When Wi-Fi performance isn’t up to snuff, it is frustrating. It is common knowledge that distance plays a role in Wi-Fi performance, as do obstructions such as walls and floors. The closer a router is to a computer, the better the connection. But, assuming your equipment is relatively up-to-date, that your modem is nearby, and there are no huge obstacles between the unit and the computer, there are still a few additional ways to improve Wi-Fi performance.
1. Update your router’s firmware. Firmware functions as the foundation for your router. It is somewhat permanent, because it cannot be changed until a new firmware update becomes available. Consider updating the firmware to improve performance, fix bugs and upgrade security options. However, be cautious: A firmware update can be a bit dangerous because if the update is interrupted, your router could become useless. Connecting the router to the computer with a cable during the updating process greatly reduces that risk.
2. Use a signal or range extender. This device plugs into a main socket to rebroadcast and boost Wi-Fi signals, and it can help the signal get to a building’s hard-to-reach places. All Wi-Fi routers can work reliably up to a certain distance, but past that, the signal gets spotty. Wireless range extenders—also called wireless repeaters or Wi-Fi expanders—will boost signal strength. Although it is not a router, it should be located using the same protocols. Place it near the router so it gets a good signal, but also close enough to the edge of coverage so it can revive the weak points.
3. Avoid interference. Other electronic devices—including other Wi-Fi routers—cell towers, microwaves, Bluetooth devices and even satellites can cause trouble and speed up degradation. Generally Wi-Fi is on a different frequency than such devices, but the sheer amount of “radio noise” can cause interference. Android users can check out Wi-Fi Analyzer to find the perfect channel. In a holiday twist of fate, Christmas lights, especially blinking ones, can emit an electromagnetic field that interacts with Wi-Fi bands. This is true even for newer LED lights. However there’s no need to turn off the holiday spirit; simply move the router.
4. Place limits. Small businesses that offer guest Wi-Fi should limit that access to 20MHz, so the business has a stronger, more stable signal. When possible, use the 5GHz channel.
5. Lock it up with current authentication and encryption. Obviously your network should be password protected. But even with a password, the latest wireless technology (802.11ac) and two or three radio access points that support speeds up to 1.3 Gbps, performance could be slow. That is because wireless networks with the faster speed technology do not support older types of authentication and encryption. Check that security on the network is WPA-2 or better.
6. Plan wireless networks based on capacity, not just coverage. If you have 60 users on an access point, that bandwidth is shared among all of them. In addition, if any of those users connect with multiple devices, the network can come to a crawl. Also, position APs so they are broadcasting their signals in the specific direction they are needed. Approaches such as Wi-Fi Mesh add intelligent access points to extend the signal, helping to eliminate dead zones. A wireless mesh network spreads a network connection among many nodes that communicate with one another. Another benefit is low cost: using a wireless mesh network avoids the cost of installing wires between buildings, for instance.
7. Use the Quality of Service tools (QoS). The QoS settings are usually found under advanced settings in the network’s administrator interface. Limits can be placed on the bandwidth certain applications use, and downloads may be scheduled to run more slowly during times of increased network traffic. In addition, measuring real-time performance and analyzing that data can provide insights regarding how Wi-Fi is being used. Information that can be collected includes: the connection rates of wireless APs and third-party devices; the distribution of 802.11g, 802.11n or 802.11ac clients; the speed capability and distribution of various wireless devices and 5GHz versus 2.4 GHz connection rates.
The increased use of Wi-Fi devices puts more strain on any network, but, regardless, users expect fast, reliable performance. By focusing on improving the user’s experience, a strategy can be implemented to boost Wi-Fi performance quickly and cost effectively.