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Tips for the Best Wi-Fi

Almost all of us have Wi-Fi, and many of us wish it worked a little better. Maybe you want it to be faster. Maybe you want it to get more range. Maybe you want it to be more secure. There are some simple things that can help you get the best out of your wireless network.

Speed vs Range

With wireless signals, you have a trade-off. You can get high speed, or you can get range. This means that when you increase one, you must decrease the other, given the same technology is being used. The good thing is, we are often in an area where our Wi-Fi can deliver both to a degree that is acceptable, and if one is lacking, we can afford to sacrifice some of one to get more of the other. For instance, you probably have more than enough bandwidth to do what you need to do, but your internet cuts out just before you can get to your bedroom. We can, therefore, reduce our speed to increase our range, without really noticing a difference. Other times, you may be 10 feet from your router, so range is not an issue, but you need a little more speed for transferring large files from your tablet to your laptop. Well, you can afford to have less range to speed up your file transfers.

Understanding this, we can use it to help us fix the problems with our routers. With most modern routers, there are two possible bands to operate in. There is the 2.4Ghz band, which has been around for many years, and there is the newer 5Ghz band. Many people have fallen for the idea that 5Ghz is necessarily better, but that isn’t always true. The 5Ghz band was brought in so that we could increase the speed of our Wi-Fi. This is done because there are larger contiguous chunks of frequencies that can be used in 5Ghz, where the 2.4Ghz band is broken up and can’t get access to as wide of a set of signals at once. This means that it is possible to get much faster speed on a 5Ghz frequency than you can on a 2.4Ghz frequency if the channel width is selected properly.

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On 2.4Ghz, you are stuck with 20Mhz or 40Mhz channels. On 5Ghz, you can choose 20Mhz, 40Mhz, or 80Mhz. This is the width of the signal that is being sent. As with a pipe, the wider the opening, the more can flow through it at one time. Therefore, if you use a 5Ghz signal with an 80Mhz channel, you can send data at incredibly fast speeds. Speeds faster than your hard drive can actually handle in most cases. This is good since most of the time we are using our Wi-Fi to access the internet, which is usually so slow that you could do what you need, as fast as you can possibly do it, using at least a 40Mhz channel, and probably a 20Mhz channel. That frees us up to change frequencies.

Frequency vs Obstacles

While not always true, it is generally true that the lower the frequency, the more matter a signal can go through. That is partly why cell phones work so much better than our Wi-Fi sometimes. They operate on a much lower frequency that isn’t bothered so much by obstacles, granted they are dealing with higher power levels too, but frequency beats power in this case. On routers, this is the same. 5Ghz won’t go through walls near as well as 2.4Ghz. I’ve seen it where devices couldn’t connect when they are directly on the opposite side of the wall from the router when they use 5Ghz. This can happen if there is heavy insulation in the wall. People with 5Ghz mode selected on their routers will find that they might be able to use their devices inside, but not outside their house, even a few feet from the walls. On the other hand, your neighbor might be able to connect to your 2.4Ghz Wi-Fi from their house, because it goes through walls that well.

Because of this issue, you might consider changing frequencies as well.

In some parts of the country, in densely packed urban areas, mostly, there may be huge competition for the 2.4Ghz band. If you are in a more suburban or rural area though, like we are here in Peru, you shouldn’t have any trouble using the 2.4Ghz band, but if you are not, you may be forced to use 5Ghz, just because the 2.4Ghz band is too noisy. Otherwise, if all you are using your network for is accessing the internet, 2.4Ghz is usually just fine.

Other Tweaks

When you have made your decision, or even while you are testing out different settings, there are other things to consider. For instance, what channel is best? Often, your router will determine this for you, but sometimes it is good to set it yourself. With your cell phone, you can download one of the many Wi-Fi analyzer apps that are out there for free. These will show you what channels other people are using, and give you an idea which channel would be best for you. You want to have a channel that has the least amount of adjacent channel signal as possible, as well as the least amount of on channel signal. Don’t worry too much if someone else is using every frequency. Hopefully, there will be someone with an extremely low signal, and you can “share” that channel. Your router should overpower theirs, as you are closer to it. This is not to say that it will have no impact because it will add some noise to the channel, but it is usually not too much of a problem.

Channel and frequency chosen, check to see if your range or speed has increased, depending on how you have chosen to optimize things. Hopefully, you will notice a good amount of difference.

Range Extenders

I considered explaining range extenders here, as there are situations where they are necessary, but I realized that is a larger topic than just telling you to use one if nothing else works. There are multiple considerations when getting a range extender, and you will be unimpressed if you choose poorly. Next week I will go over range extenders, and how best to use them.

For now, have fun trying to tune your router for the best frequency and channel width for your needs.