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6 Tips and tricks to improve WiFi performance

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With today’s newer applications on PC’s and mobile devices becoming more and more bandwidth intensive, simply upgrading the bandwidth from your Internet service provider isn’t enough anymore. If the method of delivery to your PC or device is over Wi-Fi and isn’t up to snuff, chances are you’re going to suffer poor connectivity regardless.

Here are some tips and tricks to improve your Wi-Fi connectivity.

1. Upgrade your Wi-Fi gear

I’m going to make a wild assumption here that most users are using the Wi-Fi connectivity provided with their existing router, usually an older ADSL router. You may want to check what wireless standards are supported by the device; this can be done usually with a quick search online. Many older routers will be able to operate according to the wireless 802.11b and 802.11g wireless networking standards which only support a maximum throughput of 11Mbps and 54Mbps respectively, and that is also going to be limited by how many devices are using the router’s Wi-Fi capability.

Consider looking at replacing your router with something newer if it is older than 5 years. Newer routers supporting Wi-Fi standards such as 802.11n and 802.11ac can provide as much 300Mbps and 1Gbps throughput respectively, as well as handle more clients. In addition, modern Wi-Fi devices support what is called “dual-band”, where devices can operate at either the 2.4gHz or 5gHz frequency range or both simultaneously (specifically the 802.11ac spec), which can further improve performance.

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Ok, this little number might be a bit over the top, but hey...

What would be considered older devices by today’s standards, such as the Samsung Galaxy S3, supports 802.11n, and the Galaxy S4 supports 802.11ac, which are now 3-4 years old; and can utilize these frequency standards and bands.

Upgrading your Wi-Fi gear can also mean looking at upgrading the firmware on your router. Firmware updates can potentially get more performance out of your existing equipment, as well as address other issues and improve security by fixing vulnerabilities. This is contextual to the make and model of your router or Wi-Fi gear, so have a look and your equipment’s’ support website and see if updates are available. If you plan on doing this, make absolutely sure that you match the EXACT make and model of the firmware with the hardware, as you could potentially brick your equipment.

2. Location, location, location!

Proper placement of your Wi-Fi-enabled router does play an important role in good signal coverage. Keeping your router in a cupboard is great if it doesn’t support Wi-Fi, but is a terrible idea if it does. Signal quality is affected by being too close to walls, in cupboards, or the wrong side of your domicile. Consider moving the router as far away from any walls as possible and placing it as high as possible. This should allow the Wi-Fi signal to propagate further and more effectively.

As well as placing your router in the open, make sure that the antennas on the router / access point are pointed vertically up (if any are present). If your device doesn’t have external antennas, consider checking if it supports attaching them, or if it does have some already, consider supplementing or replacing what you have with hi-gain antennas. Check with your local IT shop for antennas, or check out Scoop for their selection. Raru also has a great selection!

3. Change the Channel

Wireless devices work in various sets of frequencies, or “bands” – typically the most common forms currently operate in the 2.4gHz range, with the dual-band systems also working in the 5gHz range. Within those frequencies, the ranges are further subdivided into subsets of frequencies, or “channels”. Switching your router’s operating channel may help improve performance.

Depending on manufacturer region, there are usually 11 channels available to use. Many routers and other wireless access points tend to default on using channels 6 or 11. Switching to something non-standard could definitely help, as you’re potentially moving out a channel which could be crowded by other wireless networks in the vicinity.

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Check to see how your neighbors signal measures up to yours.

To help you determine which channels are occupied or saturated, there are various free tools to help you determine which channels are more or less occupied. For Android devices, download Wi-Fi Analyzer -  or oddly, another app also called Wi-Fi Analyzer, but there are many more available. For PC – have a look at Vistumbler.

These tools can also double up to help determine if you have “dead spots” in your home coverage, but a little experimentation is needed in placing your Wi-Fi device and checking it with an appropriate client device, with the software mentioned above.

4. Crank it DOWN from 11

Sometimes putting out the strongest signal possible isn’t always the best option. In some cases, especially if your Wi-Fi equipment is only servicing a very small area such as a small apartment, having a really strong signal might actually degrade your signal quality. Try looking in your wireless AP’s advanced settings to see if an output power management option is available (this is highly dependent on make and model of your Wi-Fi equipment), turning down the power output. This will reduce the effective range of your Wi-Fi signal, but it may just improve performance.

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Sometimes...

I sometimes wonder if being bathed in radio frequencies next to my bed is actually a good idea. I can get signal from half-way down the street, but sometimes… I wonder…

5. Advanced upgrades

If you’re feeling adventurous and don’t mind potentially bricking your Wi-Fi router or access point, you may want to look at either the DD-WRT or Open-WRT projects for custom firmware which can be run on quite a wide variety of existing routers, especially Linksys and D-Link equipment. These upgraded firmware images can potentially improve performance as well as enhancing the operational ability of your existing gear, turning it into a veritable powerhouse with new functionality and security features.

In the DD-WRT camp, many of the firmware images are free, but some need to be purchased.

6. Control the Quality, not the Quantity

While this has less to do with Wi-Fi specifically and more with general network optimization, making sure that your local networking traffic  is being optimized and prioritized to your needs is important if you’re sharing your network connection in your household (wireless or otherwise). If for example, you’re playing Overwatch on a wired connection, and the wife and daughter are on Facebook and YouTube respectively and simultaneously; and your game quality goes down the proverbial toilet, then there is a problem.

Many routers have some sort of Quality of Service control (or QoS), whereby certain types of traffic can be given priority over others - such as your right to play Overwatch smoothly, no matter what the wife thinks!

With this feature, you could simply enable that “games” be given higher priority over traffic labelled as “social media” or “streaming media”. It may also mean giving traffic going over the Overwatch network ports a higher priority versus everything else.

Sadly, I cannot provide any specific instructions here, the method for setting up QoS can and does vary wildly from one router brand to another. My little Mikrotik device allows me to perform queuing on IP address and interface; mangling of traffic and a whole slew of other ways I barely understand. On the other hand, a Tenda router simply lists QoS priority settings as “Games”, “Streaming Media”, and other seemingly boring and non-specific names. You will need to research for this on your own and come up with your own conclusion and optimization on these, or If you need help, check with your IT friend/buddy/guy or ISP with regards to configuring QoS. That, or make sure the ladies of the house are out, otherwise occupied or asleep when it’s Overwatch time!

There are still more factors to consider in getting the best possible Wi-Fi signal out of your equipment, but it is beyond the introductory scope of this article. Do you have any tips or tricks you’d like to share with fellow readers on improving Wi-Fi performance? Let us know in the comment section below!

Lastly, you might want to check out what MWEB offers gamers:

Main Image Credit: LifeHacker

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