Current WiFi routers, and especially those provided by ISPs, are valid for a large majority of households in terms of signal strength and coverage. However, if we have a fairly large floor, with plenty of physical obstacles between the router and us, or if we simply live in one of several plants, these same routers may give us many problems to use them in all areas of the house. But there are cases for which coverage problems don’t require complicated solutions, such as installing signal repeaters. By applying some simple solutions we can improve the quality of the signal for it to reach further places and cover areas that were previously uncovered.
Let’s take a look at some tricks and tips to improve the quality of our WiFi signal while having just one router and without investing large amounts of money.
Correctly diagnose the problem
- Analyze the situation
Although it may seem a bit ridiculous, when we have problems with our WiFi network coverage it’s important to study exactly how it’s affecting us and, above all, which are the most critical places. It’s a good idea to draw a map of our house and visit each room with our laptop, as we check and write down the quality of the signal we are getting in each place.
For this task we have plenty of possibilities, from looking at the signal indicator and link speed shown by the details of the Windows network connection, to relying on utilities such as WirelessNetView. This small program shows a list of wireless networks detected nearby and displays interesting information about them. All we have to do is look at the SSID of our WiFi network and write down the variations in the signal strength that reaches every part of the house. We’re not interested in quantifying speed at the moment, because we know that the speed degrades if the signal quality degrades too, even though this tendency is not always linear.
- Potential sources of interference
Once we have the coverage map of our home and have clearly detected the most problematic spots, we need to look at the results to detect possible “fatal points”. If the most affected areas are those farthest from the WiFi router, it is clear that it’s only a matter of distance that we must solve by expanding or improving the signal. However, we must be vigilant to detect figures out of the ordinary.
For example, if we see that in an area of the house the signal goes further in one direction than the other, or that it is specifically very bad in a room that is relatively close to the router. This kind of strange behavior may be due to an external interference that is disturbing the 2.4 GHz signal of our router. Microwave ovens affect the 2.4 GHz frequency band (luckily they’re in the kitchen and are used only a small part of the time). The same thing happens with Bluetooth devices near the router and even digital cordless phones. Indeed, the latter are a common source of problems and we should keep them as far away as we can from the router.
Finally, and depending on where we live, we can be influenced by external factors. If our house is located next to an official building, we may have problems with WiFi signals by frequency inhibitors that are installed in that kind of places. The same would happen if we are very close to repeaters, power generators or surrounded by many other WiFi spots in the neighborhood. These are extreme cases, but they do occur, and in those situations it is virtually impossible to optimize the signal due to external factors. We can only opt to switch bands or technologies.
The best location for your router
- Place your router with precision
Apart from the above, and having to choose a location centered in your home, it is also important to choose the place and the materials that surround the router if coverage is a sensitive issue. A good position can be at the top of a cabinet, since wires won’t be seen, and quality increases as we are raising the emitter so that the signal is distributed in the best possible way. What we should always avoid is placing the equipment on the ground, inside furniture or cabinets, because all they’ll do is attenuate the signal.
Finally, we must consider the obstacles that surround the router, because a typical brick wall can attenuate the signal between 3 and 6 dB depending on its thickness and internal materials. Therefore, the more free from obstacles the router is, the better. Of course, external antennas should always be at an angle of 90 degrees to the ground, and we should never leave them lying down or folded.
Consider the option of changing antennas
- What you will achieve by changing the antennas?
If all the above has failed to solve your problem of coverage, before reaching a final solution (installing a signal repeater), we can consider the installation of higher gain antennas. It is an increasingly rare option, as currently access points feature non removable or -worse- internal antennas. In these cases we cannot install higher-gain antennas, unless we are very handy and dare to open the router and solder some wires. Still, if our router allows us to remove the antennas and connect different ones, we will get to amplify the transmission power and change the way in which the radio signal is distributed.
Amplification is represented in dBi, and with 8 to 10 dBi we will be achieving more than tangible results. It is not an expensive solution and the results can be more than surprising. For routers with detachable antennas, installation is as simple as unscrewing the old and screwing the new.