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Common Causes of Wi-Fi Connectivity Problems

People would be grumpier without Wi-Fi than coffee

Imagine settling in for the night to watch a few episodes of your favorite binge-worthy TV show when suddenly, your streaming service stops loading, and all you can do is watch the Wi-Fi go in and out, hoping the endless buffering stops soon. You might be gritting your teeth just thinking about it — you and 7 billion other people.

Wi-Fi connection problems happen to everyone, but they don’t have to be a regular occurrence. Knowing what to do when your connection fails will save you hours of frustration, so before you call your internet provider or give up on your relaxing evening, consider trying some of the simpler solutions to solve the problem first. You’d be surprised at how frequently a poor Wi-Fi connection is caused by physical obstacles like the configuration of your home, rather than something technological.

As you troubleshoot the suggestions outlined below, you’re more likely to achieve maximum signal strength and enjoy fast Wi-Fi whenever you need it.

Poor Wi-Fi connection: Common causes and solutions 

When you stop to think about it, Wi-Fi is a modern miracle. This unseen force gives you speedy internet on demand without weaving intrusive and unsightly cords throughout your home or office. The only catch is that Wi-Fi networks rely on signal strength, which can be easily interrupted, resulting in irregular speeds.

A Wi-Fi signal can be interrupted in many more ways than we might even realize. Here are some of the most common reasons behind slow, glitchy Wi-Fi and some practical solutions for fixing them so you can minimize internet downtime without having to contact your internet service provider (ISP).

Cause: Distance from the router

Did you know that the farther away you are from your physical router, the weaker your internet connection will be? At 2.4GHz, moving 15 feet away from the router will result in a signal loss of approximately 6 dB — about 25% for every 15 feet. If you encounter Wi-Fi connection problems using the internet in the basement while the router is upstairs on the other side of the house, you can’t expect the internet to be as fast.

The router signal has to travel a long distance and pass through furniture and walls, which causes it to weaken on its way to you. Some newer Wi-Fi products might have a slightly broader range, but you’ll experience maximum signal strength when you move closer to the source.

Solution

The easiest fix to this issue is to move closer to the router. As a rule of thumb, a Wi-Fi router can transmit a signal effectively up to 100 feet away, so plan to position the router within this distance from the important rooms in your house. Routers broadcast signals from all angles, so it isn’t wise to place it at the far end of the house where half of the signal will be absorbed by a wall. When considering where to place it, identify a location that is central to most of the rooms in your home or office.

If this isn’t possible, consider purchasing a Wi-Fi extender or repeater. This kind of device will multiply and extend the strength of your signal in the rooms farthest away from the internet source.

Cause: Router location

Many homeowners have a tendency to shut their router away in a closet, on a bottom shelf, behind appliances, and underneath furniture so it’s not as visible or disruptive to their home design. If you hide your router, you’re also slowing down the signal by giving it more mediums to pass through before it reaches you.

Solution

Don’t underestimate the importance of finding the perfect place for your router. While it might not look great out in the open, you should put it on a high shelf in a central location where there will be minimal signal interference.

If you’ve struggled to find that sweet spot, you’re not the first one. Jason Cole, a London-based software engineer, grew sick of the trial and error associated with finding the perfect router spot. In order to eliminate the guesswork, he developed an inexpensive app for the public that mathematically identifies all the signal hotspots and dead spots on your property for easy and strategic router placement.

The app is called WiFi Solver, and it’s available for Android and Chrome OS. Architecture of Radio is another mobile app that uses publicly available information from cell phone towers, local Wi-Fi networks, satellites, and your location to create a map of the signals in your area. This app is available to purchase on Google Play and the Apple Store.

Cause: Limited bandwidth and congested frequencies

According to research from Parks Associates, there are now 16 connected devices per household in the U.S. Homes and offices are common places for people to use these devices simultaneously over Wi-Fi. This competition causes slow internet speeds and spreads the signal quite thin — especially if you’ve left your router on the frequency it came on when you purchased it.

Solution

The internet is busiest from 1 p.m. to 11 p.m. around the world. When you have important things to do on the internet, make plans to do them during non-peak hours. Most US households have multiple users streaming, gaming, and more all at the same time.

You can free up the bandwidth by plugging one or more of these devices directly into the router with an ethernet cable. You can also disconnect any devices that are using the Wi-Fi but don’t need to be. For example, if your phone has an unlimited data plan, allow your Wi-Fi-dependent devices to use the data instead.

Some of the newest routers can automatically find and select the least-busy frequencies when they’re restarted, so if your router is relatively new, try rebooting it. For older routers, you can change the channel manually through the admin panel. If you have a dual-band routers, you won’t need to worry about channel hopping. This type of router allows you to enable 2.4 and 5GHz at the same time, which means they can transmit twice as much signal and offer superior performance when compared to a single-band router.

Cause: Neighbors stealing your Wi-Fi

If your wireless network isn’t sufficiently protected, it’s easy for your neighbors and others nearby to mooch off of your internet — sometimes without your knowledge. Sharing your signal with people outside your house is not only a security issue, but it also slows down the Wi-Fi significantly.

Solution

Keep the password a secret from everyone who doesn’t need to know it. The password needs to be strong enough to create more difficulty for anyone trying to hack it, so try not to base your password on wired equivalent privacy (WEP) standards. These have proven to be easy to hack. Follow this link for suggestions on creating a solid password.

