Odds are your network is simultaneously supporting multiple web-enabled devices. At any given time, there could be several smartphones fetching data, a couple of computers connected to the Web, and a Netflix binge or two sucking all the remaining bandwidth. So how do you get the most out of that humble router, arguably the most important electronic device in your home?
Know the Basics
The type of Wi-Fi router you own tells you a lot about its efficiency and capabilities. Routers operate using IEEE 802.11 networking standards, which come in several versions—like a, b, g, n, or ac—that indicate the router's frequency and speed of transmission. Typically, each new version of 802.11 is faster and more reliable than the last, though "later" letters don't always signify faster speeds. An 802.11n router like the Linksys EA4500, for example, can transmit 450 megabits per second, whereas an 802.11ac router like the Linksys WRT1900AC might manage nearly three times that.
It's All About Location, Location, Location
To expect optimal performance from a wireless router, establish its optimal home. As central and open a location as possible is best, ideally on the same floor where you operate a majority of your wireless-enabled devices. Try a spot that isn’t otherwise obstructed by metal—like your washer and dryer—and avoid passing the signal through dense materials like brick and flooring. In some cases, microwave ovens, cordless phones, garage door openers, and even baby monitors can interfere with the wireless signal.
What's On the Other Channel?
Whether your router transmits over 2.4GHz, 5GHz, or both, you may still experience some interference from neighboring wireless networks sharing the same frequency. To help avoid the congestion on any given frequency, your router is also equipped with 11 channels or frequency "zones." A switch to one of the others may clear the way to the boost you desire. Think of it this way: at the height of rush hour traffic, it would be silly for everyone to drive in the same lane. Why not apply the same logic to your wireless network?
Update the Firmware
Just like your computer, your tablet, and your smartphone, routers need software updates, too. These can help fix bugs and increase the performance of your device, and in some cases, even add features that weren't included when the router was first manufactured. Even with automatic updates configured, you may not receive notification that new software is available for download. Check the manufacturer's website on a regular basis to ensure you're always current with the latest, most efficient firmware release.
Sometimes It's All About Redirection
Unless you're using an 802.11ac router, if your device sports an adjustable antenna or two, try repositioning them at a different angle to better cover dead spots. A sideways position extends the signal upstairs and downstairs. An upward position extends the signal outwards. Try both if there's more than one antenna available. Newer 802.11ac routers won't need the antenna adjustments since they transmit in rays or beams rather than broadcasting over a wide area. This technique, called "beamforming," focuses the signal toward specific devices, concentrating the bandwidth only where it's desired.
Inject Some Additional Bandwidth
If you've configured your device so it's as efficient as possible, but you're still experiencing jumpy video or slow connections, your router may not actually be the cause of the problem. To boost the quality—and, in some cases, the quantity—of the available signal, you may need to up your available bandwidth. Check with your Internet Service Provider (ISP) to see if an upgrade is available that can better handle all your tech gadgets and still smoothly stream your favorite series to your 4K TV.