Choose the Best Router Channel to Improve Your Wireless

Change your router channel to avoid interference from other Wi-Fi networks

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One way to optimize a wireless network is to change the router Wi-Fi channel to take advantage of high-speed internet access. When wireless signals run on the same channel as the router, the signals interfere with the Wi-Fi connection. If you live in an apartment complex, the channel used with your wireless router is probably the same as the channel used on your neighbors' routers. This causes spotty or dropped wireless connections or slow wireless access. To improve your Wi-Fi connection, find a channel for your wireless router that no one else is using.

About Choosing the Best Channel for Your Router

For the best wireless experience, choose a wireless channel that isn't used by your neighbors. Many routers use the same channel by default. Unless you test for and change the Wi-Fi channel when you install the router, the router could be using the same channel as someone nearby. When several routers use the same channel, performance decreases.

The likelihood that you will encounter channel interference increases if the router is older and of the 2.4 GHz band type.

Some channels overlap, while others are more distinct. On routers that operate on the 2.4 GHz band, channels 1, 6, and 11 are distinct channels that don't overlap. People in the know choose one of these three channels for their routers. However, if you are surrounded by technically savvy people, you may still encounter a crowded channel. Even if a neighbor isn't using one of these distinct channels, anyone using a nearby channel can cause interference. For example, a neighbor who uses channel 2 could cause interference on channel 1.

Routers that operate on the 5 GHz band offer 23 channels that don't overlap, so there's more free space at the higher frequency. All routers support the 2.4 GHz band, but if you bought a router in the last several years, it was likely an 802.11n or 802.11ac standard router, both of which are dual-band routers. They support both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. The 2.4 GHz band is crowded; the 5 GHz band is not. If this is the case, set the router to use the 5 GHz channel.

How to Find the Wi-Fi Channel Numbers

Wi-Fi channel scanners are tools that show which channels are in use by nearby wireless networks and your network. Once you have this information, choose a different channel to avoid channels that are currently used. They include:

  • NetSpot: A free application for Windows 10, 8, and 7, and for Mac OS X 10.10 and higher.
  • Acrylic WiFi: A free application for Windows 10, 8, and 7.
  • WiFi Scanner: A commercial application for Mac.
  • linSSID: A free graphical Wi-Fi analyzer for Linux.
  • WiFi Analyzer: A free Android app that gets Wi-Fi information.

These applications provide information on nearby channels and information about your wireless network.

If you have a Mac running a recent version of macOS and OS X, obtain information about your computer by holding the Option button and clicking the Wi-Fi icon on the menu bar. Then, select Open Wireless Diagnostics to generate a report that includes channels in use nearby.

If you want more channel options, try custom router firmware such as DD-WRT or Advanced Tomato. Both offer a wider range of available channels than most stock router firmware. Tomato has built-in functionality to scan channels in your area and automatically select the least congested channel.

Whichever method you use, look for the channel that is least used to find the best Wi-Fi channel for your network.

How to Change Your Wi-Fi Channel

After you know the wireless channel that's least congested near you, go to the router administration page by typing its IP address in a browser address bar. Depending on the router, this will likely be something like 192.168.2.1, 192.168.1.1, or 10.0.0.1. Check the router manual or the bottom of the router for details. Go to the router wireless settings to change the Wi-Fi channel and apply the new channel.

You don't need to do anything on your laptop or other network devices. This one change may make all the difference for your wireless network performance.