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Expert Tips for Better Wi-Fi Performance

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Little changes to a work or home environment can dramatically improve a wireless network.

Anyone who has a wireless network at home knows that performance can be variable. There are several things that can be done to optimize a Wi-Fi environment, from simply placing the Wi-Fi router higher up to changing the type of wireless encryption the router is using.

1. Bad router location

Router on shelf

Routers should be placed up high in a central location for best performance.

If the router is on the floor or under a desk, get it to a higher location. For better performance, have it at least five feet off of the ground. If possible, ensure a clear line of sight. Wi-Fi signals travel in a circular pattern outward which means that it should be centered in the room needing coverage.  If the router is mounted on a ceiling, Intel wireless expert Eric McLaughlin suggests making sure that the antennas are pointed down and in different directions from each other.

2. Too many wireless devices

The more wireless devices demanding bandwidth from the Wi-Fi router, the lower the transmission speed. If there are many devices in use streaming multimedia, for example, the bandwidth supplied by the Internet Service Provider (ISP) may reach its peak, potentially resulting in inadequate speed for some connected devices. McLaughlin suggests moving from an 802.11b/g/n router to one of the new 802.11ac routers, which will increase bandwidth and capacity on your network.

3. Check the furniture or move your device

Any time furniture is moved, it affects the Wi-Fi wave emanating from the Wi-Fi router. If signal degrades and furniture was recently moved, either the router position should be changed or the furniture moved again. “You can also re-orient your laptop or other Wi-Fi device,” says McLaughlin. “Studies show that even small movements – shifting a couple inches left or right, up or down- can either impact or benefit your Wi-Fi experience by as much as 30 to 60 percent.”

4. Physical barriers

Walls, doors, mirrors and other physical items can also reflect the wireless signals coming from the router. Sometimes even the least obvious items can be culprits in causing degraded Wi-Fi signals. Look at mirrors or pictures or book cases to see if they are potentially blocking signals. “Floors or ceilings also impact Wi-Fi experience,” McLaughlin points out. “If you’re not getting good coverage or throughput on your network, move the router either upstairs or down and try again.”

5. Other competing devices

Networking hardware

Other wireless devices can interfere with a Wi-Fi signal.

Keep in mind that there are many other devices that emanate wireless signals. Cordless phones, microwaves, televisions, Bluetooth devices, baby monitors and more can potentially affect Wi-Fi signals. Ideally, the router should be located away from competing devices. “Step away from the microwave, or the cordless phone while in a Wi-Fi session and you should see almost immediate improvement,” adds McLaughlin.

6. Watch the “Dead Zones”

No home is without areas where Wi-Fi coverage is spotty. This could be due to the placement of furniture or where the Wi-Fi router is positioned. There are ways to eliminate areas of bad coverage by using an additional Wi-Fi router or using a Wi-Fi extender which piggy-backs on existing Wi-Fi coverage by “daisy chaining” your coverage. More streams (or antennas) in your router helps with range and dead spots. McLaughlin recommends buying a 3 or 4 stream router if Wi-Fi connections are vital to you in your home.

7.  What’s the Frequency?

There are two main frequencies for Wi-Fi signals, 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. The older standard, 2.4 GHz is much more crowded, meaning there are other devices that may overlap or share the frequency. This can potentially slow down connectivity speeds. “The single biggest thing you can do to increase Wi-Fi experience is move your connection to 5 GHz,” says McLaughlin. “While there can be some impact to range, the overall benefit is substantial because there are few competing devices.”

Also, within each frequency, there are channels that can be automatically selected by the Wi-Fi router as being interference-free, or the channels can be selected manually. There are many applications that can audit a Wi-Fi environment to see all conflicting channels or channels with more overlap.

8. Old Equipment

Old electronics

Old hardware may benefit from a firmware update, or may be due for a replacement.

If a Wi-Fi router frequently has to be rebooted or restarted, it may be time to invest in a new Wi-Fi router that supports new standards such as 802.11ac, which adds to 802.11 a/b/g/n. Some Wi-Fi routers have multiple antennae, which allows capacity to be aggregated to have a faster combined speed for supported devices, potentially up to 6.77 Gbit/second.

9. It’s the Network

Speeds could be throttled if the connection between the ISP modem (cable, DSL or fiber) is constrained. Ensure that the modem and the router have Gigabit Ethernet speeds, otherwise true throughput could be slower than what is paid for. Also, make sure the modem supports the latest protocols – e.g., DOCSIS 3.0 for cable modems. “For the time being, your internet connection will be your bottleneck,” McLaughlin says. “Check out what your family members are doing if you are seeing slow network performance; if they are streaming video or are taxing your internet connection and your network.”

10. Update Firmware and Drivers

Manufacturers of Wi-Fi cards and routers often optimize and update the software that powers Wi-Fi cards and routers. Features and fixes are often released to make the Wi-Fi experience better and potentially faster.

“Wi-Fi bugs and issues are notoriously difficult to find because there are so many variables. Getting up to date means you are taking advantage of testing and fixing done by Intel, OEMs, users, corporations, etc. so you’ll get the benefit of someone else finding your bug,” says McLaughlin.

Bonus: Tweak the Settings

Many Wi-Fi routers can optimize and prioritize certain types of traffic. That is to say, multimedia or gaming streams can be given priority over standard web browsing or email for example. “One interesting thing on some of the newer routers is QoS (Quality of Service),” suggest McLaughlin. “It’s not very user-friendly, but can optimize your overall network performance. For example, you can prioritize video, voice, or gaming traffic. The router then allocates bandwidth and prioritizes accordingly.”

The encryption method can also impact speed. On 802.11n and 802.11ac routers, it’s best to choose WPA2 with AES encryption to get the best speed, as using the older WEP and WPA security with TKIP encryption will reduce throughput.

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