you need to transmit through. Again this comes down to router placement. In my house a single 2.4Ghz router will cover everywhere at reasonable bandwidth but only if I place it in the magic spot upstairs above the downstairs internal concrete dividing wall.

  3. Avatar Vanburen says:

    Often the best way to get decent wifi coverage is to have more APs. You can gets some entry level enterprise kit like Ubiquiti UAPs and Xclaim APs, which can be managed as one group (via a software controller for Ubiquiti or a mobile app from Xclaim).

    I personally have two Xclaim APs, which helps a lot in our house as all the internal partition walls are brick.

  4. Avatar TTT says:

    I’m with Vanburen, multiple access points (different channel, same SSID) are the way to go.
    If you cannot run Ethernet cable to connect them, using a power line adapter is the next best thing (av600 is very stable and offers good throughout).
    Stay clear of extenders, they always lose speed, always increase latency and often don’t work reliably.
    Money-saving tip: where 2.4GHz spectrum is available, you can repurpose and old router (eg drink dir-615) as access point very cheaply.

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