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Getting the best home wifi experience
Whether it's the buffering of an episode of your latest Netflix series, or that annoying lag in receiving an email, there's nothing more frustrating than dodgy internet access. Even with the best broadband connection, there are a number of factors that can affect your home wifi experience. The good news is that the solution could be as simple as updating or moving your wifi router or using wired connections for your data-hungry devices.
Planning your home network
For many people when they think of wifi in their home, it's just seen as a singular connection that links devices to their router and the internet. The reality is though, when making decisions about a wifi set up you're actually designing an in-home network. Putting in time to research the type of network you want to build will save you effort and money and less frustration in the long-run.
Ethernet cables play a vital networking role. The wired portion of your home network will act as the backbone carrying a fast, reliable connection to parts of your home that wifi can't reach. You'll also get a far better experience from 4K TV streaming, online gaming and music services, if your data hungry devices use this wired connection.
So what type of setup should you opt for?
That depends on the size of your home, the number and type of devices you want to connect, and where in your home you want to enjoy them.
Most routers will only have four ethernet ports in the back, so if you have lots of data-hungry devices then you'll need more ports. A network switch connected to your router will allow you to extend your wired network to more rooms in your home.
Running ethernet cable throughout your home can be a costly and difficult job, but it's worth considering if you're renovating or have easy access under your house. Wiring your home for ethernet will improve your overall broadband experience by reducing the number of devices competing for a good wifi signal.
Buying the right wifi router
Like other devices, it's a good idea to replace your router (sometimes referred to as a modem) every five years or so to make sure it can cope with advancements in broadband and wifi technology.
You usually get a new router from your internet provider when you upgrade your broadband plan. Some routers have limits on the speed they can reach, so ask your provider if your router can handle the speeds required by your connection.
If you're looking to buy your own router, compare the specifications (memory, processor power, number of antennas) of different models and purchase the best one you can afford – it'll give you a better wired connection and better wifi throughout your home. Choose a model which uses a modern wifi standard. Currently, that means Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) or Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax).
Buying a new router can be a daunting task. The good news is there are many great review sites to steer you through the buying process. The Wirecutter, PC Mag, Techradar, and Cnet are all great places to start your research.
Where to place your router for a strong wifi signal
Where you place your router will have a big impact on your in-home internet experience. Wifi signals travel a limited distance and they can’t pass through some materials. In some cases other electronic devices, especially cordless phones and microwave ovens can interfere with wifi. If you're not getting the speed you expect, try these tips to boost your wifi performance:
- Place your router in a central position within your house so your wifi can be transmitted to most areas in your home
- Place your router in a high position within your living area where you use broadband the most
- Place you router out in the open. Don't put it in a cupboard or behind furniture or other obstacles. If you can see your wifi router you're going to get great performance from unobstructed wifi signals
- Avoid placing your router too near a window as you might be close to a neighbours' wifi and get interference
- Place your router at least 2 metres away from household appliances which might cause electrical interference
- Devices like baby monitors, bluetooth speakers, cordless phones and your neighbours' network can operate on the same radio frequency as your wifi. If you're getting poor wifi performance, try selecting a different wifi channel. Log in to your router's control panel and go to wifi settings to change this option.
Extend your wifi coverage
If you live in a large home or a home on multiple levels (or a small apartment with a complicated layout) you might find your router by itself isn't up to the task of transmitting wifi throughout your home. You'll need to extend your network to those rooms with a weak signal. Delivering ethernet cables to these areas is your best idea, but if that's not an feasible then there are other networking options you could try.
You can extend your network coverage using a Powerline adapter, installing a mesh wifi network, or using a wifi extender. The solution you choose will depend on where you're trying to reach and the obstacles (building materials) which might be interfering with your wifi signal. You might need a mix of two technologies - say, Powerline and a mesh network - to get around difficult obstructions.
A mesh system is made up of several wifi devices (or nodes). Each node communicates with the other to form one large wifi signal that blankets your home. Traditional wifi setups rely on the signal transmitted from your wifi router. This signal grows weaker the further away you are from the router, or if there are obstacles in the way like walls, floors and concrete and steel structures. Mesh networks don't suffer from this problem because the nodes can be placed throughout your home, so you're always near a strong wifi signal.
Learn more: What is whole home wifi and mesh wifi
Powerline networking is a clever way to extend your wired connection throughout your home by using your existing electrical wiring system. You can purchase two or more Powerline adapters and place the first one near your router. The second adapter goes in the room where you have weak wifi reception. You can then connect your device to the second adapter using an ethernet cable, or plug in a wifi access point. Powerline networking is a great option because you don't need to lay any new cables.
Learn more: What are powerline adapters
Wifi extenders are devices which receive the wifi signal from your router and then repeat it or re-broadcast it in a different area of your home. You might experience slower speeds when connected to a wifi extender because of the way it relays the original transmission from your router. Wifi extenders might also create a second wifi network in your home, which means you have to manually connect and disconnect when moving between wifi networks to receive the strongest signal.
Learn more: What is a wifi extender or wifi booster?
These three solutions add complexity and cost to your home network. If you're experiencing poor wifi reception, your first step should be to check the quality of your wifi router, change the location of your router, and then if necessary upgrade the device. An up to date router could improve the strength and range of your network more effectively than a wifi mesh network or other wifi range extending options.