WiFi Signal Strength: Get the Best Out of Your Device.

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Poor WiFi signal can be a pain, particularly when you rely on a stable connection to work, connect with friends, or catch a stream to chill out to. What exactly are WiFi signals though, and what can you do to improve your WiFi signal strength? Take a read through this simple guide to find out.

How Do WiFi Signals Work?

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To access WiFi from home, first, we must be connected to a local data network. These networks carry data packets to modems (or WiFi modems), which translated the raw data into a form that is compatible with electronic devices, and then pass this to a WiFi router.

From the router, this data is transferred to your devices wirelessly (or through an ethernet cable) through the use of radio wave frequencies. These frequencies typically come in the form of 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz, with some routers utilizing both frequencies to increase the connection capability and relieve the data load on each individual channel. This we call dual-band, as opposed to single-band, which uses only a 2.4GHz signal.

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What Is the Ideal WiFi Signal?

WiFi signal quality is measured in both decibel milliwatts (dBm) and to a smaller degree Received Signal Strength Indicator (RSSI). The range at which dBm is measured goes from -30 to -90, with -30 being perfect, and -90 being the lowest quality/unable to connect. Most households fall into the -50 to -70 region, which is sufficient for the purposes of normal household usage.

This is translated into visual forms such as the signal strength bars you might see on your computer or a mobile phone. As a rough guide, most WiFi routers have a signal strength range of approximately 150 feet (46 metres) inside and 300 feet (92 metres) outside, though this will depend upon many factors, such as:

  1. The location and quality of your router
  2. Interference in terms of other electronic devices
  3. Walls or obstacles the signal has to pass through

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What Can Cause Bad Signal Strength?

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A poor signal can have a myriad of causes, though most of these are fixable with a little bit of investigation and fiddling around. Two of the primary causes are device degradation and signal interference.

Devices do age and wear over time. We can help them out by updating our device drivers firmware to maintain a stable connection for as long as possible, but your device will wear and degrade in support over time. The typical lifespan of a router is around five years, at which point you may notice your signal strength deteriorating. Your broadband provider may be able to provide you with a replacement should this be the case.

Routers also thrive in open environments. Placing them in corners, surrounded by objects and ornaments, within cabinets or next to other electronic devices will impair their signal strength. The more objects the signal has to navigate around/through, the weaker its signal can get.

10 Ways to Improve Your WiFi Signal Strength

So, importantly, what you can do to make sure that your WiFi signal strength is as strong as it can be. While none of the below steps are exactly rocket science, generally most fixes come under these examples.

  1. Reposition your WiFi router - Avoid crowding it or putting it in corners and cabinets. Ideally, place it in the centre of your house
  2. Update your drivers firmware - System updates come out periodically and help to keep your device in tune with your WiFi router
  3. Remove devices - Every device with an active connection will slow your WiFi speed. Disconnect or turn off devices not in use
  4. Replace your WiFi router - If your router is old, it may be slightly obsolete. Contact your broadband provider to enquire about a replacement, or buy your own router
  5. Reset your router - The old off-and-on-trick, though a cliché, is still effective. Most routers come with a reset button. Pressing this will reinitialize its hardware
  6. Purchase a WiFi booster - These come in various types and help to spread your WiFi around your home (more on these in our next section)
  7. Contact your broadband provider - There may be network problems or something they can do to assist you
  8. Get a better plan - Cheaper isn't always better, contact your broadband provider to discuss upgrading your plan away from basic speeds, or switch ISPs
  9. Switch your frequency - You are likely to get a faster connection over 5 GHz frequencies. If you have a dual-band WiFi router, switch away from 2.4 GHz
  10. Change your WiFi password - It is possible that your neighbours have guessed your password. Changing this and replacing it with something complex and non-predictable will prevent them from accessing your WiFi. A combination of lowercase, uppercase letters, numbers and symbols avoiding repetition and exceeding 10 digits is recommended

If you have tried all of these steps and still have no joy, it may be time to consult a specialist. Get in touch with your service provider's technical team, or potentially raise a complaint if appropriate.

Already raised a complaint? If you have an existing complaint with your ISP (Internet Service Provider) and have followed their full complaints procedure without achieving an appropriate outcome, you may be able to escalate the case to ComReg.

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WiFi Signal Booster Devices

The further away you are from the router, the weaker its signal will get. Sometimes no matter what you do with your WiFi router, the signal simply will not reach where you need it to go. If you find yourself in this situation, don’t worry, you still have a few more tricks up your sleeve before conceding defeat, and these come in the form of WiFi boosters.

