You’re on your laptop, settling in to watch an episode of your TV program. But something is going wrong. Your video is not only failing to play, it continually stops to buffer, over and over. Not only that, but your Wi-Fi signal appears to be going in and out. What’s the problem?
Before you call your Internet service provider, or run out and buy a new computer, there are some more obvious issues to be examined. You may be surprised to know that there are many everyday objects that can interfere with the strength of your Wi-Fi signal. These are items that are found in many homes. Knowing what these common objects are, and how to fix or minimise their Internet impact, means plentiful, solid Wi-Fi for all.
Common Wi-Fi Enemies
Thick walls can pose a problem for wireless networks. Unfortunately, you can’t do much about the construction of your existing home, but you can plan ahead and position your router in an optimal spot.
What type of walls should you avoid?
Overly thick walls can be problematic, but especially those containing insulation material, water pipes, and air ducts. In addition to the wall material itself, these create additional obstacles to stymie your Wi-Fi signal. Troublesome materials include concrete, metal, brick, stone, ceramic, and mirrors. Thinner partitions, such as those made of Gyprock, tend to be better for your signal. Placement of your router will be paramount to making the most of your residential situation, but if you’re still experiencing issues, you may want to try a Wi-Fi repeater which can expand your signal reach and multiply its strength. If all else fails, a wired connection may be your best bet for reliable Internet access.
Could it be that your beloved goldfish are wreaking havoc on your Wi-Fi signal? It’s actually not the innocent fish which are to blame, but the water. Wireless signals can struggle to pass through water, so fish tanks, especially larger ones, present a significant obstacle for your Wi-Fi. If you’ve placed your router directly next to your aquarium, the tank is likely absorbing a great deal of the Wi-Fi signal, meaning that your devices are suffering. Move your router as far from the tank as possible, and in a location where the signal can transmit easily in all directions.
When space is limited, you might find that the easiest place for your router is next to your television or microwave. But this is definitely not the best location from a signal standpoint. Appliances such as microwaves and TVs can be the cause of weak Wi-Fi. Microwaves, like many other household appliances, operate on a similar frequency to Wi-Fi networks, which means that a tiny leak of radiation from the appliance can interfere with the signal. Moving your router further from your microwave can usually make a difference.
Other appliances which can create interferences include TVs, baby monitors, refrigerators, game console controllers, and wireless speakers. Placement of the items can help, but another option is to physically change your Wi-Fi channel. Many routers allow for this possibility. Check out this article for more information.
A beautiful wall mirror is a lovely addition to your home, but what if it’s affecting your Wi-Fi power? Not all mirrors will cause issues, but some do. The culprit is the metal backing on the mirror which reflects---or deflects---your Wi-Fi signal, weakening and limiting it. The larger the mirror, and the closer its position to your router, the more interference it is likely to create. If you’re experiencing ‘dead zones’ in your home where the Wi-Fi does not reach, it could be the fault of one or more mirrors.
Energy Efficient Windows
Energy-saving windows are a smart move for minimising energy usage and keeping your home’s climate steady, but these windows can actually be an enemy to Wi-Fi. That’s because these windows may include low-emissivity (low-E) coatings, very thin transparent metal. As we know, metal is counterproductive to Wi-Fi transmission, so these energy-efficient windows can be a problem, too. In this situation, moving your router away from your windows is a smart solution. Metallic blinds can create a similar issue.
Analogue video senders
Yet another perpetrator of weak, spotty Wi-Fi are analogue video senders. This includes items such as wireless security cameras or nanny cams, objects that transmit pictures via satellite or cable to another viewing point in the house, such as a TV. Using different spectrum profile to Wi-Fi these objects essentially kill the Wi-Fi signal completely. They also have a wide reach, which means they can cause problems even in neighbours’ homes.
What about fairy lights?
A few years ago, a popular rumour spread that fairy lights would hurt your Wi-Fi signal. These festive stringed lights, hung mostly around Christmas time, are a fun addition to your decor. But will they slow down your wireless signal? There’s only a bit of truth to the rumour. The visible light from your fairy lights won’t trouble your Wi-Fi, as the two object don’t operate on the same frequency. But there could be some blocking the electromagnetic radiation from the wires or LED electronics. While you might not want to bury your router behind this year’s Christmas tree, chances are you have very little to fear from your fairy lights.
Which Wi-Fi Frequency Should I Use?
Wi-Fi can operate on various frequencies. The two most common are 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz. 2.4 is actually much more common for routers as this is an ‘all purpose’ spectrum that is more durable. 2.4 GHz offers the widest range and is capable of reaching through a variety of wall thicknesses.
