Troubleshooting a Weak Wi-Fi Signal

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Getty Images / Mauro Grigollo

There's nothing more frustrating than a poor Wi-Fi signal.  It has the ability to make almost everything you do crawl forward at an incredibly slow pace, which can lead to the loss of hair from pulling it out.   There are a few things we can do to find and correct what is going wrong with your Wi-Fi signal, but many of these steps require a certain bit of technological savvy.   Remember, only go as far as you are comfortable.

  If a step seems to difficult, skip it and move to the next step. 

Also, you will want to make sure it is the Wi-Fi signal that is the problem.  If it is only your iPad acting slow, it could be another issue.  If you have a laptop or smartphone, you can use it to see if you have the same problems you are experiencing on your iPad.  If it is only your iPad, you should first go through our guide on fixing a slow iPad. If those steps do not work, you can return to this troubleshooting guide.  

Reboot the iPad and the Router

The first step to troubleshooting is always to reboot the devices. This will solve more problems than any other step to try, so first off, let's power down the iPad and any other devices we are connecting to the network. While they are powered down, let's reboot the router. Leave the router off for a few seconds before powering it back on and wait until all of the lights come back on before powering up the iPad and other devices.

If we are lucky, this will fix the problem and we won't have to proceed to the next steps.

How to Reboot the iPad

Remove other wireless technology

If you have a wireless phone or any other wireless technology near the router, try moving it somewhere else. Wireless phones can sometimes use the same frequency as a wireless router, which can cause the signal strength to degrade as it weeds out the interference.

This can also be true of other wireless devices like baby monitors, so make sure the area around the router is clear of these devices.

Update the Firmware of the Router

Just as it is important to keep your iPad's software up to date, it can be important to keep your router's firmware updated. The firmware is what runs the router, and as we add newer devices (like the iPad), older firmware can run into problems.

You'll need to log in to your router to update the firmware. You can log into the router from a web browser on your PC or your iPad, but you need to know the right address, the username and the password. These might be located in the manual or on a sticker on the router itself.

The standard address for logging into a router is http://192.168.0.1, but some routers use http://192.168.1.1 and a few use http://192.168.2.1.

If you don't know the username and password, try "admin" as a username and "admin" or "password" as the password. You can even try leaving the password blank. If those don't work, you will need to find the correct username/password combo or refer to your particular brand of router on how to do a hard reset (if possible).

You can usually find the option to update the firmware under advanced options.

Change Your Wi-Fi Broadcast Channel

This step will also require logging into your router. In your wireless settings, you should be able to find an option to change the channel of the frequency band. This is often set to '6' or 'automatic'. The best channels are 1, 6 and 11.

If your neighbors have Wi-Fi broadcasting on the same channel as you, there might be some interference. And if you are in an apartment complex, this type of interference can wreak havoc on your signal.  Try changing this from automatic to a hardcoded channel, starting with 1 and moving to 6 and 11. You can try other channels as well, but you may see even worst performance if the channel isn't one of the three mentioned here.

Read More on Finding the Best Broadcast Channel

Buy an External Antenna

If you are still having problems with multiple devices, you may have a hardware problem. But before you go out and replace your router, you can try buying an external antenna. Make sure that your router supports connecting an external antenna before you run down to Best Buy.

There are two types of Wi-Fi antenna: omnidirectional and high gain. A high gain antenna broadcasts the signal in only a single direction, but the signal itself is much stronger. This is great if your router is on one side of the house, but if your router is in the middle of your house, you'll probably want an omnidirectional antenna.

Also, make sure you buy the antenna from a store that allows returns for any reason. We're basically troubleshooting the router's antenna, and if the problem is with the router itself, hooking up an external antenna won't fix the problem

More Tips on Boosting Your Wi-Fi Signal Strength

Buy a New Router

If your router came from your broadband company, you should be able to call them up and get it replaced for free. They may take you through some of the same troubleshooting steps you have already gone through here, and because they know the specific hardware you are using, they may have a few new steps that could work.

If your router didn't come from your broadband company and you don't know much about wireless routers, it is best to go with a well-known brand name like Linksys, Apple, Netgear or Belkin.   Apple's AirPort Extreme is a bit on the pricey side, but it supports the new 802.11ac standard.  The iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 4 support this standard, but even if you have an older iPad, routers that support  802.11ac can help boost the signal.

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