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

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015 (2:31 am) - Score 306,183

As ever there are a few other considerations for using a Range Extender, such as placement. The ideal solution is to position the extender approximately in the middle of your routers existing WiFi coverage rather than at the edge, since otherwise you’ll risk boosting an already poor signal and the performance will suffer.

Equally it’s important to make sure that the extender supports the same WiFi spec (e.g. 802.11n, 802.11ac) as your router and likewise try to pick one that supports both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, assuming your router supports both of those (most modern ones do). Just remember that the extended signal will always perform a little worse than the original, which is largely unavoidable but not a huge concern.

One big problem with extenders is that they tend to create their own mini-WiFi network, which makes seamless roaming around your home difficult. Sadly if you want to have seamless WiFi roaming then the best approach is to buy a mesh (repeater) system, which usually consists of a hub unit and at least one or more small repeater devices that you position around the home.

Some ISPs can supply these at extra cost but you can also buy them separately. Essentially you plug the Mesh WiFi hub into your broadband router, turn off the router’s own WiFi and then let the mesh system create its own network. Solutions like this are more expensive and add extra bits of kit around your home, but they’re the best way to improve WiFi. TP-Link has quite a good range via the Deco Series.

9. Use Encryption

As a general rule everybody should have security / encryption enabled on their home WiFi routers (ideally the WPA2 or better setting), but some people leave it disabled out of a belief that doing so will improve their network performance. In reality this was only really an issue for the very early WiFi hardware with WEP encryption enabled (this was very easy to hack and should never be used) or budget routers with first generation WPA (TKIP) enabled, which struggled to handle the extra overhead.

By comparison the impact of enabling WPA2 or WPA3 on modern hardware, even many cheaper devices, is negligible. Indeed I’ve found that using encryption can actually make the connection more stable and less likely to drop connectivity at the edges of coverage. But I must admit to not being entirely sure why that is (it could just be a quirk of the hardware I’ve used).

Pro Tip: Try to ensure that all of your WiFi kit is using and supports the WPA2 (AES) Advanced Encryption Standard. Some settings, such as WPA2-TKIP/AES, might seem stronger for security but they actually only exist for backwards compatibility (less secure) with older devices and it’s not necessary to use that dual setting unless you have older kit in your network (enabling it may also carry a greater performance detriment).

10. Advanced Tweaks

Some routers give the end-user significantly more flexibility to play with the advanced settings of their WiFi, such as by adjusting the options for Beacon Interval, Fragmentation Threshold, RTS Threshold or various other things.

Generally speaking you should leave these well alone as most adjustments will often sacrifice something in one area in order to improve it in another and if you get this balance wrong then problems can occur. But if you do want to try then here are a few quick suggestions.

Beacon Interval (milliseconds)

WiFi routers use these “beacon” signals to help keep the network synchronized and many default to 100ms. Setting a lower (e.g. 50 or 75ms) interval might help your WiFi network to hold its connection with other devices, albeit at a cost to some battery life on other devices. By contrast raising the setting above 100ms could save power but the likelihood of connectivity problems may increase.

RTS Threshold (Request To Send)

The RTS Threshold protocol is a tricky one to explain, but it helps to clear the channel before data is sent. A lower setting may help in busy WiFi environments as it should reduce collisions, but set it too low or incorrectly and your network performance may suffer. It’s a tricky balancing act to get right.

Fragmentation Threshold

Any data packets larger than the size programmed in this field will be fragmented. Setting smaller packets than the default can improve reliability, especially in busy environments, albeit at the cost of performance. Again, we wouldn’t touch this or the RTS threshold unless you’re comfortable with making such tweaks and always make a note of your settings so you can swap them back if it doesn’t work.

Most routers allow you to make a backup of your current settings, so do that before attempting anything like this as it may come in handy.

11. Antenna Positioning

A lot of home broadband routers include external antennas (these look like thick pens or pencils), which we’ve already touched on in no.3. However the way in which these antennas are positioned can have an impact upon the signal’s ability to reach devices around the home.

Experiences do vary, but generally speaking the aim should be to try and maximise radio reception by ensuring that both client and router have matched polarization (i.e. antennas pointing along the same plane).

In simple terms, on a router with two external antennas you’d point one directly upwards (towards the ceiling) and then make sure that the other is flat / horizontal (parallel with the floor of the room). Like a man making an L space with his two arms.

Some client devices have antennas in vertical orientation, others horizontal, and this approach should thus deliver the best of both worlds.

Hopefully some of these tips will prove useful to you or at least provide some additional background on how WiFi works. Just remember that WiFi is far from perfect and wired connections will generally always deliver faster speeds with lower latency and more stability.

UPDATE 11th October 2016:

Added tip no.11 about antenna positioning.

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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. 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 says:

      Good point. I will reflect it in the article.

  2. 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. 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. 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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