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

A traditional home network having 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 (kilometers) have been built in some cities. The cost to build and maintain these networks increases significantly as the range increases, of course.

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

  • the specific 802.11 protocol it runs
  • the strength of its device transmitter
  • the nature of physical obstructions and/or radio interference in the surrounding area

A general rule of thumb in home networking says that Wi-Fi routers operating on the traditional 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.

Physical obstructions in homes such as brick walls and metal frames or siding reduce the range of a Wi-Fi network by 25% or more. Due to laws of physics, 5 GHz Wi-Fi connections are more susceptible to obstructions than are 2.4 GHz.

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 utilize directional antennas that enable longer reach in areas the antenna is pointing but shorter reach in other areas.

There are a variety of routers available on the market. Below are Lifewire's picks for some of the best options; they all can be purchased online or at an electronics store near you.

802.11ac Routers

For overall performance, try the Asus RT-AC88U wireless-AC1300. It is powered by a 1.4GHz dual-core processor and 1024-QAM technology and offers blazing fast speeds that are up to 80 percent faster at 5GHz up to 2100Mbps and 66 percent faster at 2.4GHz up to 1000Mbps. Additionally, the four-transmit, four-receiver antenna offers 33 percent greater coverage on the 2.4GHz band (up to 5,000 square feet).

802.11n Routers

If you love to stream your movies, television, and music, check out the TP-Link N450 TL-WR940N Wi-Fi Router. It's a standout choice for anyone looking for a solid and reliable connection. Capable of speeds up to 450Mbps, the WR940N is ideal for anyone who enjoys bandwidth-heavy tasks (read: you frequently enjoy binge-watching the latest Netflix or Hulu shows). With speeds that are 15 times faster and offer five times more range than 802.11g routers, the WR940N offers a 3x3 MIMO connection to maintain a lag-free streaming experience.

802.11g Routers

On a budget? Check out Netgear's WNR1000 wireless router. At just $20, it gives you access to 802.11g and 802.11n at speeds of up to 150Mbps. This speed is perfect for small apartments and homes looking for an inexpensive way to browse the Internet and e-mail.