Easy ways to improve your Wi-Fi at home for free

You can make several basic adjustments to significantly improve your home Wi-Fi connection speeds without buying expensive extra equipment.

While average home broadband speeds have increased due to the expansion of fibre and generational mobile connectivity improvements, the “last-mile” connectivity from a router to users’ devices can be a big speed bottleneck.

The free-to-use routers that typically come standard with fibre-to-the-home or fixed-LTE packages don’t always have the best wireless signal distribution and capturing properties.

However, buying an expensive router might not be necessary unless you have a large household with multiple members who need to use high-bandwidth applications simultaneously.

If you are struggling with Wi-Fi speeds far below your Internet connection’s capacity, there are many ways to optimise your network without spending money.

The first important point that will go a long way to doing so is understanding that Wi-Fi uses radiofrequency spectrum to transmit data.

You can significantly improve Wi-Fi coverage by avoiding placing the router in an enclosed space, as radio wave strength deteriorates when it needs to move through physical obstructions like walls and furniture.

It is best to put the router in a central location in your home — on top of a table or book case, for example — where it is visible from as many angles as possible.

Wherever possible, minimise the number of walls the signal must penetrate to reach your devices.

Secondly, it is best to connect the devices that require the most speed to the router via an Ethernet cable.

For example, if you have a computer or TV located close to the router, consider running a cable from the router’s LAN ports to them.

This will make it more likely that you can use the router’s full bandwidth capacity.

Those more comfortable with changing router settings can test whether switching the channel on which yours operates improves the signal.

This is of particular importance if there are other Wi-Fi routers or devices that emit radio waves nearby.

MyBroadband’s own testing has shown that Wi-Fi routers can signficantly interfere with each others connections when they are operating on the same channel.

Although routers normally configure themselves with the optimal channel with minimal interference from other devices, this can change as more devices get added to the network.

The method for changing Wi-Fi channels will be different from one router to the next, so check your router’s manual or search online for instructions.

Battle of the bands

You should also ensure that devices on your network are using the ideal Wi-Fi band.

Although the latest Wi-Fi standard supports tri-band connectivity, home Wi-Fi routers in South Africa may currently only communicate over two bands — 2.4GHz and 5GHz.

Signals in the 2.4GHz band can cover greater distances and perform better between obstructions but are slower than those in the 5GHz band.

By setting the router to transmit two different networks, you can let devices that support 5GHz and are closer to the router connect to that network.

These can include higher-end smart TVs, laptops, and fixed devices like home cameras.

Those located further away or with only 2.4GHz connectivity can be set to connect to the 2.4GHz network.

Devices like modern smartphones can generally use either band but will often be used throughout the house, so the 2.4GHz network might be preferred unless you want to use bandwidth-intensive applications frequently.

The default name for the 2.4GHz network will typically remain the same or get a “_2.4” at the end, while the 5GHz network will get a “_5G” added.

Other general tips that could improve your Wi-Fi connection include:

  • Keep your router’s firmware updated, which is also essential to security.
  • Use strategically placed wireless or powerline Wi-Fi extenders to improve connectivity in wireless dead spots.
  • Select a complex password so that neighbours cannot put additional strain on your Wi-Fi network by guessing a simple one correctly.
  • Manage background data usage on mobile devices and PCs, which might automatically download large updates while you need the maximum speed of your network for more pressing needs. Many routers also allow you to give priority to certain devices or applications.
  • Use external antennas if your router supports them

Another rudimentary low-cost improvement you can consider is attaching pieces of a regular beverage can to the top of your router. Enhancing the antennas with simple additions like this can significantly improve signal quality.

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Easy ways to improve your Wi-Fi at home for free