How to make your Wi-Fi better

By Dan Sung Corbis
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Boost your Wi-Fi signal

Tips to get an internet signal where you never thought possible See gallery

Wi-Fi at home has become as important as water or electricity; or that’s certainly the way it feels when your internet access goes down. Just as frustrating as no connection, though, can be a very poor connection and far too many people have learned sit and suffer when there are actually lots of things you can do. So, as ever, it’s MSN Tech to the rescue with some fantastic tips on how to get better Wi-Fi at home.

We’ll start with the easy stuff and get marginally more complicated as we go but, trust us, all of our tips will be well within the reaches of anyone to try out for themselves. What’s more, hardly any of it will cost you any money at all, so well worth trying out those free home wireless networking tips first. Good luck and happy problem solving.

Let's get going!...  

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Reposition your wireless router

It’s tempting to stuff that little, unsightly box into the corner of some room at the bottom of your home entertainment stack underneath your TV and surrounded by a selection of set top boxes. This is probably one of the worst things you could do to it. Remember that this box is a little radio transmitter and you need to give it the best possible chance to send its signals as far as it can.

Just as giant masts are put on the tops of hills, elevate your router as much as is practical. On the top surface of a table or TV stand would be better, and try to avoid putting it next to bits of furniture or thick structures like supporting walls or metal. These will all become obstacles for the wireless waves that your computer is trying to catch.

Also, you might want to consider the more general location of the router. Either place it in the middle of your home for the best overall coverage or in the room where you do most of your work/internet access for the most functional convenience.

Newscom
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Get rid of Wi-Fi interfering items

You wireless router might not be the only object in your house that broadcasts a radio signal. Many cordless phones, microwaves, baby monitors and other such devices also send out information on the so-called 2.4GHz band. We’re certainly not suggesting that you get rid of these other items but it would be a good idea to get your router away from them, or them away from your router.

Linksys
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Change your router's antennae

Didn’t know you could change your router's antennae? Well, you can. You can detach and change your antennae on some routers and on others you can provide some modifications all of your own.

Often what you’re fitted with are omnidirectional antennae that send the wireless signal out in all ways, but you can make the waves travel further if you channel then in a single orientation. This works very nicely if most of your Wi-Fi needs are in roughly the same direction from your router.

Either go down the online shops and order yourself a high gain antenna to do the trick, or just crack open a cold one and make something of your own which does very much the same job. Essentially, it involves opening up a drinks can, turning it into a dish and using it to bounce the wireless signal from an omnidirectional antenna and make sure it reflects off the shiny metal surface and goes where you want it to.

DD-WRT
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Boost your wireless signal

You can talk to your router. You can. And no one will think you’re crazy. Rather than shouting at it asking why it won’t work though, what you need to do is use some software, and that’s very likely some software that you already own.

Check the make and model of your wireless router on the box itself and then have a search on your computer for some software with the same company name. If you can’t find the application on your desktop, then either download some from your manufacturer’s website or try typing the IP address of your router into the address bar of your internet browser. What’s your router’s IP address? Well, it’s most likely either 192.168.0.1, 192.168.1.1 or 192.168.2.1.

If you’re asked for a username and password, and you don’t remember setting one in the first place, try ‘admin’ for the username and leave the password field blank. That’s the default credentials for most systems but take a look at the label on your router or in the online manual if that doesn’t work.

Now that you’re in, head for a wireless settings section and keep your eyes out for a place where you can change your wireless signal strength. Look to ramp it up to the max where you can and be on the lookout for any boost modes. Turn all of that up to 100% and beyond and then see if that makes a difference to your home Wi-Fi signal.

InSSIDer
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Change wireless channel

While you’re in there, there’s a few other settings you can try on your router’s software platform. Any easy one to change is the wireless channel that your router is broadcasting its signal upon. As it goes, there’s quite a few to choose from and the problem might be that the default channel is the same as that of other Wi-Fi networks nearby, most likely your neighbours’. That causes the signals to compete and interfere with one another and you lose a lot of Wi-Fi strength in the process.

You can try installing some Wi-Fi detector software on your laptop first such as that from InSSIDer. Click on the ‘Networks’ tab, once you’ve got it up and running, and take a look at the 2.4GHz graph at the bottom left of the page. Each line is another Wi-Fi network and you can see which part of the spectrum they’re using by looking at the axis below. Find an empty section, note down which channel it is and then set your router to broadcast on that same channel in the software.

Wi-Fi Alliance
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Switch off old Wi-Fi protocols

Wireless routers have used different Wi-Fi standards over the years with which to broadcast a Wi-Fi signal and speak to devices in your home. If you look on the back of your router, or look up the make and model, you'll be able to see which ones yours supports. You’re looking for the numbers 802.11 followed by a letter or two. The letters 'ac' or 'n' are good things to see. Just fine is 'g', but it might be time to upgrade if you only have a 'b' standard.

