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.
If the Wi-Fi in your house is patchy you might want to consider a Wi-Fi range extender to push your signal that extra bit further. Alternatively, you can add Powerline adapters that use your home’s electrical wiring to create a speedy home network with added new Wi-Fi hotspots.
There are also new routers that come in packs of two or three called mesh networks which can deliver whole-home Wi-Fi at great speeds.
Here are some tips and tricks and inexpensive gadgets that will help improve your wireless signal.
How to boost your Wi-Fi signal
If your house suffers from weak Wi-Fi, 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, and 802.11ac. If you have an older wireless "b" or "g" router you should consider replacing it with a newer “ac” 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.
We recommend Asus' DSL-AC68U, which is an ideal upgrade for anyone with traditional ADSL broadband, as opposed to 'cable' broadband from suppliers such as Virgin. It costs around £150.
If you don't need the ADSL modem, go for the £149.99 / US$149.99 RT-AC68U.
You wont get the maximum range and performance from the newer wireless router unless your computers, smartphone or tablets also use the same Wi-Fi standard. An old laptop may not have 802.11ac Wi-Fi, for example.
Rather than buy a new laptop you can buy a 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 adaptors.
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.
Use Powerline adapters
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 into a power socket in a far-away room. You can then attach this to your smart TV, Sky+ box, games console, laptop, etc, via another Ethernet cable for devices which have a network socket.
It's better to use network cables if you can for more demanding tasks such as streaming HD TV or gaming.
But if you really need Wi-Fi, you can buy Powerline adapters with a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot. 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.
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.
2.4GHz vs 5GHz Wi-Fi
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.
Manufacturers claim that 2.4GHz routers or extenders can reach up to 300Mbps speeds, while 5GHz devices have a theoretical maximum of 450Mbps. Dual-band devices are therefore sometimes rated as 750Mbps. Remember that these claimed speeds are theoretical maximums, and you won’t be getting anywhere near these speeds, but you can achieve perfectly acceptable wireless performance using such devices.
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.