If you live in a densely populated area such as the San Francisco Bay Area, you may encounter multiple wifi signals all fighting for attention in overlapping channels. One quick and easy way to immediately improve your wifi signal performance is to move your wifi signal away from your closest neighbors to avoid signal overlap. This is an easy process anyone can do and only takes about 5 minute.
First determine if you should do anything
The old saying, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” applies. If your signal is the only one you can see and you live out in the middle of nowhere, there is no need to do anything. Changing the wifi channel won’t do anything. If you live in an apartment and don’t see any other signals, it’s still worthwhile to scan the airwaves just in case your neighbor is using a hidden SSID.
To scan wifi signals, you’ll need to download a free small Windows program called inSSIDer. This handy utility inspects your surrounding signals and reports back all kinds of info such as signal strength, SSID name, channel, and connection speed. But the key piece of data we’re looking for is the channel number and the amplitude graph. In this scan of my network, you can see that my router is setup to use channel 1 which is exactly the same channel used by my closest neighbor. As indicated by the white box, our signals overlap each other. This is bad. I want to change the channel to something no one else uses or at least to a channel a weaker neighbor uses. I also want to avoid channel 1, 6 and 11 as many routers use one of these as the default channel.
Change the channel
After reviewing my options, channel 10 appears to be a better option as it is far away from my closes neighbors and avoids channel 11. The exact steps to change the wifi channel varies among router manufacturers so you’ll have to consult the manual. In general, the steps are to login to your router by using your web browser. The address is typically 192.168.something. The last two numbers can be found by starting a cmd window (Windows start, type cmd in the search box) and typing IPCONFIG. The window will display some data and the address can be found under Default Gateway. Enter this address in your web browser and enter the password.
Changing the channel will disconnect your wifi connection briefly so make sure you are not in the middle of a download or web update.
To change the channel, go to the home network tab and look for the wireless section. There should be a field for channel. Change it here and save your settings. You will need to reconnect to your wireless signal.
Verify the change
Restart inSSIDer and verify the channel has changed. As you can see from this updated graphic, my signal is no longer overlapping with my closest neighbor.
Other changes to optimize your wifi signal
Beyond this simple change, there are other things you can do to optimize your signal strength.
- If you’re using one of those dinosaur B and G routers, upgrade to an N router which will give you about twice the distance and improve the speed. With this Belkin Wireless N router selling for as low as $21, there’s no reason not to upgrade. For a little bit more, this Asus router/repeater is a bargain.
- Move your router to a centralize location if possible. Your router is probably located where the phone or cable line enters your unit. If this is not centrally located or located in an area with lots of interference, move it somewhere else using a longer cable.
- Move your wireless router higher. Higher is better than lower, especially if you have multiple floors. Take the time to mount the router on the wall instead of leaving it on the ground. Even moving it to a desk or shelf is better than leaving it on the floor where the signal can be blocked by furniture.
- Move your router away from other wireless devices and sources of signal interference. Generally, keep it far away from other electronic devices such as microwave ovens, fluorescent light, and wireless phones.
- If you live in a large house, adding a wifi extender such as this Asus router/repeaterwill help propagate the signal to those remote dead zones.If for some reason, you can’t get a wireless signal to penetrate thick walls, another option is a powerline extender kit like this Netgear powerline extender.