The center of your home's digital universe is your wireless router. Not the sexiest gadget in your house, but man, it’s not fun when it doesn’t work (or is painfully slow). Most of the people I work with feel powerless when their connection slows to a snail’s pace: It’s not like routers have a knob you can turn up to eleven (though how rad would that be?). Knob or no knob, there are things you can do to give your Wifi speed a shot in the arm. Let’s run through some of them and see if we can get you up to speed. (That’s a home network joke. Ahem.)
Upgrade Your Router
For optimal home network speed, you’ll want the router to be in the middle of all the action. Problem is, most routers are pretty sucky to look at (big, black box with the antennae coming out of it? I’m talking to you), so they aren’t exactly going to pass as objet on a well-styled shelf. Thankfully some companies are tackling the problem, creating routers that are as beautiful as they are powerful, so you might not mind having them on display. Google’s new OnHub routers (shown above) are sculptural and at home with most design stories. It’s unique 360 degree antenna sends Wifi speed in all directions of your home, and it’s app will do a speed test and give you real-time suggestions about how to optimize if things slow down. It will even help you prioritize speed for one gadget in your home (say, if you’re set to binge watch a season of House of Cards). So, it’s got brains and a nice package too.
Other smart, attractive and powerful routers:
Securifi for $99
Belkin AC 1750 DB Wi-Fi Dual-Band AC+ Gigabit Router for $149.99
Relocate Your Router
Now that you’re router is drop dead gorgeous, let’s get it out in the open so it get Wifi to every nook and cranny of your home. Ideal spot: Up high, on a flat surface, and in the center of the action. And while the distance between you and your router is important, so is what lies between. Bulky furniture, an aquarium or a giant potted ficus can block the wireless signal. Basically, your Wifi signal doesn’t like detours, so create as few as possible between you. Be especially mindful of metal objects, because they can bounce the signal all over the place. But if you can’t relocate that floor-to-ceiling wine fridge, you’ll want to look into this next tip...
Get a Range Extender
If your Wifi is speedy in the living room, but spotty in the bedroom, you'll want a range extender (sometimes called a “bridge”). It will grab your Wifi connection from the router with one of it’s antennae, and spread it around with the other. Some look similar to a router, but I prefer the smaller type that plugs directly into an outlet and virtually disappears. We installed one of these (a Linksys RE6700, shown above) in our guest bedroom recently, and it worked wonders not only for our guests' tablet use but for streaming content on a SmartTV as well. The trick is to put it in a part of your home that gets decent-but-not-perfect coverage, so that it can pick up a signal and pass it along to further-flung spaces. Test it out at a mid-point between the router and the device you’re trying to connect, then move it around accordingly.
Other range extenders:
Check the firmware
Sometimes the best medicine for slow Wi-fi is to update your router’s firmware. Find the make and model of your router (usually on the bottom), and visit the manufacturer’s website to make sure it’s up to date, or download the upgrade.
Play with the frequency
Most Wi-Fi in North America uses 2.4GHz band as the default frequency. It can get crowded there, particularly if you live in an apartment building or urban area. And wireless signals from your neighbor’s baby monitor or Bluetooth device could also be elbowing their way onto the same frequency as your Wi-Fi. Consider getting a router that can switch to 5GHz instead.
Within those frequencies, there are multiple channels—just like on a television—so you can also change the channel that your router is using. The InSSIDer app, available for Windows or Mac, can show you signal strength, channel conflicts and access points.
You will pay more for a 5 GHz-compatible wireless router, so that’s something to keep in mind. Also, the lower the frequency, the farther a wireless signal can travel. So devices on a 5 GHz network will have a shorter range than those on a 2.4 GHz one (bring in the range extenders!).
Keep the neighbors out
A bunch of neighbors piggybacking on your Wi-Fi will slow it down (not to mention make your home computers vulnerable to attack). Make sure you have a strong password on your WiFi so that a passerby can’t hop onto your network. Hint: Not the default password that your router came with.
To the wall!
Here’s my home network mantra (yes, that’s a thing I have): If you can plug into the wall, do plug into the wall. Uploading hundreds of photos to the cloud or downloading a giant system update will go faster if you can plug your laptop into an ethernet cable. Some streaming media boxes are wifi only, but others offer an Ethernet option, which will free your device from relying on signal strength and make streaming movies faster and less choppy. Yes, you will be tethered… but it’ll take you back to those days of dialing in with your 2400 baud modem and all the weird beee-boop-bongggg!!! noises it would make.
Greetings! Carley Knobloch here, digital lifestyle expert. I am BEYOND thrilled to be writing for Apartment Therapy! When I'm not digitally-lifestyling it up, I'm tweaking something-or-other in my house, so I'm always trolling the ol' AT for home inspo.
I'm also a regular correspondent on the Today Show, and the smart home expert for HGTV, where I help audiences understand the ever-evolving world of home technology in an easy, approachable way.
Anyhoo, why am I here, exactly? I’m on a mission to tackle those home tech headaches that make you want to rip your router out of the wall and go live in a yurt. Because, can be just… hard. To navigate all this tech stuff. To keep things up and running, you know? I’m here to help.