If web pages and videos are slow to load or won't load at all, it could be that you're in one of your home's Wi-Fi 'black spots'. These are most often caused by distance from the wireless router (wireless signals weaken with range), thick stone walls, and interference from other devices.
There are several ways you can fix this, but it all depends upon how much you want to spend and where the problem areas are. Here are the main ways to extend Wi-Fi coverage:
- Reposition your existing router
- Buy a new router
- Buy a mesh Wi-Fi kit
- Buy a Wi-Fi extender
- Buy a powerline networking adapter set with Wi-Fi
It's well worth trying the free option of moving your router to a central position in your home - if you can, that is - to improve coverage. If this isn't possible or doesn't work, there are new routers that come in packs of two or three called mesh networks which can deliver whole-home Wi-Fi at great speeds.
How can I boost my Wi-Fi signal upstairs?
If your house suffers from weak Wi-Fi upstairs, check the placement of your wireless router. Make sure it's out in the open (even if it is ugly) and in the centre of the home if possible, free from obstructions.
Don't hide it on the floor, behind your computer or TV. try to elevate it - Wi-Fi signals have an easier time traveling through open space.
Does your router have movable aerials? The Wi-Fi signal beams out from the sides of the antenna, and up (perpendicular to the router) is usually best so the signal doesn't shoot into the ground or ceiling.
Ugrade your router
If the weak or slow Wi-Fi continues despite moving the router, consider upgrading it to a better one.
The oldest to newest Wi-Fi standard are: 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n, 802.11ac and Wi-Fi 6. If you have an older wireless "b" or "g" router you should consider replacing it with a newer device that offers longer ranges and faster connection speeds.
Why not be cheeky and ask your ISP to send you an updated wireless router? If you've been a customer for a while it should help you out, but watch out if it asks you to sign up for a new contract.
A common misconception is that the latest Wi-Fi standard gives you the best performance and range. While that is partially true, the best speeds come at the expense of range, so you'll actually get the best coverage from a router with really good performance using 2.4GHz, not 5GHz. For more, click here.
However, this is where mesh Wi-Fi comes in, and it's why we highly recommend you invest in a kit, which can cost less than a single router in some cases.
Remember that your devices also need to support these newer Wi-Fi standards. But rather than buy a new laptop you can buy a USB wireless adapter – from as little as £10 – that plugs into a USB port. You can also add a new wireless adapter inside a desktop PC’s case or via a PC Card slot, but good luck trying that with a Mac! Check out our round up of the Best 802.11ac USB Wi-Fi adapters.
How can I boost my Wi-Fi signal in my home?
The easy answer for most people is to get a mesh Wi-Fi system.
A mesh network is two or more routers that work together to provide much wider Wi-Fi coverage than a single router can ever deliver. It replaces your existing router’s Wi-Fi, and is pretty simple to set up.
You attach one of the units from a mesh Wi-Fi kit to a spare network port on your router, and it creates a new Wi-Fi network to which all your Wi-Fi gadgets connect.
Then you place the second (and third if required) mesh device somewhere else in your house - usually on another floor. The devices all talk to each other and create a single super Wi-Fi network that’s both strong and fast across your entire home.
More expensive systems use a 'tri-band' network for the absolute fastest speeds, but for most homes, you'll find a 'dual-band' one such as the £199.99 TP-Link Deco M5 above perfectly adequate and offer the same sort of coverage and signal strength.
See which kits we recommend in our roundup of the best Mesh Wi-Fi systems.
How can I extend Wi-Fi to another building?
Powerline adapters are slowly being phased out and replaced by mesh Wi-Fi, but there is still a place for them. And they can be the cheapest option, too.
They create a fast home network using the electrical wiring in your house. This means you can take your internet around your house without losing too much performance.
Simply plug one adapter into a power socket near your router and connect it to the router using an Ethernet cable (usually supplied in the box).
Then plug the second adapter (which must be a model with built-in Wi-Fi) into a power socket in the other building, such as a garage, shed or other outbuilding. As long as the building gets its power from the main house where the router is located, it will work.
In most cases these create a new Wi-Fi hotspot - not merely boosted signals as you get with a Wi-Fi extender. They cost more but are much more versatile and can provide faster speeds than mere extenders.
Read our roundup of the best Powerline adapters for recommendations. In a hurry? Then check out the Devolo dLAN 1200+ WiFi Starter Kit. It costs £129.99 from Amazon (these aren't available in the US).
Are Wi-Fi extenders any good?
Wi-Fi extenders such as TP-Link’s TL-WA860RE can cost at little as £20 / US$20. Wi-Fi extenders work by 'capturing' the wireless signal from your router and then rebroadcasting it.
This strengthens the signal from a router on a different floor of a house or on the opposite side of a building.
A repeater uses half its internal antennae to receive a wireless signal and the other half to transmit a new signal – effectively halving the potential speed of the original Wi-Fi signal.
This shouldn’t be that noticeable for light web browsing, email, etc, but can be felt when moving large files around the network. That’s why we prefer Powerline for the more demanding tasks. But you might find it's still perfectly good for streaming Netflix or YouTube.
A Wi-Fi extender needs to be placed in a central location, not too far away from the main router. If you put the repeater at the far edge of your main network hoping to strengthen the signal you will reduce the speed of your connection to the rest of the network and to the internet.
Remember that the extender is just boosting the signal. If it’s placed in a spot where Wi-Fi is already weak then it will merely push around that weak signal. Place it in an area with better Wi-Fi and the signal it pushes out will be stronger, too.
The ideal location for a range extender is half way between your main router and the intended wireless devices – in an open corridor or spacious room rather than a crowded space. It should be away from interfering devices such as cordless phones, Bluetooth gadgets and microwave ovens.
It's good to understand to explain the difference between Wi-Fi bands. We’ll try to keep this as technically simple as possible, but skip if if this stuff is just going to get your head spinning.
Wi-Fi can work over one of two spectrum bands: 2.4GHz or 5GHz.
The trade offs between 2.4GHz and 5GHz have to do with interference, range, and speed.
Each band has its limitations, however.
2.4GHz devices face a battle for the available space, and so cause interference between each other. The 2.4GHz band is also divided into overlapping channels. The more overlap, the greater the interference among networks located closely together.
Switching to 5GHz alleviates the channel problem because so many more channels are available – and without any overlap – in the 5GHz band.
But 2.4GHz does have one big advantage over 5GHz: range. The shorter wavelengths used in the 5GHz band cannot penetrate as well through seemingly solid objects like walls, ceilings, desks, and, yes, people.
The more interference, the less speed and range; the greater range you want, the less speed you can have; the greater speed you want, the more you have to mitigate interference and work closer to an access point.
We have a separate step-by-step guide on how to change the channel your router uses to avoid interference.