Do you struggle with weak Wi-Fi signal at home? Find that streaming video is constantly buffering? Does it take an age to send files to other computers on your home network?
Getting a fast broadband deal is great, but it isn’t the whole story. If your home network - whether wired or wireless - isn’t up to the job, you could struggle with some tasks and won’t be able to take full advantage of the internet, no matter how quick it is.
If you’ve got good broadband but are still experiencing connection issues, the problem may lie with your home network. In this guide, you’ll find some top tips for speeding up Wi-Fi and wired home networks.
12 tips for better Wi-Fi and home networking
Optimise your router’s location
Router placement can make a big difference to signal strength and Wi-Fi coverage. To ensure you’re getting the best performance, you should:
- Install the router in a central location in your home to help distribute the signal to as many rooms as possible.
- Keep it away from walls because these can impede the Wi-Fi signal.
- Don’t set it up near appliances or other devices which might block the signal; fridges, microwaves, and cordless phones are particularly troublesome.
Generate a Wi-Fi heatmap of your home
A Wi-Fi heatmap creates a visualisation of Wi-Fi coverage overlaid on your home’s floorplan.
This is invaluable when it comes to choosing the best location for the router and identifying areas where the signal is weak or non-existent and would benefit from a signal booster.
Wi-Fi heatmap apps - many of them free - are widely available for Android and iOS smartphones, as well as Windows and Apple Mac computers.
Check your router security settings
Securing your router is vital as it will help reduce the risk that someone could interfere with network settings or gain unauthorised access to the Wi-Fi network.
Even if you do nothing else to your home network, you should take the following steps:
- Protect the router’s administration control panel with a strong, unique password.
- Password protect the Wi-Fi network so it’s not freely available to anyone within range.
- Make sure your Wi-Fi network is set to use ‘WPA2’ or ‘WPA3’ encryption.
For further assistance, read our guide to router security.
Create a guest Wi-Fi network
Set up guest Wi-Fi to provide visitors with internet access while protecting other devices on your network. It also allows you to restrict the speed of their connection so you can ensure there’s always enough bandwidth available for you.
Switch Wi-Fi channels
Wi-Fi signals transmit data on different channels within each frequency band. In most cases, you can safely leave your Wi-Fi network on the default “auto” setting, which means the router will choose the best channel. But you may find that there are lots of routers all sharing the same channel, which can impact the Wi-Fi performance. In that situation, it can be preferable to select a quieter channel manually.
Use a Wi-Fi analyzer app (or a Wi-Fi heatmapping tool) to examine networks in your area and determine which channels are most congested.
Install signal boosters
Signal boosters take a Wi-Fi signal and rebroadcast it to increase the range of your Wi-Fi network. They’re a cheap and easy way to give your Wi-Fi a leg-up in areas of your home where it’s weak.
But do keep in mind that a boosted network will not be as fast as a signal coming directly from your Wi-Fi router.
If the extended signal is too slow, or the Wi-Fi is too weak to be boosted, or there’s no signal at all, you should instead try to extend the wired network into that location. Then you can add a Wi-Fi access point that will provide a much quicker and more reliable connection.
Use 5Ghz Wi-Fi
Wi-Fi networks typically operate on a frequency of 2.4Ghz or 5Ghz (other frequencies are used, but these are the most common for home networks). The 2.4Ghz band has a longer range, while 5Ghz covers a smaller area but is much faster.
If you have a device that supports 5Ghz Wi-Fi using the 802.11ac (aka Wi-Fi 5) or 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6) standards, you can get a speed boost by enabling 5Ghz on your router.
To do this, you need to access your router’s control panel, navigate to the wireless network settings, and enable the 5Ghz network. Your router will run the 5Ghz network alongside the 2.4Ghz signal, so you can continue to use devices that don’t support the newer standard.
Use gigabit wired networking
A wired network connection is often preferable to Wi-Fi for anything that involves sending large amounts of data, or activities such as streaming video and online gaming, where consistency and reliability are paramount.
But to get the best performance out of a wired network, you’ll want to make sure you’re using a gigabit (1000Mbps) network and not the older (but more commonplace) 100Mbps standard, as it provides a significantly higher data transfer rate.
To use gigabit networks, you’ll need the following:
- Gigabit network adapters on your devices.
- A router that supports gigabit networking.
- ‘Cat5e’ or ‘Cat6’ ethernet network cables (the type of cable will be printed on the cable sheath).
Most modern routers will support gigabit speeds; if yours does not, you will have to replace it. Desktop computers can be easily upgraded to gigabit using inexpensive expansion cards.
Regularly update firmware and drivers
Get into the habit of regularly checking your router for software (or firmware) updates. This will fix bugs, deliver new features, and, most important, plug security holes.
Check for wired and wireless network driver updates on your computers, too. While this isn’t likely to result in any dramatic speed improvements, it can improve the stability of your broadband and network connections.
Install a wired network
If you get the opportunity, chase network cables into the walls and install network sockets in each room. You’ll be able to take advantage of super-fast wired networking without messy cabling and easily extend Wi-Fi into any room using the network sockets, which will be much faster than setting up signal boosters.
It’s probably not a job you’ll want to do unless there’s other work going on, and it might require an electrician, but it’ll help avoid a lot of the problems that can plague home networks.
Use powerline network adapters
Powerline network adapters use electrical circuits to transmit data, allowing you to create a wired home network using only the power sockets. All that’s required is an adapter next to your router, and you can have the network available from any socket (on the same circuit) in your home.
Powerline networking is particularly helpful if you need to extend Wi-Fi into an area where a signal booster can’t reach, as you can run a Wi-Fi access point (perhaps recycling an old router for the purpose) from a powerline adapter.
This is a convenient alternative to stringing network cables around the house or them in the wall. However, powerline adapters aren’t perfect. They will not be as fast as a regular wired network connection, and they can be unreliable and may need to be reset frequently. You’ll also find that they may not play nicely with power strip extensions sockets.
Upgrade your router
Sometimes, there might be little you can do to improve your home network because the Wi-Fi router is outdated. If it can’t deliver the performance you need because it doesn’t support newer standards, then it’s time for an upgrade.
Buying your own router is an option (most providers will allow you to use your own hardware, but always check first), or you can ask your broadband provider if they have a newer model.