4 ways to speed your home’s Wi-Fi without needing an engineering degree

Researchers have found that 69 percent of households have five or more Wi-Fi-enabled devices in their home.
Researchers have found that 69 percent of households have five or more Wi-Fi-enabled devices in their home. Fotolia/TNS

When it comes to what works in your home – and what doesn’t – Wi-Fi is no longer just an amenity.

It’s a real estate necessity, especially if you have kids – and broken Wi-Fi!

When Americans were recently asked what slice of life they couldn’t live without, Wi-Fi came in second – behind food – and, yes, ahead of sex! The poll, done by tech consultants IDC for Wi-Fi gear maker Linksys from Irvine – found 18 percent of adults polled listed wireless home Internet as a top priority, trailing food, at 30 percent.

But Wi-Fi isn’t like plumbing – or even common appliances. Many household basics work well for years, if not decades, without much help from the user. Unfortunately, Wi-Fi isn’t that simple.

The service is powered by a confusing device called a “router” – a bit like a hot water heater – the hub from which a wireless network flows. Sadly, the tech industry has done a poor job of making these networks easy to set up. And once people finally get their wireless Internet working, they’re often scared to change it – the old “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality.

Please be aware, though, that the wireless world is rapidly evolving for both routers and the devices that require a strong Internet signal. That’s why household demand for Wi-Fi is exploding – along with the list of reasons to rethink your network.

IDC researchers found 69 percent of households have five or more Wi-Fi-enabled devices in their home – a horde that can stretch the performance limits of most of the Wi-Fi systems installed.

At this curious juncture in Wi-Fi evolution, router makers are now pushing premium-level machines – priced upward of $300. These boxes are filled with the latest Wi-Fi technology plus some serious computing and communications muscle.

Yes, the consumer should always get a tad squeamish at any technology’s push for higher performance products. Too often, the tech power only impresses geeks rather than improving everyday operations.

But Wi-Fi use for many households has ballooned to a point where most folks should consider new arrangements for their home wireless networks, from modest tweaks and upgrades to a total overhaul.

“Most people aren’t anxious to replace their router,” admits Dan Kelly, marketing vice president of router maker D-Link from Fountain Valley. “But it all comes down to need. There’s only so much Wi-Fi to go around from these legacy devices.”

Thanks to input from various tech sources – including Linksys and D-Link – here are 4 things to ponder if you want better Wi-Fi performance in your home – with or without a new router:

1. Location. Location. Location.

Got some dark spots in your home’s Wi-Fi coverage?

If so, consider placing the router as close to the middle of the home as possible – or closest to the area of the home where Internet usage will be heaviest. Make sure the location is flat (not the floor) and well ventilated.

If you own a two-story home, it’s best to place the router on the second floor or high up on the first floor – such as atop a bookcase.

And, yes, most routers are god-awful ugly. But if your Wi-Fi needs trump fashion, you'll need to place the router in a prominent place in the home.

And why not? Do you want fancy home design – or solid Wi-Fi?

2. Avoid blockage

Did you know Wi-Fi signals go through most walls? Yes, most. Not all.

Bathrooms and kitchens are signal killers. Walls in these rooms are often full of pipes and wires that can slow down or stop Wi-Fi signals.

Also, metal objects – notably mirrors, metal cabinets and major appliances – can block signals.

Be aware of these signal blockers when exploring why your Wi-Fi seems lacking. If you have such problems, try moving the router to find a blockage-free position.

Yes, a fix can be THAT simple.

3. Learn antenna science

Does antenna direction matter?

Yes! If your router has external antennas, they should be pointed in a vertical direction for the best results. If you hope to push a Wi-Fi signal up or down a floor, position the antennas horizontally.

If that doesn’t help much, think about replacing the antennas with so-called “hi-gain” antennas. These add-ons come in various strengths – measured in decibels (dbi) – and can cost anywhere from $10 to hundreds of dollars.

These antennas should increase the quality of your Wi-Fi connections by boosting the signal’s strengths. The best antenna-upgrade results are often found in single-floor homes.

4. Find signal scramblers

Did you know Wi-Fi can get into wireless traffic jams?

Many routers transmit Wi-Fi signals on the 2.4 GHz radio frequency band. That’s the same airwave space that carries signals for cordless phones, baby monitors and garage-door openers. And microwave ovens and hair dryers can also generate that signal.

Again, router positioning is key: as far as possible from other 2.4 Ghz devices to minimize radio interference.

Note that so-called “dual-band” routers offer signals on both the 2.4 Ghz and 5 GHz radio bands. That’s a plus if you have many 2.4 GHZ devices in your home.

Also, dual-band routers allow you to split users on two bands. Try that to maximize the router’s power.