5 GHz signals, while capable of higher data rates, typically cannot travel as far as 2.4 GHz signals. If you’re unsure which frequency will work best for your home, it is suggested to speak to your service provider. On either frequency, the best Wi-Fi performance will occur when your devices are closer to your router/modem and when interfering objects are kept to a minimum.
Tips for Better Wi-Fi At Home
Now that you’re aware of which household objects could be defeating your Wi-Fi signal, it’s time to get your home in prime Wi-Fi shape. Here are a few essential tips to get the strongest, steadiest Wi-Fi signal possible.
Place your router in a central location
For best results, your router should not only be far from potential interferences, but ideally, it should be within line of sight during use. This will *almost* guarantee a reliable signal. A home office is a widely suggested spot for your router, and one which makes a great deal of sense. Avoid placing it directly next to walls or windows.
Update your router
Outdated equipment can be a serious Wi-Fi killer. If you’ve got a router from a few years ago, it might be operating with a bandwidth cap. This means your speeds can never reach where you’d like them to be, especially if you’re on fast ADSL2+ or on the nbn™. Updating to a modern router can make a massive difference in your Wi-Fi performance.
Make your Wi-Fi more secure
If an unauthorised person is siphoning off your Wi-Fi network, this could be slowing it down for everyone in your home. Unacceptable! At a minimum, you need a secure password for access to your wireless network. But you can also take steps to increase that security. Hiding the network’s SSID is a good move. The SSID is the name of the Wi-Fi network, which usually appears to anyone within reach of the network. To hide the SSID, within the firmware settings of your router you can shut off the SSID broadcast option. Anyone who wants to use your network will now need to type in both the network name AND its security key (passwords) manually.
Add (or replace) an external antenna
A great way to boost that signal is with the antenna on your router. If your router has only an internal antenna (you’ll know because you won’t see it on the outside) consider installing an external one. These have a much better ability to broadcast your wireless signal. Antennas are either omnidirectional, meaning they transmit in multiple directions, or directional, in which they send the signal in one specific direction. A directional antenna could be the solution if you’re experiencing Wi-Fi dead zones. Simply point the antenna in the direction of the weak spot and voilà, better Wi-Fi. When purchasing, look for an antenna labelled “high-gain” for best results.
Pro tip: You can adjust the internal antenna, too. Simply rotate the router and see if that improves your Wi-Fi signal.
Invest in a wireless repeater
If you’re experiencing constant problems with your Wi-Fi signal, you might want to think about buying a wireless repeater for your home. This could be an excellent solution for a building that is not well set up for Wi-Fi, for instance, a home with many thick, concrete walls. Extra-large homes could also benefit from a wireless repeater, since, as the name suggests, it serves to repeat or extend the wireless signal.
Wireless repeaters, sometimes known as Wi-Fi expanders or wireless range extenders, work by rebroadcasting the existing signal from your wireless router. Your wireless repeater does not need to be the same brand or make as your original router, but be sure it is compatible. If you’re feeling technically savvy, you can even transform an old router into a wireless repeater. Check out this guide for more details.
Tell your router where to prioritise bandwidth
Tommy’s constant gaming and Lucy’s nonstop Netflix bingeing could be partially to blame for your slow Wi-Fi. Certain activities hog bandwidth on your network, unfortunately. But to fix this, you can actually specify within your router which services you want to prioritise. You do this using something called Quality of Service (QoS). Not all routers allow this capability, but if yours does, it’s not a bad idea to enable your settings so that the most necessary services are always the highest priority for the Wi-Fi signal.
Identifying Wi-Fi Issues
In many cases, it might be obvious that you’re experiencing Wi-Fi problems. But sometimes you won’t even realise you’re experiencing slow speeds. To test your Internet speed, ideally you should do so from a wired connection. If you are having Wi-Fi problems, this could show you how Wi-Fi speeds compare with a direct wired connection, helping you to better identify and rule out potential network issues. You can use a site such as Speedtest.net to run a test of your Internet connection. This will let you know the current speeds of both downloads and uploads, and you can start zeroing in on any potential problems. There is also a free app for iOS called Dr. Wifi and one on Android called Signal Strength. These offer real-time speed testing and monitoring of latency via your smartphone. These apps can be especially useful if you’re making adjustments to your router location, adding an antenna, or working on other changes, as the app can help you determine whether or not your changes are having the intended effect.
Place your router in an unobstructed, central spot in your home
Avoid main culprits of Wi-Fi interference (fish tanks, microwaves, mirrors)
Make sure your equipment is up-to-date
With a few simple strategies, your Wi-Fi should be at its strongest and most reliable.