This story is part of Home Tips, CNET's collection of practical advice for getting the most out of your home, inside and out.
Have you experienced the joy of having a downstairs neighbor who loves to blast Taylor Swift at deafeningly high decibels? Or perhaps your heart warms remembering an upstairs family that refused to keep their 5-year-old from incessantly sprinting from room to room while wearing tap shoes? OK, maybe he wasn't wearing tap shoes. But you get the picture. Ah, apartment living.
Then there's the frustration of working from home while battling spotty Wi-Fi. You know the pain points: Your audio lags during Zoom meetings, you can't get that YouTube video to load and Netflix keeps freezing. To make matters worse, your roommate has no issues in their room, but you keep struggling to stay connected.
When it comes to getting a clear Wi-Fi signal, apartments are a crowded mess of multiple devices, heavy beams, metal obstructions and large numbers of devices demanding airspace simultaneously. It can make you feel powerless. But there are a few steps to improve your signal and get a better Wi-Fi connection in your apartment.
Oh, one more thing. All things being equal, your first move should be to explore whether you have options for using a different internet service provider. However, when it comes to living in an apartment, you often don't have much choice regarding your ISP. Many apartment complexes have housing contracts with specific ISPs, so even if multiple providers are available in your area, you may be bound by your lease to stick with the one you have.
That's enough preamble. Let's jump into it.
Secure your Wi-Fi signal
Buttoning down your network security is an important first step, no matter where you live, but it's especially crucial if you're renting your apartment and using the equipment that came with the place. You can start by changing your router's network name and password. If you're using a device provided by your internet provider, you should be able to use its app to change the information very easily.
If you want to avoid using your ISP's app (or have your own router), you can easily access your router settings to change your Wi-Fi password. This doesn't need to be intimidating, and my colleague Ry Crist does a great job of breaking it down for you and keeping it straightforward. However, when it comes to your new password, make sure it's anything but simple. Yes, it's tempting to keep it uncomplicated so it's easier to remember, but you want to make it difficult for others to crack (and use a password manager to help remember it).
Go channel surfing
Your router uses two bands -- 2.4GHz and 5GHz -- and within each of those bands are channels for sending and receiving your Wi-Fi signal. Your Wi-Fi issues may stem from your use of the same channel as many of your neighbors. Thus, you're all clogging up the same lanes.
The solution is to hop off that crowded channel and find one with a little less traffic. There are 11 available channels in the 2.4GHz band and 24 in the 5GHz range. Use your router's Wi-Fi utilities (either through an app or the web) to scan for the least used channel available and set your router to that channel.
As you're doing this, it's a good idea to use an internet speed test to compare how your Wi-Fi performs on the various channels. Actually, it's a good idea to run a speed test before you change any settings. That way you have a baseline idea of how your Wi-Fi was (barely) functioning and can later see how these new channels are performing in comparison.
Ideally, you don't want to do this channel check daily, but if it's effective for solving your issues, you can lean on it whenever you run into trouble.
Move your router
Sometimes the simplest solution is the best solution. Perhaps the reason for your wonky Wi-Fi is the poor placement of your router. Is it tucked away in a bookcase? Is it near or blocked by a large piece of furniture or appliance? Try giving your router some space. While you might be tempted to tuck it away for aesthetic reasons, you could inadvertently impede your router's ability to send a clear signal.
While we're talking about location, location, location: Avoid placing your router in your kitchen. Not only will your router signal struggle around all the large metal appliances, but the microwave especially will also interfere with the router. The two run on similar frequencies, so your Wi-Fi connection will be disrupted if it's near the microwave. Lastly, all those important things aside, you'll want to avoid the kitchen area, so you decrease the likelihood of coffee, water, spills and other food scraps wrecking your router.
Also, remember the scenario I mentioned above where your roomie gets the good Wi-Fi, and you're left with the scraps? There's a good chance they're closer to the router than you are. Try moving the router more to the center of the apartment. Not only should there be a more equitable sharing of the Wi-Fi wealth, but in theory, your router should perform better as well.
Finally, move it away from other high-demand Wi-Fi devices, like your smart TV or PlayStation. Again, having all those devices near one another will interfere with the functions of your router.
Get a Wi-Fi extender
Can't move your router? It's not uncommon in apartments. Your equipment is often fixed in a set location with wires. But all is not lost in this scenario. You can turn to a Wi-Fi extender. This shouldn't be too big of an investment or commitment -- decent options can range from just under $30 to around $100 -- but it could pay huge dividends in bettering your Wi-Fi signal.
Depending on the size of your place, you might only need one Wi-Fi extender. Be sure to place it in your apartment's "dead spot" and see if you can bring that area to connected life. One thing to note: Getting a Wi-Fi extender doesn't mean you skip the previous steps. For example, you still want to explore the best channel to use. If you and everyone in the building are on channel 11 or 144, you'll likely still have issues even if you use a Wi-Fi extender.
Invest in a mesh system
Do you have high streaming or gaming demands and have outgrown the router your ISP gave you for "free?" If all else fails, or you live in a larger apartment, you may need to explore a pricier -- but still affordable -- option. Invest in a good quality mesh router.
This option gives you range-extending satellites that can help you stretch your signal past 100 feet. If you'd like to integrate your router into your smart home, look for ones that specifically work with your devices (Google, Alexa, HomeKit, etc.).
Also worth considering as you look into your purchase: If you envision your apartment as a temporary living situation, buy a system with Wi-Fi 6 and other forward-thinking capabilities. For example, you might want to prioritize the router's ability to handle multi-gigabit speeds. Or make sure you can add more satellites to your system if your home size or your number of devices grows.
One final word
Perhaps I should have started with this, but I'll go ahead and end with it. If you're having trouble with the Wi-Fi router in your apartment and experiencing speeds well below what your ISP promised, I have to ask: Did you try restarting it? I know. I'm not fond of hearing that question, either. It makes me feel like an idiot. But sometimes, it can be that simple. Just try rebooting your router. But if that doesn't work, you've now got a roadmap of other options to try as well.
Get Stronger Wi-Fi in Your Apartment FAQs
Will my Wi-Fi speed always be bad because I live in an apartment?
Not necessarily. Certainly, living in an apartment means you'll have challenges regarding your Wi-Fi connection. Namely, the proximity of other neighbors and the potential interference of all their devices and signals. But it doesn't mean you're destined to have bad Wi-Fi. It just means you might have to work a little to optimize your Wi-Fi experience.
Is there a way to upgrade my apartment's Wi-Fi?
Yes. Perhaps the quickest way to upgrade your Wi-Fi is to get a faster speed plan from your internet provider. However, that might not be financially feasible for many. So the next best option is to try to move your router to a more central location in your apartment. That should provide better Wi-Fi to more areas of your place. But if that's not successful, you could try purchasing a Wi-Fi extender to expand the reach of your Wi-Fi connection within the apartment.
Can I get free Wi-Fi in my apartment?
It depends. While some apartment complexes advertise "free Wi-Fi," that typically means there's free Wi-Fi connectivity in common areas like lobbies, gyms and clubhouses. It doesn't usually extend to your apartment. That said, you can essentially get free internet -- and, by extension, free Wi-Fi -- if you qualify for the government's Affordable Connectivity Program, which is intended to help low-income households qualify for high-speed internet.