KDKA did an OK story on improving your wireless this week. (can’t find link) Here are my improvements.

In the story, the family had a lot of things connecting wirelessly, like anyone these days, and their router was being overloaded. The story did not give an exact number of devices or say how old their router was, but they were using a modem / router from their cable company. They got Best Buy’s Geek Squad to help (classic joke: there’s your problem. No, there probably ok.). They suggested separate modem and router (good) as well as a Wi-Fi extender (bad). They also said if you were having spotty coverage to “start with a range extender” (bad).

– You should start with a new router – especially if what you have is 4+ years old. It sounds weird for electronics but routers “wear out” after a few years. If you started with a range extender (from story) and the router is not very good then the range extender is going to be worse. Plus, new routers can cover a larger area if you spend $80+. See below.
– Range extenders are kinda hard to use / setup for the average person. The extenders go on different floors or across the house, and most people are not going to string cable or have wired connections to use; so most people would have an extender that picks up a signal then rebroadcasts a signal. This signal is usually going to have a different name on your Wi-Fi signal list. So you need to connect to a different signal when you are in a different part of the house – a pain to say the least. In the story, they showed an extender with an Ethernet cable connected to it. I could not tell if this was to get the signal from the router (NOT HOW MOST PEOPLE WOULD USE IT) or to connect something to it.

– Don’t be too cheap on the router. Spend what you can afford thinking it’s a 4 year+ investment. You don’t want to be disappointed when you start using it, or in a year. Although you can buy a router for $30 that should work for apartments and smaller one level homes, and one for $50 that should be pretty good (dual band), like most things more money = more performance. Routers have processor chips and memory like a computer. The more expensive ones will have a faster processor and more memory to handle all of your devices and the traffic passing through them. They will also have more advanced features if you wanted to get into really controlling your internet. I suggest spending at least $89. Hopefully, the $89 is a sale price of a more expensive model. KDKA showed a Netgear Nighthawk model with 3 external antenna’ – similar to what I have. They can cost as much as $300 or more but start at $130.

– Look for “dual-band” routers. Starting around $50 you should be able to get a dual band router. Connect to the 5 GHz signal for the newer / more important devices and the 2.5 GHz for older laptops or phones. Tip: 5GHz  can be faster / better at shorter range, and 2.5GHZ may be a better choice for the furthest rooms or outside.

– If you have a large house get a multi-base router system called “mesh network”. A $300 router may still loose signal in large homes with multiple floors, especially if the walls are older or for any reason block the Wi-Fi signal. Unlike range extenders mentioned earlier, the multi-base systems will send out the same signal and can “intelligently” control which unit you connect to based on the signal strength. These systems are also designed with more security in mind than traditional routers and will auto update – a great security feature!  They also have apps for your devices with easy advanced features like turning off a specific persons Wi-Fi if you need to get the kids to study or come to dinner.
These are also more expensive starting at $300. But you get at least 2 units, better coverage, and better control than even the $300 router. If you have a large home and family, it is worth it.
I suggest looking at Eero (top pic), AmpliFi, and lastly Google wifi (it’s brand new).

– Place the router in the middle of the house if you can.

– External antenna’ have made a comeback. When routers first come to the home they all had an external antenna. Then they went away for a more pleasing look and improved internal antenna design. But with today’s demand, it may help to have 2, 3 or even 8 antennae. You can improve the signal to different areas by moving the antenna some.

– Use a free Wi-Fi analyzer on your phone or tablet to see how strong the signal is around the house and to see if there is interference from neighbors routers. You can choose the GHZ and channel if you see everyone close to you is on channel 11 for example.

– Wired is better than wireless. Plug in devices close to the router. Tip: This goes for printers too! A USB printer is much more reliable than a wireless connected one.

– You can buy your own modem too. You don’t have to use the modem from your internet provider. The monthly modem rental from your ISP is around $12 and a new modem is $89. But, if it gets hit by a power surge or you have connection issues you need to buy a new one or troubleshoot the problem – internet providers replace / service them for you. It may be worth the rental for most people vs. the hassle.

WHAT IT MEANS TO YOU:
– Start with a new router
– Range extenders are kinda hard to use
– Don’t be too cheap on the router.
– Look for “dual-band” routers
– Get a multi-base router system called “mesh network”
– Place the router in the middle of the house
– Use external antennas
– Use a free Wi-Fi analyzer
– Wired is better than wireless
– You can buy your own modem too

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Posted by Ken Barker

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