Most newer routers broadcast using older protocols as well as their most modern ones. So, you might have a b/g/n router or such. That said, you’re effectively taking up some of that signal power if you’re having your router broadcast all of those different standards all of the time. So, you can get your Wi-Fi to travel further if you switch one or two of them off.

Now, you might still find that some of the Wi-Fi-enabled gadgets in your house are still using the g standard but it’s unlikely that there’s anything working on b, so that’s a good one to shut down. If you reckon your kit is particularly modern, then switch off g too. You’ll soon find out if you need to turn it back on.

D-Link
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Update your router's firmware

This is pretty much the last tip you can try before it’s time to spend some money. Your router has a program associated with it to which makes it word. It’s a kind of specific hard wired software called firmware. Don’t worry too much if that doesn’t make sense to you. The fact is that every now and then, your router’s manufacturer will release an update to the firmware to make it work better. So, it’s your job to make sure that it’s got that latest version.

There’s most likely a ‘check for updates’ area in the interface you see when you power up your router’s program or enter its IP address into your browser (see slide 5). If not, it might be a case of heading over to the manufacturer website, looking up your make and model and both downloading and following installation instructions from there.

Did that make any difference? No? Ok, let’s go shopping.

Linksys
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Get a new router

If you’ve got some knackered old box that you got off your ISP for free back in 2002, then it’s probably time to get a new one. It’ll be using older, slower, less far reaching Wi-Fi standards and your dog probably chewed its antennae to disrepair some time ago.

You can get some perfectly decent 802.11n kit from R300 upwards but we’d recommend something more solid for more like R650 and beyond from the likes of NetGear, D-Link or Linksys. If you want the proper snazzy 802.11ac, dual-band stuff, then it’s more like R1600.

Get that installed, max out the settings as per the previous slides and then take a look and see how fast you can surf and how far away from your router you can get before it cuts off.

D-Link
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Install a wireless bridge

Now, it might just be that you live in a big house or a house with really thick walls or lots of metal. All of those variables will conspire to block your Wi-Fi signal and it’s likely that no router will have enough to break through and bring Wi-Fi to those hard to reach rooms.

Instead, try a wireless bridge or repeater. These are devices that you can use to pick up the Wi-Fi signal from your main router and then broadcast it on again at full strength. Think of it like lighting the beacons across Middle Earth, if you want a more cinematic representation.

The good news is that you can use old routers as Wi-Fi bridges if you like. You’ll need to give that router some new firmware to pull off the trick. DD-WRT is the stuff to use. Go to the site and check that your device is compatible first, and make sure that you’re happy to accidentally destroy or ‘brick’ it in the process.

NetGear
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Powerline adapters are great too

If a wireless bridge sounds a bit complicated - and it really can be - then powerline adapters are far simpler and very effective.

There are two main types and each involve plugging them into your electricity mains and then connecting them to your router with an Ethernet cable. You are now using your home’s wiring to pass round an internet connection, and that’s a far more effective way of doing it than Wi-Fi over the air.

At the other end is where you have the choice. If there is a single device that you’d like to hook up in that far away room, then your best bet is to plug the other powerline adapter next to the device and connect the two once more with an Ethernet cable. Job done.

The other option is to buy powerline adapters with a little antenna and a Wi-Fi radio. It will then create a smallish Wi-Fi network of its own from wherever you plug it into the mains.

D-Link
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Update your laptop Wi-Fi card

Of course, it might not be your router at all that’s causing the issue. Perhaps your laptop’s getting on a bit and the Wi-Fi receiver inside it is one of the really old protocol ones that doesn’t understand the fancy 802.11n signal.

Cheaper than getting a new internal card specific to your machine, and trying to fit it yourself, is to buy an external Wi-Fi adapter that you just pop into a USB slot instead. They usually come in at less than R300 and will both speed things up and also make sure that you can pick up the Wi-Fi network from further away too.

Dan Sung
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Stick to the same manufacturer

Whether it’s a new modem, router, Wi-Fi adapter, powerline or bridge; if you’ve got the choice when buying a new one, then try to have get ones made by the same manufacturer as what you have working already.

It will mean that they’re not only easy to install but they should also keep the Wi-Fi signal cleaner and stronger. Sometimes there’s also the benefit of proprietary speed boost technology too. So, do factor that in when down the shops.

AP
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Change your ISP

Your internet service provider won’t do much to change the speed or reach of your Wi-Fi but it can certainly work wonders with how quickly your home network can get information to and from the internet at large.

Check both the possible download and upload speeds offered by ISPs in your area and it’s well worth looking into connecting to a fibre network if you can afford it.