Bad Wi-Fi can have you cursing your phone, your home, modern technology...damn it all! How can we be in 2020 and my $*#@ internet still doesn't work?! At least that's what I tend to say. Living in Europe I have lived in older apartments that did not have any concept of "the internet" when they were built. Lot's of walls and hallways and things that make Wi-Fi very challenging.
Recently we moved to a modern apartment that included ethernet/LAN ports in each room! This helped a lot and now we have a much better network, however the walls are solid concrete so as soon as I walk into my office on a skype call I lag out and the connection is lost.
I have not completely solved this issue yet but in my search found a lot of ways to improve your Wi-Fi signal and reliability.
1. Check your wired connection first
In the famous words of Roy "Did you turn it off and on again"? In my building we have a general internet problem. Even though our building is brand new, the connection TO the building is outdated. No fiber here! Because of that our internet tends to be less stable, up and down, and gets slower during peak times.
My general troubleshooting goes like this: a) restart the cable/dsl modem b) give it some time c) if that doesn't work it's most likely a building-wide problem, but one final check of a direct connection should confirm that. Tip: keep a "test" ethernet cable plugged into your router and simply turn off the wi-fi on your laptop, plug it into your modem/router and see if it works. If not, then 99% of the time it is something out of your control and likely a problem with your telco that will hopefully resolved soon.
2. Update your router firmware
Just like a computer your modem/router needs to be updated every so often. These updates are rare, maybe once a year or so, but they do happen. Log into your router's admin interface.
You can usually find the login address account and password a) on the back of your router b) in instructions that came with your router c) online - just google the brand of your router and admin console
Once you are logged in, look for a Firmware update button. It could be in the settings, advanced section but all depends on which router you have.
3. Reconsider your Wi-Fi router placement
Remember Wi-Fi is notoriously bad at moving through solid objects. Almost anything solid will block it or degrade the signal. If the area with the bad signal is around a corner or in another room, that may be the reason. If you can not improve this by moving the router to a spot with better Line of Sight to the area, you have other options which we will cover below.
4. Check your frequency
Log into your router's admin interface (see tip 2). If you have a more modern router make sure you have the 5Ghz band selected. 5Ghz will not only give you higher speed but also less interference from other devices using Wi-Fi.
However it is important to note that 2.4GHz is better for distances and handling obstacles. So consider which you need and change to the right frequency accordingly.
5. Change your channel
Channel is a factor to consider if you think the issue may be related to interference. More and more devices start to connect to these wireless networks which creates more "noise" and decreases performance. If you live in an apartment building instead of a house, this is something to consider. Changing the channel of your Wi-Fi network will help with interference from other Wi-Fi networks from your neighbors but will not improve interference from your own devices on your network.
To change your Wi-Fi network's channel log into the admin interface (see 2 above). You need to find where you can select your Wi-Fi channel. Most of the time it is located in advanced settings, settings, or setup tab.
If you live in a densely populated area and suspect overcrowding of signals could be the problem you can check what channels your neighbors' Wi-Fi Networks are using with Windows
6. Check for Wi-Fi pirates
It could be that none of the above are the actual cause of your Wi-Fi woes. You might have unwanted stowaways leeching on your network. There are a few ways you can see what devices are connected to your network. First and easiest is to check in your router's admin panel (see 2). Once logged in, most modern router admin interfaces list the devices currently connected. Make sure you can account for all of them, if there is something connected that is not yours, you may have a leecher. Change your Wi-Fi password from the admin panel, this should kick them off. Make sure to choose a more secure password this time!
Here is a tool in case your router does not provide this information.
7. Optimize Quality
Most modern routers worth their salt include a Quality of Service (QoS) tool to limit the bandwidth certain apps use.
Here you can do more fine tuning. For example maybe you want to prioritize bandwidth for video calls over downloading and music. Most of the time this will be shown under an advanced settings tab/section.
8. Upgrade your Antenna
Some routers may have internal antennae. If that is the case for your router and your signal is too weak to reach your desired location consider upgrading to an external antennae as a relatively cheap solution.
You should consider an omni-directional antennae versus a directional one. We recommend going with a "high gain" directional antennae as you likely are having issues with a particular area of your home. However if you just want a larger radius then omni-directional is best.
9. Upgrade other old hardware
One golden rule about ALL home networking: your network is only as fast as your weakest component. That goes for everything from the obvious such as the speed of your Wi-Fi router, to the less obvious quality and speed of your ethernet cables that connect your router. If you use a switch, or chain from a modem to a router, however you have setup your network. Consider what is your slowest piece? If you are considering upgrading cables, before you spend money on higher quality Cat 7 fiber cables, make sure the other components of your network can utilize the newer cable technology. If you buy speedy cables but your router only supports up to Cat 5, the cables will do nothing!
Another one we tend to forget is the wireless adapter/card within your PC or Laptop. If you are planning upgrades, make sure you have the latest adapter to take advantage of them.
The most obvious to upgrade, and with the potential for greatest improvement on your network, is your router itself. Routers tend to go from cheap to expensive fast. There are a lot of low-end routers available in the $20 to 50 range. When you start getting into higher quality routers they jump up to $200+. So make sure whatever you are considering that it fits into your overall plan, network and is compatible with other upgrades you may be considering.
10. Use a Range Extender or Mesh Network
I personally have had mixed results with range extenders. It's all about Line of Sight! In my case, my previous apartment had a lot of walls, corners, doors and long hallways. So a range extender didn't really help because you can't bend the signal around a corner. So if you plan to place a range extender, stand where it would go. Can you see your Wi-Fi router? If it is blocked by a wall or in another room, an extender will likely not help you at all. For that you will need a powerline adapter (see below).
Mesh networks are a newer technology that distributes the connection throughout your home using mesh points. Instead of repeating the signal, mesh networks intelligently route the data back to your modem. If you are considering to upgrade your router you may want to compare to setting up a mesh network. The mesh network will replace your router entirely. The main downside to mesh networks is cost. They are expensive. However, Amazon announced in 2020 a new Mesh Network product called Eero 6 and Eero 6 Pro slated for 2021 that will come in at $100 to $200 less than the competition.
A less expensive option is to use signal boosters. We reviewed the Wi-Fi UltraBoost from Gigaty and found it affordable and worked great.
You can pick one up for just $49 with this link. It offers great range and speeds of up to 300 mbs. Just plug it in within line of site to your router to slingshot the signal further into your house or apartment.
11. Consider a powerline adapter
As mentioned in tip 10, I could not use extenders in my previous apartment due to too many rooms, walls, halls corners and the material of the walls. Luckily if you run into this problem, there is a solution out there! An amazing technology that uses the electrical outlets and corresponding electrical grid of your home or apartment and turns it into a LAN network! Essentially its like a little modem that transfers data on your network using the electrical lines instead of ethernet lines.
So as long as you have electricity in your home or apartment, you can use these nifty things to deliver internet to various rooms. Some of them also come with a Wi-Fi signal repeater as well.