Over the past decade, WiFi has become the internet connection medium of choice that keeps us all connected to our digital lives. As wireless internet access has grown, so too has the number and type of devices we expect our wireless networks to accommodate, and spectrum congestion is becoming an intractable problem in many places. That’s one of the major reasons that hardware vendors are so keen to introduce the new WiFi 6 standard into the market, which is designed from the ground up to cope with congested wireless environments and an ever-larger number of simultaneous device connections.
Of course, it’s unrealistic to expect that WiFi 6 is going to become the dominant type of wireless network overnight — especially when you consider the fact that there are still millions of 802.11g (WiFi 3, in modern parlance) operating all over the world. That means users are still going to have to suffer through a less-than-ideal WiFi environment for some time, even as their device count and bandwidth needs continue to grow.
There are, however, some ways that users can improve their existing WiFi performance. Home users, especially, may benefit from some networking technologies they may not even be aware of. It’s not even necessary to scour the internet looking for electronic components or to opt for costly, ISP provided solutions. To help, here’s a look at four simple ways to improve WiFi performance, particularly for home users.
Start In the Right Place
More often than not, slow home WiFi networks are in part the result of a poor access point (AP) or wireless router placement. Since most home users rely on ISP-provided hardware, they almost always install their WiFi equipment wherever they have a spare coax cable jack, or wherever the ISP’s installer happened to place the equipment when they first signed up for service. In almost every case, that’s a mistake. WiFi works best when the AP providing the signal is centrally located and not near any obstructions. That means putting a WiFi AP right near a wall (where the coax jack is) will automatically come with a speed and stability penalty. If it’s at all possible, the main home AP should be as close as possible to the center of the area that the user is hoping to cover with a WiFi signal.
Beware of Neighbors
Besides the equipment location, the second biggest cause of slow home WiFi connections is wireless channel congestion. To remedy this problem, conduct a site survey using a WiFi network scanner to identify which wireless channels have the fewest overlapping signals. In a crowded networking environment (like an apartment building or another urban setting), choosing even a slightly less congested channel can make a world of difference. Every WiFi router or AP allows for a user-specified channel, so it’s a no-brainer to take advantage of it.
Leverage Existing Home Wiring
One of the best-kept secrets in home networking is the fact that almost every ISP-provided home router now supports a networking technology that is capable of turning a home’s coax cabling into a perfectly serviceable data backhaul network. The networking standard is known as MoCA (or DECA for DirecTV users), and it can help home users add a second AP to their home WiFi network using the existing coax in their walls. For the most part, adding a MoCA device to a home network is as simple as turning the feature on in the existing home router, and then adding a MoCA-enabled AP to another coax location in the home. After some simple configuration, the home’s WiFi coverage will be much better, without sacrificing any available throughput.
Turn to Mesh Networking
In situations where MoCA isn’t an option, the next best thing for home users who are experiencing difficulties with slow WiFi is to turn to mesh networking. In short, wireless routers and APs that support mesh networking create multiple WiFi connection points, which makes it easier for devices to overcome other competing signals to maintain a stable connection to the network. The tradeoff, of course, is that mesh networking itself uses a wireless signal to form the connection between the endpoints, so there will be some loss of overall throughput. In most cases, however, the overhead isn’t enough to cause any problems, so mesh networking is still a viable solution to slow home WiFi.
The Bottom Line
In almost every case, the solutions mentioned here (or a combination of them) will be enough to overcome even the most difficult wireless networking environment to provide a rock-solid high-speed WiFi connection everywhere in a home. Best of all, they’re solutions that are so simple that you won’t need a networking certification to put them into practice, nor do they require any major reworking of existing setups. Among them, only the mesh networking solution would require any significant investment, and even then it’s a small price to pay to keep the wireless devices you depend on working as they should. The bottom line is, while we all wait for WiFi 6 to swoop in and solve all of our congestion problems once and (hopefully) for all, you don’t have to put up with poor WiFi performance for even one moment more.