You can boost your Wi-Fi signal without replacing your router by first testing your internet speed and making sure the router’s firmware is up to date.
If your Wi-Fi is slow or spotty, there are a lot of possible causes, such as your ISP, the router itself, your Wi-Fi settings, and obstacles in the house that block the signal.
Wi-Fi is a utility that’s as essential as water and electricity, but it can be far more unpredictable. Your Wi-Fi speed may vary dramatically from one day to the next, or simply never deliver the speeds promised by your internet service provider (ISP). There are so many confounding factors that it’s often hard to know how to boost your signal.
How to boost your Wi-Fi signal and internet speed
Before you switch ISPs or buy a new router, here are the most important tips for improving your Wi-Fi.
Run a speed test
There are a lot of reasons why you might have slow Wi-Fi, so it’s good to start with the basics. Run an internet speed test to see what kind of internet speeds the router is seeing before it gets converted to a wireless signal. You can try speedtest.net or fast.com, and if you’re not seeing 5 Mbps at the very least, you might have a problem with your ISP. 20 Mbps is much more common, but your exact speed will depend on your ISP and internet plan. For more information, read our article on how to test your internet speed.
Make sure you’re connected to the 5Ghz band
If you have a dual-band or tri-band Wi-Fi router, you should be using the 5GHz band rather than the 2.4GHz band whenever possible. Many smart home devices (like video doorbells and smart speakers) can only use the slower 2.4GHz band, but your phone, laptop, tablet, and TV should all be connected via 5GHz to take advantage of the significantly higher speeds it offers. Use the Wi-Fi settings on each of your devices to see what Wi-Fi band you’re using. Incidentally, if your router doesn’t have a 5GHz band, then you should definitely upgrade.
Reposition your router
If your router passed the speed test but your Wi-Fi is sluggish or drops out a lot, it might just be positioned poorly. Wi-Fi signals have trouble penetrating solid materials, and certain things stop the signal cold – like brick walls, metal appliances (like a refrigerator) and large volumes of water, like fish tanks. In general, the best place to put your Wi-Fi router is in a central location, so it has the best chance of reaching the extremities of your home. But if you mostly need it in one part of the house and you’re having Wi-Fi trouble, consider moving it closer to where the internet action is. You might also need a mesh router or a Wi-Fi repeater, which we’ll talk about later.
Update your Wi-Fi router’s firmware
Is your router up to date? If its firmware hasn’t been updated in a long time – or ever – its performance might be seriously hobbled. Few routers can update their firmware automatically, so use the router’s mobile app (if it has one) or log into its control panel and see if the firmware can be updated. The process might be especially arduous if you have an older router, so check your user guide for details.
Switch to a less congested channel
Your router probably has several channels it can choose from when broadcasting the Wi-Fi signal. Don’t confuse the channel with the frequency band – there are several channels within the 2.4GHz and the 5GHz bands. While most routers default to a particular channel for each band, sometimes they’re highly congested, which can slow down your Wi-Fi.
Check your router’s mobile app (if it has one) or log into the admin control panel and try switching to a different channel and see if that improves your performance. You might need to check your router’s user guide for details.
Make sure there are no Wi-Fi freeloaders
Your Wi-Fi might be buckling under the load of a lot of users or devices all using your internet at the same time. If you aren’t securing your Wi-Fi network with a strong password, it’s entirely possible that neighbors are connecting to your network and siphoning off your bandwidth. If that’s the case, you should use your router’s mobile app or admin control panel to change the password right away.
Even if you don’t have a freeloader, your Wi-Fi might be overtaxed by an army of devices in your home. If several different family members are trying to stream Netflix at the same time, that can slow things down substantially. To find out, browse the list of devices connected to your network (again, your router’s mobile app or admin control panel can usually provide this info) and use the router’s admin controls to evict users or devices you don’t want online.
Upgrade your router, or add extenders
Replacing your router is always something of a last resort. Not only can a new router be expensive, but it’s a lot of work to set up a new router and have your various devices join the network. But if your router is limited to obsolete 802.11n or 802.11g standards, for example, you might want to look for an 802.11ac or Wi-Fi 6 router.
If you have an especially large house and your router isn’t yet obsolete, you might want to add one or more Wi-Fi extenders. These are small, affordable devices that amplify the Wi-Fi signal and therefore extend the coverage area in your home. You’ll generally need to plug them in close enough to your router that they receive a solid, reliable signal, but are close enough to your home’s “dead zone” to fill in the gap. The major disadvantage of extenders is that they usually have their own SSID, so you need to change Wi-Fi networks when going from one end of the house to the other.
Another alternative: Upgrader to a mesh network. Mesh routers usually come in two or three components rather than a single router, and you connect them in different locations throughout the house. Together, they deliver a strong and fast signal over a much larger coverage area than a typical router can do on its own.