As the novel coronavirus continues to spread across the United States, many people find themselves working or studying from home. Which also means that they are stuck with their home Wi-Fi networks, many of which may not feel up to the task.
Some cable companies have increased speeds for low-income customers. Others have suspended broadband data caps. But eliminating subpar speeds and Wi-Fi dead zones around the house will largely be up to you. These tips give you a variety of options for getting more out of your Wi-Fi connection inside and outside the home.
It may seem a little obvious or too basic a fix to consider, but physically moving your router can make a real difference to the speeds you get and how far its wireless transmissions can reach. Try not to hide your router in a corner, or under a cupboard, or inside a drawer—the more central and prominent it is, the better.
You might need to apply some creative cabling to get your router in a better place, but it's going to be worth the effort for the end results. Have a think about where your main devices are situated—consoles, laptops and so on—and get your router as close as possible. Devices that don't need quite so much bandwidth, like smart thermostats, don't have to be a priority in terms of physical proximity.
If you don't have a table or other flat surface near where you think the router is going to be best positioned, consider mounting it halfway up a wall. If possible, keep it away from other devices that use electromagnetic waves—that means baby monitors, wireless keyboards, and even microwaves.
You might never have thought about swapping out the black box your internet provider gives you, but the fact is that your standard issue router box is unlikely to be the best model on the market. There are better options out there. Just check with your provider (or run a quick web search) to make sure you can switch to a different box, and to get the configuration settings you need to do it.
By "better" we mean routers that can spread your Wi-Fi further, and support more devices more easily, and keep connections stable and active under higher demand. While a router upgrade doesn't make any difference to the speed of the internet coming into your home, it can certainly have an impact on the speeds and stability you see on your devices.
While we don't have room for a full router buying guide here, if you have a look at the Netgear Nighthawk AX10 or the TP-Link AX6000 to see some of the specs and features available. You can also upgrade to a mesh network, where you install multiple router nodes around your house—check out Google Nest Wifi (from $270) or Eero Wi-Fi, for example.
Your router uses a particular Wi-Fi channel to communicate with the devices around your home, and if you've got neighbors living very close who have routers using the same Wi-Fi channel, then everything can get very congested very quickly. Switching to a different channel can solve this problem.
Every router will handle this differently—check its documentation or look up the instructions online if you're not sure—but you should be able to find the option somewhere in the device settings. Channels 1, 6 and 11 are the ones to try, as they'll have the least interference when multiple devices get hooked up.
Most routers now use dual band technology, broadcasting at the 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies. If your router settings allow you, you might be able to prioritize one or the other for certain devices—the 5GHz band will get you a faster connection to the internet, though it has a shorter range than 2.4GHz.
If messing around with your router settings seems too daunting, and you have a few dollars spare, invest in a Wi-Fi extender or repeater. These devices plug into a spare wall socket, connect to the wireless internet getting beamed out by your router, and then extend it further.
They're simple to set up, easy to use, and can instantly get rid of Wi-Fi dead zones in your house. The extended or repeated wireless signals won't be as strong as the ones coming straight from your router though, so again positioning is important—try and use these devices to connect up gadgets that don't need a huge amount of bandwidth.
You've got plenty of options to pick from: take a look at the Linksys AC1900 or the Netgear EX7300, for example. Make sure the maximum supported Wi-Fi standard (e.g. 802.11ac) matches that of your router, so that you get as speedy a connection as possible.
An alternative to extenders is a powerline kit—you might never have realized it, but digital signals can pass through electrical wiring, and powerline devices are designed to take advantage of this. Several manufacturers make powerline networking kits, including Netgear and TP-Link.
It works like this: You connect a powerline plug up to your router and then put the plug into a wall socket. Add another powerline plug in any other room in your house, and it can then provide a wired or wireless connection to that room. There will be some drop in speed, but it's a simple and effective option.
Unless your home is particularly old, it should have electrical wiring that supports this, but it's best to buy your kit from a retailer with a robust returns policy, just in case. As always, check out the reviews in advance of buying any kit, just in case any known incompatibility issues get flagged up.
A wired connection to your router is usually preferable to a wireless one—it's faster and more stable, and can't be affected by other devices or large fish tanks. The downside is, of course, that it limits where your devices can be, and it's less convenient overall.
If you've got a device that needs the fastest internet possible—a gaming console or an streaming box, for example—then you might consider putting in the time and effort to establish a wired connection directly from your router. The router will have a handful of Ethernet ports spare, so all you need is a cable.
To do a really tidy job and avoid having wires trailing across your floor, you'll need to deploy some cable management (brackets to keep the Ethernet cable fixed to the walls, for example). For one or two gadgets, it can be worth the extra setup.
When you buy something using the retail links in our stories, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Read more about how this works.