Wi-Fi is the way of the world now. It’s the invisible friend that comforts us, allows us to binge on Netflix in bed, and equips us to work from anywhere at any time. Wi-Fi is pretty much a necessity these days. Sometimes, however, the relationship turns sour especially when Wi-Fi slows to a crawl.
When you rely on Wi-Fi, speed issues can hurt. Unfortunately, speed issues aren’t always easy to diagnose due to the way Wi-Fi works. One unknown variable could potentially cut your Wi-Fi speed in half, so it’s important to know what to look for when something’s wrong. Wi-Fi transfers data using one of two radio frequencies: 2.4 GHz (older standard) and 5 GHz (newer standard). Most modern routers can switch between the two and smart routers can even choose the best frequency for you.
Within these frequencies, there are multiple channels: 14 of them at 2.4 GHz and 30 of them at 5GHz. Those are the fundamentals of how Wi-Fi works. Knowing that, we can now explore some of the lesser-known reasons behind why your Wi-Fi is so slow — and the best ways to fix those issues.
Router positioning: High vs low
Most people underestimate the importance of picking a good spot for a Wi-Fi router. Even a small shift in positioning could end up being the difference between day and night. If you’re like most people, you probably unpacked your new router, located a reasonable outlet location, plugged it in, and simply left it on a whatever was nearby: a shelf, a desk, or even the ground. As it turns out, router height does make a difference. That is to say that leaving your router on the ground or behind other objects usually results in noticeably worse performance. Instead, put the router as high up as possible to extend the broadcasting range of the radio waves. This also helps clear the router of possible interferences.
Router positioning: Concrete & metals
Materials like concrete and metal tend to be the worst for blocking Wi-Fi waves, but even objects of other materials can get in the way of high-performance wireless. Make sure your router isn’t blocked by any other objects, especially devices that are electronic. Also, avoid placing your router in your basement as this area is usually enclosed by a lot of concrete, which can be almost impossible for Wi-Fi signals to penetrate.
Router positioning: Distance to router
The further away from your router you get, the weaker the Wi-Fi signal. Therefore, the best option is to place your router as close to your devices as possible, but this is only practical if you have one main area where you tend to use your devices. Otherwise, you should place your router near the center of your home. After all, Wi-Fi broadcasts in 360 degrees, so it doesn’t make sense to put it at one end of the house. However, if your router is particularly weak or if your house is particularly big, then you may need to increase the range of those Wi-Fi waves by using Wi-Fi extenders or repeaters. These are auxiliary devices that connect to the main router and “repeat” the signal so it covers more area. If you want to get truly scientific about your router placement, take a look at this project from a PhD student and download the app to try it for yourself.
Wireless interference & noise
You’ve probably never noticed but there are wireless signals all around you wherever you go and they’re passing through you all the time. From where? Electronic devices, Wi-Fi routers, satellites, cell towers, and more. Information designer Richard Vijgen created “The Architecture of Radio” — available on iOS and Android — which uses public information on satellites and cell towers, along with Wi-Fi information, to create a map of all the invisible signals around you.
Although Wi-Fi is supposed to be on a different frequency than most of these devices, the amount of radio noise can still cause interference.