The Range of a Typical Wi-Fi Network

Does your Wi-Fi give you the coverage you need?

The Wireless Connection
The Wireless Connection
Introduction
Illustration of a cross-section of a home with Wi-Fi signal covering it entirely

Lifewire / Jo Zhou

The effective working range of a Wi-Fi computer network depends primarily on the number and type of wireless access points (including wireless routers) used to build it.

Standard Wi-Fi Range

A standard home network deploying one wireless router can cover a single-family dwelling but often not much more. Business networks with grids of access points can cover large office buildings. And wireless hotspots spanning several square miles have been built in some cities. The cost to build and maintain these networks increases significantly as the range increases, of course.

A general rule of thumb in home networking says that Wi-Fi routers operating on the 2.4 GHz band reach up to 150 feet (46 m) indoors and 300 feet (92 m) outdoors. Older 802.11a routers that ran on 5 GHz bands reached approximately one-third of these distances. Newer 802.11n and 802.11ac routers that operate on both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands vary in the reach similarly.

A 5 GHz Wi-Fi connection, becuase it uses narrower wavelengths, is more susceptible to obstructions than 2.4 GHz connections and therefore will usually have a slightly shorter effective range—typically, 10 to 15 feet shorter.

Factors Influencing Range

The Wi-Fi signal range of any given access point also varies significantly from device to device. Factors that determine the range of one access point include:

  • the specific 802.11 protocol it runs,
  • the strength of its device transmitter, and
  • the nature of physical obstructions and radio interference in the surrounding area—physical obstructions in homes such as brick walls and metal frames or siding reduce the range of a Wi-Fi network by 25 percent or more.

Radio signal interference from microwave ovens and other equipment also negatively affects Wi-Fi network range. Because 2.4 GHz radios are commonly used in consumer gadgets, those Wi-Fi connections protocols are more susceptible to interference inside residential buildings.

Finally, the distance at which someone can connect to an access point varies depending on antenna orientation. Smartphone users, in particular, may see their connection strength increase or decrease simply by turning the device at different angles. Furthermore, some access points use directional antennas that enable longer reach in areas the antenna is pointing but shorter reach in other areas.