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How To Get a Better Wireless Signal and Reduce Wireless Network Interference

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Like all sufficiently advanced technologies, Wi-Fi can feel like magic. But Wi-Fi isn’t magic – it’s radio waves. A variety of things can interfere with these radio waves, making your wireless connection weaker and more unreliable.

The main keys to improving your wireless network’s signal are positioning your router properly — taking obstructions into account — and reducing interference from other wireless networks and household appliances.

Image Credit: John Taylor on Flickr

Wireless Router Positioning

Your wireless router’s positioning can greatly affect your coverage area and the strength of your signal. Follow these quick tips to position your router for the best signal:

  • Place the router in the middle of your house. If you place the router in a room off to the side of your house, you won’t get as strong a signal on the other side of your house.
  • Position the router’s antenna vertically, so that the antenna is standing straight up. Many antennas can be adjusted and lie horizontally, but standing straight up is generally the ideal position.
  • Elevate your router away from floors. You’ll get better reception if the router is on a desk, not on the floor.

You should also pay attention to the kinds of materials the router is near. For example, placing the router on a metal desk or up against a metal wall will cause problems. Signals can travel through a wood desk easily, but metal will obstruct the signals.

wireless-router-on-table

Other types of obstructions can also cause problems. For example, if there’s a metal filing cabinet between your computer and the router, you may not receive a wireless signal. The same applies to other types of dense objects.

Image Credit: butkaj.com on Flickr

Interference From Other Wireless Networks

Interference from other wireless networks in the area can cause issues with your wireless signal. To determine whether interference is occurring, you can use an app like Wi-Fi Analyzer for Android. It will show you the wireless channels nearby networks are using and recommend the ideal network for you to use — one that isn’t being used by as many networks. This app will also allow you to walk around the area and see where you get the best signal and where the signal is weakest – you can do this with any other device, too.

If multiple wireless networks are competing for the same channel, this can cause problems. To fix this, you can change the wireless channel in your router’s web interface. You can do this even if you don’t have access to a wireless-analyzing app – change the signal to a different channel and then see if your wireless connection improves.

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Interference From Household Appliances

A variety of household appliances can cause wireless interference, including cordless phones, baby monitors, and microwave ovens. Depending on the positioning of your wireless router, your networked device, and the appliance, you may even have the wireless network cut out when the microwave or cordless phone is in use.

Problems with cordless phones can be solved by replacing your phones with phones that operate on a different frequency, such as 900 MHz or 1.9 GHz. Cordless phones using the 2.4 Ghz frequency will interfere with wireless networks.

wireless-router-and-cordless-phone

Problems with microwaves can often by solved by positioning the your devices such that the microwave isn’t between your router and the device. it’s also possible that a new microwave will help, if the new microwave has better shielding.

Other devices can also cause problems. For example, older Bluetooth devices can interfere with nearby Wi-Fi signals, although newer Bluetooth devices don’t.

Image Credit: Kai Hendry on Flickr

Repeaters, Antennas, and Reflectors

If you need to cover a large area with a wireless signal and your router just isn’t cutting it, you can buy a wireless repeater or range extender. These devices repeat the wireless signal, extending its area. You don’t even need special devices for this – if you have some old routers around, you can use multiple routers to extend your Wi-Fi network.

wireless-repeater

Depending on your router, you may be able to attach an improved antenna that gives your signal additional range. You can also try building a Wi-Fi reflector that reflects the signal in a specific direction.

Image Credit: Jacob Bøtter on Flickr


While Wi-Fi may feel like the future, wired network connections still have a lot of advantages. If you want a more reliable connection with faster speed and no interference problems, a wired network connection is still the most reliable option out there.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 10/10/12

Comments (22)

  1. daniel

    I live in a high rise in downtown Miami, and no matter what we do it is difficult to get a 2.4 GHz signal. A final tip is to explore the viability of using a dual band 2.4/5 GHz router. The 5 GHz is really fast, and many people (especially in my high rise) haven’t caught on yet. The one catch is many devices do not operate on the 5 GHz band. Look for high end laptops (Macs/Vaios typically have it), aftermarket WiFi cards for desktops, and for home media wireless bridges. The iphone 5 is the first phone I know that has a 5 GHz antenna, and I do not know any tablets that have a 5 GHz antenna.

