The initial approach for resolving possible Router related wireless signal problems is to make sure that you are not overlooking a simple fix. Surprisingly, many Router Wi-Fi issues related to the question, “How to Boost Wireless Signal?” can be solved with little or no expense.
Comparative Speed Tests
It is always wise to establish your actual connection speed by carrying out a speed test. There are many sites that allow you to run a test, such as:
You should test your system in the following two ways:
- Direct Connection
Connect you computer to the Router directly via a Ethernet cable. This represents the optimal data speed; the signal will be passing through wire compared to air and will be more reliable. This will help establish the actual internet speed you are receiving from your broadband service as compared to the package they are advertising. The figure will depend on various factors such as your distance from the provider, connections within your building and the hardware being used. However, if the figure seems unreasonable i.e. you are subscribing to a 10 Mb connection but only averaging 2 Mb, you should contact your provider.
- Wireless Connection
The result will typically be slower than when you connect to the Router directly. This occurs because the signal has to travel through the air and is subject to interference issue which increases communication overheads e.g. error corrections. Also, the result will be determined by the type of equipment you are using and what IEEE 802.11 standards they relate to e.g. 802.11n, 802.11g.
Results may vary so it is would be sensible to perform the tests a number of times and at different times of the day in order to get an average reading.
To boost your wireless signal for free consider the following factors:
Interference leads to an increase in background and signal noise, and can be due to various factors, including:
- Dense objects such as concrete structures, walls and even objects such as fishtanks!
- Metal objects including mirrors (metal layer reflects Wi-Fi signals).
- Electrical items including power cords and other wiring, microwaves and other electrical appliances. In addition, certain baby monitors, and in particular many cordless phones, can be a problem because they operate at a frequency similar to most wireless networks at around 2.4Ghz.
Possible solutions include:
Aim to place the Wi-Fi Router higher up and try to minimize the number of potential barriers (e.g. walls, hidden RSJ/steel girders) between it and the computer/laptop. Given that an open location is important consider the following:
- Place the Router at top of bookcase or near to the ceiling.
- Aim for a central location in the building so the signal strength radiates equally. If you have a separate Internet Modem and Router (as opposed to one which has the Modem and Router built into a single unit), remember that the Router does not have to be near the Modem. You can use an Ethernet Cat 5 cable to place the Wi-Fi Router centrally.
- Try placing the Router in the attic. Wireless signals typically radiate best laterally and downwards.
Chanel 1,6 and 11 are often used and in particular, many Routers in the US/Canada default to channel 6 (out of a possible 11 channels). Therefore, one can check the channel in use on your Router through accessing the Routers browser menu (refer to manufacturers manual). Simply change it to a less crowded one and the computer/laptop should auto-detect the new signal channel. You can also consider using:
- Software e.g. NetStumbler or inSSIDer, or a
- Hardware tool e.g. Wi-Spy USB Spectrum Analyzer with External Antenna for the ultimate in setting up and troubleshooting Wi-Fi networks.
Manufactures update a Routers firmware especially during the first 1-2 years from its launch. Simply go to the manufacturers website to obtain the latest free firmware. Upgrading often results in better signal strength and performance, whilst in addition, new features and settings may have been included.
Aternatively, using an open source Router firmware can increase its capabilities significantly. For example:
- DD-WRT Firmware can boost transmission strength from 20mw to 250+mw. Remember though that more power may mean more noise. DD-WRT is a 3rd party Router firmware usually for Broadcom based Routers.
- Tomato Firmware is a lite version, easy to use and suitable for the majority of users. Tomata USB is a modification of the famous Tomato firmware, with additional built-in support for USB port, wireless-N mode support, support for several newer router models, and various enhancements.
However, even though the above open source options are used by thousands of people, the usual disclaimer warning applies: Firstly, you may void your warranty if you replace the manufacturers Routers firmware or make modifications, and secondly, you may damage the modified Router if you raise the power too high.
Adjust Signal Strength
Certain Wi-Fi Routers have a signal strength setting that can be adjusted from 75-125%.
Changing the auto-detect mode to G mode on 802.11 b/g Routers can give a signal boost.
Part 2 in the series “How to Boost Wireless Signal” will look at Other Router Solutions.