WiFi boosters come in several forms, but ultimately they do what the name says on the tin: boost your WiFi signal. This may be achieved through the installation of devices that detect your original WiFi signal, and then re-emit it, or through a device that emits WiFi signals inherently.

These can often be purchased through your broadband provider, but also through independent retailers. Brands such as the TP Link WiFi booster are a mainstay in Ireland, but many other brands are available.

WiFi Repeater

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WiFi repeaters are similarly inventively named, as their main function is to repeat your WiFi signals. These devices should be placed roughly halfway between your WiFi router and the signal blackspot. Requiring only a mains connection, once active and paired with your router, it will pick up and re-broadcast your WiFi signal, thus covering a wider space than your router could originally cover.

It is important to note that you should check that your router's compatibility with the WiFi repeater before making your purchase. Similarly, if you have a dual-band WiFi router, then a dual-band WiFi repeater is recommended so that you can access your full service.

The downside of these devices is that the re-broadcasted signal tends to be weaker than the original, so it won't help you with data-intensive online tasks that much. For light browsing or online shopping, however, it should be more than sufficient.

WiFi Extender

WiFi extenders use the same principles as WiFi repeaters but additionally come in the form of both wired, and wireless. The wireless WiFi extender suffers from the same weaker re-broadcast signal as the above repeater, however, by connecting it to your main router via an ethernet cable, you can bring the same quality WiFi strength to other parts of the house, as though you were sitting right next to your primary router.

This is one of the strongest methods of accessing WiFi away from your router, but on the downside, you will have to run an ethernet cable from your router, through your house, to your desired WiFi extender location.

Mesh Network

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Potentially the best, but certainly not the cheapest option for reliable coverage throughout your home. Mesh systems operate via a series of nodes, which pick up the original WiFi signals emitted from your router and re-emit them. This can be done either wirelessly, by accessing household ethernet ports, or by connecting a node to the router.

Whereas traditional WiFi extenders tend to result in weakened signals, mesh WiFi largely maintains its original signal strength by utilizing a tri-band system, allowing for maximum efficiency and connection stability. One of the mesh nodes will be plugged directly into your WiFi router, creating two full-strength signal sources. The remaining two nodes typically remain wireless and will pick up and further retransmit these signals.

Additional Routers

Finally, you could simply get an additional router for your home. If your second routers support WDS (Wireless Distribution System), then you can “bridge” it with your primary WiFi router to expand its signal reach. Though this can be done wirelessly with modern and matching model routers, it is more common to attach the secondary router to the first via a long ethernet cable.

Once positioned in a signal deficient area, your secondary router will emit a strong WiFi signal by “bridging” the gap between itself, and the primary router.

How speedy is your internet? Check out our free WiFi test to see if you are receiving the speeds that you are paying for.

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Is Your Broadband Service the Right Type for You?

Finally, is the type of broadband that you have in your home actually suitable for you? Perhaps you are still on an old ADSL connection, or your local network speeds are generally low. While plans such as NBI (National Broadband Ireland) are being rolled out to reach areas that have traditionally struggled with the internet, you might not have the luxury of waiting until the rollout hits your area.

For this reason, it is important to contact your service provider to enquire about checking your network or upgrading your package. Alternately, by comparing broadband providers you may find that a different supplier can provide a better service than the one you are receiving, or that changing your broadband type may be more suitable. A few examples of alternates to fixed-line broadband are:

  • Mobile Broadband - A router-like device picks up 3G, 4G and 5G signals (like how a mobile phone does), and retransmits these as WiFi signals, allowing several devices to connect.
  • Dongles - Similarly to mobile broadband, WiFi dongles pick up wireless network signals and transform these into an internet connection. Typically, however, dongles mostly only plug into a single device such as a laptop, rather than allowing multiple devices to access it. Higher-end models do have a limited WiFi capacity.
  • Satellite broadband - A satellite dish will be installed on your house, which will pick up signals sent from satellites in space. A wire then connects your satellite to a WiFi router in your home.

WiFi Signal Frequently Asked Questions

Are WiFi Signals Damaging to Health?

No. There is no established scientific connection between WiFi radio frequency (RF) exposure and adverse health effects.

I Have No Internet Connection, What Do I Do?

  1. Check websites such as Down Detector using your mobile data to see if there is an issue with your area's network
  2. Contact your broadband provider for support
  3. Check our broadband down guide for troubleshooting help

Will I Have to Pay to Replace My Router?

If you have bought your own router, then yes. If you are using a router supplied by your broadband provider, then depending on the nature of its deterioration and your contract status, you may need to pay in part, or in full for a replacement. If it is a provable technical fault and you are within your contract, then this replacement may be at no additional cost.

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