Win at Wi-Fi
There are few things that can infuriate a perfectly level-headed person as much as slow internet. That little buffering symbol can create sudden bouts of rage. A creeping webpage can make you feel like all hope is lost.
Thankfully, there are a few steps you can take to ensure better, stronger Wi-Fi throughout your house, many of which won't cost you a dime.
Centralize and raise the router
The position of the router in your home matters a great deal. If you have the router placed in a far corners of your home, chances are, you get spotty (or no) signal on the other end of the house.
The ideal location of a router is as close to the center of your home as possible, in an open area, away from other electronics, with maximized visibility. The more walls, doors, and other obstructions near your router, the higher the chance of something interfering with your signal.
It's also better to keep the router higher. Routers tend to spread signal downward, so if it's resting low or on the floor, you're not maximizing your coverage.
Reposition the antennas
Routers come with one of two types of antennas, internal or external. If your router has two external antennas, try positioning them perpendicular to one another -- one pointing vertically and the other positioned horizontally.
Reception between the router and your device is maximized when the receiver and transmitter are operating along the same plane, explains Alf Watt, a former Apple Wi-Fi engineer. Some devices have vertical antennas, others have horizontal. Having two antennas positioned perpendicularly ensures that the wireless reception is maximized.
If your router has only one antenna or an internal antenna, it will take some trial and error. Try either positioning the antenna (or the entire router) vertically and horizontally to see if one way works better than the other.
Powerline network adapters
If you live in a large multistory house or there is no way to centrally position a router, the next best solution -- short of running Cat 6 to multiple rooms -- is powerline network adapters.
Powerline network adapters work in most modern constructions by utilizing the existing electrical wiring in the walls. Plug in an adapter near your router and connect it to your router via Ethernet cable. Plug in the second adapter in the room or area where you want coverage. From there, you can use another Ethernet cable to connect directly into your devices or into the Internet port on a second router.
Powerline network extenders work in a similar way, but the second (or any additional) adapters emit a wireless signal strong enough for at least one small room.
Set up wireless security
It may sound pretty obvious to some, but plenty of networks are left open and unsecured. Not only is this a potential threat to users of that network, it can also cause dramatic slowdowns, thanks to users who leech off open networks and hog bandwidth by streaming videos or downloading large files.
Log in to your router's admin page by navigating to the router's IP address in a Web browser, then using the default credentials to sign in. This varies by brand, but it's generally very easy to find, often on the bottom of the router itself or in the produt manual. Choose WPA2 as the encryption method and select a passphrase -- something you can easily remember.
Only share this password with people you trust to be on your network.
Use heatmapping software
If you're unsure if there are nearby networks interfering with yours or what sort of coverage you actually need, you can download software that will show you everything you could possibly want to know about (or know what to do with) the wireless signals in your home.
This software will allow you to see what your home's wireless heat map looks like and allow you see exactly what sort of coverage each room is getting. Equipped with this information, you can then reposition your router, antennas or powerline network adapters to eradicate particularly problematic areas.
Switch to 5GHz
A problem you may not have previously considered is the frequency your router operates on. If you simply pulled it out of the box, installed it and never looked back, you probably grazed over the dropdown box that let you choose between 2.4GHz and 5GHz.
If you have a ton of electronics in your home, the 2.4GHz spectrum can get pretty crowded. A former colleague at Pocketnow, Joe Levi, explains that Bluetooth devices, wireless peripherals and even some microwaves cause a lot of noise in the 2.4GHz spectrum.
To cut down on the noise and drop-offs, consider switching your router to 5GHz in the administrator panel. If the option for both 2.4GHz and 5GHz is there, opt for that.
Use a less crowded channel
If you live in a crowded neighborhood or in an apartment and share a lot of the same signal space with your neighbors, choosing the right channel can cut down on interference and help speed things up a bit.
For starters, channels 1, 6 and 11 are most frequently used in the 2.4GHz spectrum, as they are the only three channels that do not overlap one another. If you've switched to 5GHz, you have whole host of channels to choose from. The selection of channels varies by model.
You can use an application like Wifi Analyzer on Android or WifiInfoView on Windows to analyze the nearby wireless signals and see which channels are being used the most. Mac has this functionality built in. Simply hold option and click the Wi-Fi icon in the menu bar, then select Open Wireless Diagnostics.
It's worth nothing that many newer routers will automatically choose the least crowded channel upon rebooting, so pulling the plug may also switch the channel to a less crowded one.
Upgrade your router
If you're paying for fast home Internet and feel like you're not getting what you're paying for, the hardware on your end may be serving as a bottleneck.
If it's been several years since you purchased your router (or modem/router combo), it's probably time to upgrade. Wireless and Internet technology have changed a great deal in the last decade, and many routers 5 or more years old do not support newer technology, such as Internet speeds in excess of 100Mbps.
The easiest way to determine if your router is the culprit is to look up the model number and compare its specs with those of the Internet package from your ISP.
Turn an old router into a Wi-Fi repeater
Powerline network adapters are almost always the better option to extend your wireless network's reach. However, they won't work across separate circuits.
When you need to extend your network and power line network adapters won't do, the next best option is to put your old router to use and turn it into a wireless bridge. This is rather involved and will usually require you to install custom firmware on your router. Not to mention, the network speeds will be dramatically cut. But it might be the only way -- short of running a wire -- to get Wi-Fi on the outer limits or your property.
Last resort: Contact your ISP
If all else fails, consider calling your ISP. Yes, it's usually one of the most unpleasant things you can do with your time, but it could save you hours, days or weeks of future frustration.
If you've upgraded your Internet package and you're using hardware supplied by your service provider, they can get the right hardware in your hands. Time Warner Cable, for instance, recently rolled out its TWC MAXX upgrades in parts of Charlotte, North Carolina, which call for upgraded hardware. Without a newer modem and router, you may not experience the full effects of the free upgrade.
If it's any other issue, they can usually help diagnose the problem and deploy a fix. Often, unfortunately, those solutions will come at the expense of your own purse.
Get a mesh network
If that comes up short, you may need to rethink your Wi-Fi. A mesh network covers holes that can develop in your Wi-Fi system by literally creating a blanket of signal across your home. Here's more about it.