Ways to Boost a Wi-Fi Signal

Take steps to improve your Wi-Fi signal strength and range

Wireless router
deepblue4you/Getty Images

A weak Wi-Fi signal complicates your online lifestyle, but there are plenty of ways you can boost the Wi-Fi signal to improve productivity and enjoyment. If your browsing speed infuriates you, your patio is a Wi-Fi dead zone, or you can't stream movies without buffering, try a combination of the suggestions here to improve signal strength and expand the Wi-Fi range to see how much better your connection can be.

Relocate the Router or Gateway Device

The range of a typical Wi-Fi network often doesn't cover an entire house. Distance from the router and physical obstructions between your devices and the router affect signal strength. The placement of a Wi-Fi broadband router or other network gateway device directly affects its signal reach. Experiment by repositioning your router in different locations that can best avoid physical obstructions and radio interference, which are two common range limiters for Wi-Fi equipment. Typical sources of Wi-Fi signal impediments in residences include brick walls and large metal appliances, and microwave ovens or cordless phones in use. Sometimes, just raising the height of the router improves the range because many obstructions are located at floor or waist height.

Change the Wi-Fi Channel Number and Frequency

Range-limiting wireless interference may also be caused by neighboring Wi-Fi networks that use the same Wi-Fi radio channel.

 Changing Wi-Fi channel numbers on your equipment can eliminate this interference and improve overall signal strength.

All routers have a 2.4 GHz band, but if you have a dual-band router—one with both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands—you'll likely experience less interference on the 5 GHz band. The switch is a simple one.

Check the router manufacturer's website or documentation for instructions.

Update the Router Firmware

Router manufacturers make improvements to their software and issue firmware updates to improve the performance of their products. You should update the router firmware occasionally even if you aren't experiencing problems with the router for security updates and other improvements. Some routers have the update process built in, but most older models require you to find the update and download it from the equipment manufacturer.

Upgrade the Router or Gateway Radio Antennas

Stock Wi-Fi antennas on most home network equipment do not pick up radio signals as well as some aftermarket antennas. Most modern routers feature removable antennas for this reason. Consider upgrading the antennas on your router with more powerful ones. Some router manufacturers advertise high-gain antennas on their products, but these tend to be offered only on expensive models. Even they may still benefit from upgrading. Also, consider a directional antenna, which sends the signal in a specific direction rather than in all directions, when your router is situated at the far end of the house.

Add a Signal Amplifier

Add a Wi-Fi signal amplifier (sometimes called a signal booster) to a router, access point, or Wi-Fi client at the place where an antenna normally connects.

Bidirectional boosters amplify the wireless signal in both transmitting and receiving directions—an important point because Wi-Fi transmissions are two-way radio communications.

Add a Wireless Access Point

Businesses sometimes deploy dozens of wireless access points (APs) to cover large office buildings. Many homes wouldn't benefit from having an AP, but a large residence can. Wireless access points help cover those hard-to-reach corner rooms or outdoor patios. Adding an access point to a home network requires connecting it to the primary router or gateway. A second broadband router can often be used instead of an ordinary AP because many home routers offer an "access point mode" specifically for this purpose.

Add a Wi-Fi Extender

A wireless extender is a stand-alone unit positioned within range of a wireless router or access point. A Wi-Fi extender serves as a two-way relay station for Wi-Fi signals. Clients too far away from the original router or AP can instead associate with the same local wireless network through the extender. An alternative to a Wi-Fi extender is a mesh network, which uses router-like devices in each room to serve Wi-Fi in that room. 

Use Quality-of-Service Tools

When several people use the same Wi-Fi connection, Quality-of-Service comes into play. The QoS tools limit the amount of bandwidth that apps use. You can specify which apps and services receive priority and even set priorities for different times of day. QoS prevents your streaming video from degrading when everyone in your house decides to download files or play their favorite video games at once. They can still download their files and play games, just at a slower rate, so that you can enjoy your movie. The QoS settings are usually in the advanced settings of your router interface. You may even see gaming or multimedia settings that prioritize bandwidth for those particular applications. However, don't expect to find these handy tools on old routers.

Ditch the Out-of-Date Router

Just as in every other technology field, equipment manufacturers make improvements to their products. If you've been using the same router for years, you'll see tremendous Wi-Fi improvements just by buying a current-generation router.

The current standard for routers is 802.11ac. If you are running a router on standard 802.11g or 802.11b, you can't do much to improve it. Even speedier 802.11n routers can't keep up with the ac standard.

Was this page helpful?