Wifi problems? Quick tips to get your home internet out of the slow lane
Thick walls, third floors, interference: how your home could be hampering your wifi - and what to do about it
Connected home: If your router is more than a few years old, you could be stuck on older wifi standards.
Wifi is both a great enabler and the bane of our lives. Where once we had dial-up (look it up, if you are under 30) on our desktop PCs, now we have blazing fast wireless internet access on our mobile handsets, our tablets and even our TVs.
Or at least that is what is supposed to happen.
All too often, wifi can let us down. Slow speeds, poor coverage or even no coverage; we’ve all experienced it, even within our own homes.
What is affecting my wifi?
There are several things that could be hobbling your internet access.
The most important is where your modem is located. To put it simply, wifi equipment does better in an open space, in as central a position in your home as possible. That means not tucked away in a corner, inside a TV unit, or beside walls or other obstructions.
Speaking of walls, the type of home you live in can impact your wifi. If you live in an older home with thick walls, there is a good chance that your wifi is struggling to make it through the different layers of concrete to reach all corners of your home. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a Georgian era mansion either; even the most up-to-date router will find a 1960s house with solid internal walls a bit of a challenge.
Multiple floors can also be a challenge for your wifi; you might find a two-storey home fares fine with a standard modem, but add in a third floor and you’ll see the signal taper off.
Take a look at what’s around your wifi hub too. Other electronic equipment – TVs, baby monitors and so on – can all negatively affect your signal. That’s not always something you can solve, particularly if you live in close quarters with several people.
Another thing to think about is the age of your equipment. Is your broadband hub obsolete? Older hubs may not support the latest wireless technology.
You may not realise it, but wifi is an evolving standard. The current generation is Wifi 5, or 802.11ac. Without getting too technical, it supports higher bandwidth rates and has a longer range than its predecessor Wifi 4, or 802.11n.
If your router is more than a few years old, you could be stuck on older wifi standards. Your new smartphones and tablets will support Wifi 4, but speeds will be slower and range will be less.
So what are your solutions?
Move the modem
The cheapest and easiest fix of the lot. Sometimes repositioning your wireless router can make a massive difference, particularly if you like to keep it tucked in behind the TV. Changing where you keep your broadband hub can remove it from interference – such as that coming from the TV – or allow it to reach parts of your home that were a bit patchy before.
The main problem here though is that we often don’t have much of a choice where our broadband hub is situated. The connection points typically aren’t in the centre of your home, so unless you want to run a lot of cable, it ends up stashed in the corner.
Change the channel
Your wifi hub has channels that you can change through your router’s admin settings, usually accessed by typing 192.168.0.1 into the address bar on your web browser. You can change the channel on your wifi until you find one that works best for you – which is probably not the default one all your neighbours are likely on too.
Modern modems typically are dual band, which means they offer 2Ghz and 5Ghz bands, although some modems now offer tri-band, which adds a second 5Ghz band to the router.
If you are having wifi issues in your home, sometimes customer support staff will recommend that you split your wifi into two separate networks – 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz. There are benefits to this. The 2.4ghz channel is longer-range but it is also the most common, and therefore could be prone to interference; the 5Ghz channel, while shorter-range, has fewer devices and is faster.
Splitting the channels and naming them accordingly gives you the option to choose which one you want to connect to and could improve your wifi speeds.
But there are some other things to consider. Although most modern wifi hubs have 5Ghz capability, not all devices will connect to the 5Ghz frequency – for example, some wifi-enabled home appliances will only connect to 2.4Ghz – so you may find one or two devices that won’t work with it.
And if you do split your network into two separate frequencies, you will have to to make sure that all your connected devices are connected to the right network. The beauty of the dual-band system is that devices will remember one network’s credentials and switch automatically between the 2.4ghz and 5ghz bands when needed; if you split it into two separate networks, it stops that automatic switching.
If your modem is old, it is worth checking with your provider to see if they offer an upgrade. The network operators will upgrade their equipment over time, but they won’t always contact customers to offer them the latest and greatest devices. If you have an issue with your service though, contacting customer service can often result in a shiny new modem arriving on your doorstep, solving a lot of problems in one fell swoop.
If all other solutions fail, you have another option to fall back on: throw a bit of money at it, and buy extra equipment.
There are a few different options. The simplest and least expensive of the lot is the wifi range extender. This device will plug into a wall socket somewhere about half-way between your modem and the location to which you want to push the signal. It picks up your wifi signal and amplifies it, carrying it further and giving you better coverage in your home. Because it is using your existing broadband network, the log-in details are the same, so there is no switching over to do.
They can be a cheaper option, and some have LAN points to allow you to connect devices to the network with a cable if needed.
Powerline kits are another option. These devices use the electrical cables in your home to move your data around. You plug one part into your wifi hub, and place a second plug in the area you want your wifi to reach.
It seems like the better option, but it all depends on how much electrical cabling is in your home. Both ends of the powerline kit need to be within a certain distance of each other – a few hundred feet. While that may not seem like much, it depends on how your home was cabled. You’d be surprised at how much is lurking behind the walls.
TP Link offers a range of wifi extenders and boosters that cost between €30 and €70; if you want something a little more expensive, Netgear’s Nighthawk triband options come in from €150.
A third option is the mesh network. Bringing out the big guns is sometimes the most effective strategy. Mesh networks are the best of both worlds: they are easy to set up and they are effective. The downside? They’re the most expensive option of the lot.
Mesh networks offer a way to blanket cover your home in wifi using nodes. One node connects to your broadband router, which pushes out the signal, and you can then add others around the home, optimally placed to make sure your wifi network has full coverage in all areas of the house.
Each node will take the network coverage and push it out a little further, making sure you don’t have any blank spots or dead zones. They are relatively easy to set up and, once you have it all configured in the way that suits you, it generally requires little to no intervention – all of which makes it sound like a very good idea for most people.
Google offers its own mesh wifi system that will link in with Google Home and all your other smart home devices. Nest Wifi, formerly known as Google Wifi, has been given a bit of an upgrade. Not only is the system now capable of faster wifi speeds, but there are Google Assistant speakers built into each of the nodes you place around your home.
If you want a more straightforward system that doesn’t have the fancy smart speaker built in, Linksys Velop or the Netgear Orbi could solve your problems.