  2. thegeekkid

    I use the WiFi analyzer app, but it isn’t that good compared to inSSIDer. The WiFi analyzer app actually does not pick up all the WiFi networks that the phone is (at least on my phone), which makes me wonder how accurate it really is. inSSIDer on the other hand, picks up all the networks that the computer does, and gives better real time feedback. Yes, you have to decide for yourself which channel is better… but is it really that hard to do? (No)

    Maybe it’s different because I have a really cheap phone, and a really nice wireless NIC in my computer, but this is just what I have found. (And both are free, so make your own choice)

  3. Jeremy

    Make sure to only use non-overlapping 2.4GHz channels 1,6 and 11. When you select channel 9 (As shown in the example) you bog down Channels 6 and 11 both, effectively clogging up 2/3 the bandwidth.

  4. Becky

    Thanks! That was informative. Now I know why I often hear an echo effect on my cordless phone. Also that I need to move my router off the floor! :)
    Thanks!

  5. Jonathan

    @daniel I have a Blackberry Playbook Tablet, and it fully supports 5 GHz

  6. ElHacha

    Pantech Element tablet has 5 Ghz support but only under ICS.

  7. shvanski
  8. Delano (Wayne) Vanover

    Always great information. Thanks!

  9. Doug Hutton

    There’s one item you missed..The new Time-of-Use Smart Power Meters that many utilities are installing. Many have fairly powerful cell phones that relay the power usage data to other utility meters that eventually relay all of the data to a collection point. Some of these are on the same frequency as wifi..(depending on your utility). My Router would crash at around the same time every night, I am a P.Eng (electrical) and deduced it was because of the cell phone transmission from the Utility Meter on the other side of the wall,,,,,moved my router about 12 feet away and,, PRESTO,,no more problems !

  10. nedly

    No hope for us poor bums that travel a lot and are stuck with multi-channel 3G dongles and a handful of prepaid sims. Or even worse, trying to make due with hotel wireless networks- Guess what? The guy at the front desk aint gonna let you play with the router. No. Please do not suggest sitting at a McDonalds for half the night!

  11. Senor Cerveza

    I live in an area with high rise apartments all around. There are 68 routers I can see when I pull up my list of available networks. My kids all have older laptops with b/g. I had to use inSSIDer. Changed the channel one by one on my belkin router then watched. Finally found a channel combination that was not
    being dragged down by some other router in the area. Everyone can connect now without any issues. inSSIDer is a great program!

  12. Sensei

    Just get you an amplifier and High gain antenna’s. I can use my wifi signal 2 blocks away ;)

  13. thegrail

    @Jeremy – you state that using a non-standard channel bogs the standard channels ((1, 6, or 11) )down, but doesn’t this happen even more so if you use the same standard channel?

    I read recently that if everyone is using channel 11 (as an example) then the 54 mbps available on that channel is shared across all users.

    If you use (like I do) channel 9 then you are only impacting part of channels 6 and 11, and I find I get much better throughput. I used to use channel 13 to avoid clashing with other users but found some kit only supported up to channel 11.

  14. HARPREET SHARDA

    very good
    i like it

  15. brian carr

    i changed all my devices (10) on my network to use wireless n and set my router to just broadcast wireless n and now have a dramatic change in wireless connectivity no drop outs and good high speed.

  16. doctorknow

    A great source for wifi signal boosting information: http://wireless.binarywolf.com

  17. Botjog

    Just buy a Linksys Range Extender RE1000 to extend your wireless network coverage. Make sure your existing wireless router is N already.

  18. hfxmike

    @sensei what router do you use and do you have a link to the amp and antenna?

  19. D. A. Conn

    The newer Linksys routers don’t have an external antenna to adjust.

  20. Nerd on a mission

    See the picture of the phone next to the Linksy router..was that taken by a taliban at his work station..

  21. elreaver

    Why hasn’t anyone mentioned a wi-spy?
    Get one of those and do a site survery to see exactly where your issues are, what devices may cause interference, and what channel is the most conjested by 2.4 (and 5) interference.

  22. zepe

    There are several factor that can affect RF (Bluetooth WiFi are RF) operation, not just what’s in close proximity of your router. Virtually everything electrical will emit some sort of RF energy (what we used to call RF pollution or noise) and it all has a degrading effect on RF reception. Remember the (weak) signal from your router has to overcome whatever else is in the air. You might say they’re on a different frequency, but they have harmonics that are likely in the same band as you router.

    Think of it this way, if two of you are in an empty room at opposite corners, you can practically whisper and be heard. However, fill the room with noise and you’ll have to shout and that may not work. If you’re near a broadcast antenna, good luck. And, for those of you in high rise buildings, check for repeaters on the roof.

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