The Easiest Way to Fix Wi-Fi Issues: Move Your Router (Seriously)

By Justin Pot on March 7th, 2017

Are there Wi-Fi dead zones in your house? Before you do anything drastic, you might be able to fix it by simply moving your router.

This sounds fake, because Wi-Fi seems like magic—something that can only be made better by wizards who understand its mysterious ways. But Wi-Fi isn’t magic. Your laptop and iPad connect to the Internet using a century old technology: radio waves.

And radio waves have limits. If you drive through a tunnel with the FM radio on, you’ll mostly hear a bunch of static. This is because the signal from the radio tower can’t reach you underground. There are barriers that block the signal.

The same principle applies to your Wi-Fi: barriers between your router and your devices make the signal worse. So the physical placement of your device makes a startlingly big difference in your signal across the house.

Place Your Router in the Center of Your House

If you drop a pebble in a still pond, ripples move out from the impact point in all directions.

That’s more or less how radio waves work: they emanate from a central point, in all directions. Remember this when you place your router: imagine ripples moving out from the router in all directions.

With that in mind, the ideal position for your router should be as close to the middle of your house as possible. If your router is in one far corner of your house, you’re sending most of the “ripples” outside, where they aren’t really doing anything for you; meanwhile, the corner of your house furthest from the router is just picking up diminished ripples (or nothing). Put your router in the middle of the house to get equal coverage everywhere.

And remember to think three dimensionally, too. In a three-story house, it’s probably best to put the router on the second floor, assuming you want good signal on all three stories.

Keep Your Router Out in the Open

We get it: routers are ugly. You probably want to hide your router behind a shelf, or in a closet. That might be a good choice aesthetically, but it’s a bad one in terms of signal. You’re putting more barriers between you and your router, meaning you’re degrading the signal before it even gets into the room.

Think about driving your car through the tunnel again. The FM signal doesn’t reach your car because the walls of the tunnel, and the earth surrounding it, are blocking it. The same principle applies to your router: physical objects can block the signal.

Brick walls are infamous for this, but any physical object makes an impact. Drywall, shelves, even furniture. A good rule of thumb: if you can see the router, you’re getting the best signal possible. If you can’t see it, you’ve diminished your signal right at the source.

Bummed out by your ugly router? Some companies are solving this by making better-looking routers. Google’s OnHub, above, is just one example.

Avoid Your Neighbor’s Routers, and Appliances Like Microwaves

Placing your router somewhere central and visible is most of the battle, but there are other things that might be affecting your signal. For example: microwaves and cordless phones have been known to interfere with routers using the 2.5GHz frequency.

You can avoid the problem entirely by using the 5GHz frequency whenever possible, but older routers and devices don’t support it. If that’s your situation, consider keeping your router away from cordless phones, microwaves, and other appliances.

Another potential problem, particularly if you live in an apartment building, is your neighbor’s router. We’ve shown you how to find the best channel for your router, pointing out tools that show you the relative signal strength of all nearby routers. You can use these tools to get a sense for where your neighbor’s routers are, and try to place your router somewhere else. (While you’re at it, you should try to find a channel that your neighbors aren’t using.)

If Moving Your Router Doesn’t Help

You’d be surprised how much this simple tip can help your signal—we’ve seen situations in which moving a router just a couple feet and keeping it in the open fixes actual dead zones.

But these tips aren’t everything. If moving your router doesn’t help, check out our guide to improving your wireless signal and finding sources of wireless interference. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to solve your Wi-Fi woes without buying new equipment. But if your router is particularly old, or if you have a large house with a lot of thick walls, you might need a more powerful router, a few extra access points, or an easy-to-use mesh network to get full coverage.

Just make sure you try the easy stuff first.

Image Credits: Intel Free Press/Flickr, Дмитрий Проценко/Flickr, Pexels/Pixabay, Revon.zhang/Wikimedia, David Shane/Flickr

Justin Pot is a staff writer for How-To Geek, and a technology enthusiast who lives in Hillsboro, Oregon. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, if you want. You don't have to.

  • Published 03/7/17
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