In addition to setting a password, you should also set up network security. Remember to update your router regularly and check for unfamiliar devices that may be using your network. These simple preventative measures ensure that only you and your authorized users are able to access your Wi-Fi for optimal speed. If you’re not sure how to update or check your network for suspicious users, click here.

Cause: Interference from home appliances

Fish tanks

Water is a difficult medium for Wi-Fi waves to pass through, so if your router is placed near your fish tank, it’s probably leeching most of the signal and keeping it from reaching your devices as easily. Move your Wi-Fi router as far away as possible from aquariums to ensure fast emission of wireless waves in every direction.

Microwaves and TVs

Close living quarters might necessitate the close proximity of your Wi-Fi router, TV, microwave, fridge, wireless speakers, baby monitors, console controllers, and other devices operating on a 2.45GHz Wi-Fi frequency. These pieces of equipment use almost the same frequency as Wi-Fi networks (2.4GHz), which can cause the signals to overlap and slow each other down, so it’s not a good idea for them to be near each other.

You can move these items further apart or change the Wi-Fi channel on them manually. Moving your router further from these devices usually makes a difference. Either place them in different places or physically change the Wi-Fi channel.

Low-E Windows

Some energy-efficient windows are coated with low-emissivity coatings — a thin, invisible metal that prevents heat transfer through the window. Never put your Wi-Fi router next to windows with this coating or with metal blinds.

Metal Accessories

Metal accents and mirrors make sleek and interesting home decor items, but some of these items can negatively impact your Wi-Fi. Wall decor with metal backing weakens and deflects signal strength, so the nearer these metal-backed items are to your router, the worse the signal will get. Mirrors are the common culprit of dead zones, so consider relocating any that are hung in areas in which you frequently use Wi-Fi.

Bluetooth-Connected Devices

Bluetooth is one of the least-likely causes of Wi-Fi connectivity issues, as manufacturers build in features to proactively prevent interference. Bluetooth operates on the same frequency as Wi-Fi, but it’s designed to randomly jump around between 70 different channels about 1,600 times every second to prevent frequency clash. Nevertheless, interference still occurs from time to time. When this happens, move your router away from any devices connected to Bluetooth and turn your Bluetooth off to determine whether or not it’s causing the problem.

Cause: Outdated router

The average router only functions effectively for two to five years until it slows down and is no longer able to support newer technologies. When your router is reaching the end of its life, you will notice constant disruptions and slow connection to the internet, limited coverage, and overheating.

Solution

If overheating is starting to affect the performance of your router, the solution may be as simple as moving the device to a spot that allows for proper airflow. You may even consider running a fan on it to prevent heat damage over time. To avoid problems like these in the future, invest in a new router every two years. They range from $60 to $400 (depending on the features you want).

Cause: Home construction

Even the construction of your house can play a part in the quality of your Wi-Fi signal. Some homes are built with thick metal or concrete walls that make it difficult for a signal to pass through. These materials are so effective at blocking electromagnetic fields that manufacturers now use them in the creation of RFID-protected accessories.

Basements in particular are known for having thick walls that are impervious to Wi-Fi, especially when the house is older and contains plaster and lath (metallic mesh) walls. This substance reduces the signal drastically and sometimes even blocks Wi-Fi from passing through entirely.

These construction materials are ranked from least to most penetrable for Wi-Fi, and have been listed according to signal loss in decibels:

  1. Concrete
  2. Reinforced concrete
  3. Brick-faced concrete
  4. Brick-faced masonry block
  5. Concrete
  6. Brick
  7. Masonry block
  8. Lumber
  9. Glass
  10. Plywood and drywall

Solution

The most obvious solution to this problem is to reconfigure your router or range extender in an area that isn’t surrounded by concrete, metal, ceramic, stone, or brick walls containing air ducts, insulation, and/or water pipes. Thin walls made of materials like Gyprock are the most ideal for Wi-Fi, but you can use a repeater to bypass problematic construction.

Keep this information in mind so you can make an informed decision when you’re ready to buy your next house. If you need an excellent Wi-Fi signal for working at home, use this knowledge to avoid purchasing a property that will inevitably cause Wi-Fi connectivity issues in the future.

Still having Wi-Fi connection problems?

If none of the suggestions above resolve your Wi-Fi connectivity issues, there’s still one more thing you should try before you spend any money. Visit Speedtest.net to test your Wi-Fi connection. This will tell you if the problem is with the connection itself or with the router, giving your ISP a better idea of how to help you. Remember that your internet only has to be within 20% of the speed you agreed on with your ISP, so it’s normal for the signal to be a little slower than you expected.

Tips to improve your Wi-Fi connection

Too long, didn’t read? Here are the quick steps you can take to speed up your Wi-Fi at home:

  • Place your router in a central location in the home.
  • Keep your router on a high shelf, away from walls.
  • Try rebooting the router, or changing its channel manually.
  • Purchase a Wi-Fi extender, repeater, or mesh network for bigger homes.
  • Use a strong, unique password.
  • Update your router’s firmware regularly.
  • Keep your router away from fish tanks, microwaves, TVs, low-E windows, metal accessories, and Bluetooth-connected devices.
  • Invest in a new router every two to five years.
  • Place your router in an area that isn’t surrounded by concrete, metal, ceramic, stone, or brick walls containing air ducts, insulation, and/or water pipes.

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