Wireless web connections are wonderful. They allow us to get online whenever we want using whichever device we choose. The mere fact it’s possible to browse the web and check email without a wire tethering you to a router is impressive enough; that a single router can allow several devices to do so at once and to stream music and photos as well as browse the web is something we take for granted.

But often a single wirelessrouter is not enough. As we consume more and more media and do so on several devices, that once-adequate wireless network can begin to show the strain. If you’ve got lots of gadgetry that can potentially get online, consider whether they might be competing for a look-in.

Overwhelming demand

You might have a very fast web connection, but that doesn’t automatically translate into speedy page updates when browsing the web on your laptop. Only the PC or laptop that is directly connected to the broadband router will be able to enjoy the maximum download speeds your internet service offers.

That 50Mbps web connection might be working well, but if you’re using outdated wireless hardware or are sharing your Wi-Fi with too many devices, you can expect BBC iPlayer to stutter along.

If you were checking your Facebook earlier from your iPhone, but later decided to jump on your laptop, both will probably be connected to your Wi-Fi, even though you’re only actively using one of the devices. If another family member is busy downloading apps or posting photos, the network could be seriously strained. Turn off the Wi-Fi on your smartphone to instantly free up some of the bandwidth (and preserve its battery power into the bargain).

Secure your wireless network

Ensure only trusted family members can use your bandwidth. You don’t want neighbours or passers-by piggybacking your Wi-Fi connection and slowing things down.

If your broadband connection is subject to a monthly limit, it’s especially important that you’re aware who’s using it and the amount of data being downloaded.

Old router: weak signal

When you first set up your wireless router, you probably did so with a clear idea of where in the home it would be used. However, if you then have a loft conversion or build a home office at the bottom of your garden, that coverage is significantly extended.

Using Wi-Fi devices in an increasingly ad-hoc fashion flags up the fact that coverage can be patchy. A single router may offer a reliable wireless connection for a laptop across the other side of the room, but the signal won’t necessarily carry through thick walls or up to the top floor in a townhouse.

Using two routers to increase wireless coverage

There are a couple of ways round this. You could buy a so-called access point, which is a basic device that pumps out the Wi-Fi signal at a remote point, or you could take advantage of that router which came free with your broadband package and either use it as an 'dumb' access point (not using its modem or routing capabilities) or reinstate it as the main router and use your replacement router as the access point.

With two routers on your network, you'll also have additional Ethernet ports for wired devices which could be handy if you need to connect, say, home entertainment kit which doesn't have Wi-Fi.

Importantly, you need to ensure that the second router is put into 'bridged' mode. There may be an explicit setting, or it may be a case of disabling the router's DHCP server so that the second router doesn’t try to assign IP addresses - this is the job of the main router. The second router needs to be connected via a LAN port to the original router and to be set to have an IP address which matches the subnet range of the main router. This means the first three sets of numbers need to match, for example 192.168.1.x.

If you can't physically run a long Ethernet cable, powerline networking adapters are an alternative. We'll get to these shortly.

If you have an office at the end of the garden, you might want to take a look at the USB antennas that Solwise sells, which include a lengthy weatherproof USB cable with the necessary antenna to extend your home Wi-Fi beyond its boundaries.

Next page: improve your existing hardware, router buying guide and powerline networking (HomePlug)