They call it disconnect anxiety, that feeling of anxiousness when we get disconnected from the internet and all the wonderful things it contains. Sometimes the internet is down for everyone and sometimes you’re WiFi hotspot is just too far away. You can do much about the first issue, but you can extend WiFi range at your home and keep the cat videos flowing.
In this article, I’m going to go over some of the common reasons your WiFi is out of range at the worst possible times. Some of the improvements to WiFi range are cheap or free. Others will cost you some money, but it’s all for a good cause right?
Riding the Wave
WiFi is just plain old radio, so it’s subject to the same laws of physics that govern signal range for all radios. Because WiFi is an example of digital radio, scientists and engineers have figured out clever ways to overcome some of the interference analog radio experiences. Still, WiFi can be blocked by a number of things.
Some wall materials or metal pipes inside your walls can make a WiFi signal lose its potency.
The other reason range is limited comes down to plain old transmission strength and distance. Radio waves are subject to an inverse square law when it comes to how far you can be from the source and still have a usable signal.
If you are simply beyond the optimal range of the signal you only have a few choices:
- More juice
- A better antenna
That being said, let’s look at ways you can extend WiFi range compared to the range you have at the moment.
Upgrade Your Stuff
This is probably the most obvious solution, but if you are using older equipment your range may be limited by obsolete WiFi technology.
You can extend WiFi range simply by using the best WiFi technology on the market. Every new generation of WiFi improves things like speed and signal strength.
At the time of writing, the latest WiFi standard is 802.11ac. Whenever two WiFi devices try to talk to each other, they can only use the lowest common shared WiFi standard they both support.
So even if you have a new tablet with 802.11ac WiFi, your 802.11n or (gasp) older router is not going to take much if any advantage of it.
So it’s a good idea to phase out older equipment that might be bringing everyone else down.
You can also simply upgrade to a router that has a stronger signal, more antenna and is generally just better-specified. Usually router makers will specify what sort of home environment a router is good for. For example, some work better in multi-story homes.
Using custom firmware such as those from dd-wrt can give you control over aspects of your WiFi signal that are out of reach out of the box. This is some pretty advanced stuff though, so you’ll need adult (or at least IT-person) supervision to even attempt it.
Alternatively, just look for official firmware updates for your router model. Sometimes the manufacturer can improve range and performance through bug fixes.
Location, Location, Location
Router location plays a big role in how far the signal will reach. Whenever possible, a router should be in a central spot. Not only does this evenly spread the hotspot across the home, it also helps prevent people from outside your property getting a good signal.
This article from Wired explains the ins and out of router placement pretty well.
A lot of modern routers have adjustable antennas that can help vertical or horizontal range. If they are detachable you can also buy larger antennas that can extend WiFi range at the cost of space.
Within the frequency band of your router, there are various standard channels. Too many other devices using the same channel your router is set to can make WiFi performance suffer. This is a common problem in apartment buildings.
Use a WiFi analyzer app to see which channels are busy and then refer to your router’s manual on how to set it to a channel that has little traffic on it.
There are a lot of things in the typical home that can cause radio interference. Cellphone signals, microwaves, large motors and much more.
Sometimes it helps just to move potential sources of interference away from the router.
Could You Repeat That?
If all else fails, repeat yourself. You can simply install a device that repeats the signal as a slave to your router. Usually at the edges of your main WiFi source.
There are a number of ways to achieve this:
- Take an old router and turn it into a repeater
- Buy a dedicated WiFi range extender
- Use a powerline WiFi extender to get around signal blocks
If all else fails and there is simply a spot where you can’t reach with WiFi, you may have to bite the bullet and look for a wired solution.
Ethernet cable is cheap and can be used in lengths up to 100m or about 328ft. At the other end, you can share an ethernet connection wirelessly at the other end using a router.
Keep Calm and Extend WiFi Range
Figuring out home networking issues can be maddening. There are so many factors to consider. Frankly, it’s a wonder that it all works half as well as it does.
We’ve all basically become dependent on our WiFi and internet connection. Some countries even consider broadband access a human right, if you can believe it.
On a more personal level, our network access is such an integral part of our daily lives that it really grates if it’s not working well. We work, learn and communicate over WiFi at home and at work.
These general methods to extend WiFi range can help make sure you don’t have to grind your teeth at yet another weak WiFi signal. If you have any tips or tricks in addition to these, please let me know in the comments, everyone will appreciate it.