If you live in a very large house or a very old one, there's a good chance that your router can't quite push a strong Wi-Fi signal to every corner. Your situation may be even worse than this, and you can't get a signal at all in some parts of the house, or such a weak connection that it's not good enough for a video doorbell, or simply to load a web page.
These Wi-Fi 'black spots' are most often caused by too much distance from the wireless router (wireless signals weaken with range), thick brick or stone walls, and interference from other devices.
There are several ways you can fix this, but it all depends upon how much money 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 / booster
- 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 because of where your phone line or internet cable enters your home, the best solution could be a mesh Wi-Fi system. This is a kit that includes two or three separate routers which communicate with each other and can deliver whole-home Wi-Fi at great speeds.
How can I fix a weak Wi-Fi signal in my house?
Tip 1. Reposition your router
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 in a cupboard, on the floor or behind your TV. try to elevate it because 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. However, if you have multiple antennae, you can try adjusting them to different angles to provide the widest coverage.
Tip 2. Upgrade 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.
We've also got a separate guide with tips on how to speed up Wi-Fi.
How can I extend my Wi-Fi?
Tip 3. Get a Mesh Wi-Fi kit
In case you skipped the intro and scrolled straight to here, 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 easy to set up.
You attach one of the units from a mesh Wi-Fi kit to a spare port on your existing router, and it creates a new Wi-Fi network to which all your Wi-Fi gadgets connect.
You then place the second (and third if required) mesh device somewhere else in your house - usually on another floor, or on the other side of your home. The devices all talk to each other and create a single super Wi-Fi network that’s both strong and fast and can usually extend into your garden, if you have one.
You can read more about the differences between the cheapest and most expensive systems in our roundup of the best Mesh Wi-Fi, but our current top pick, which combines Wi-Fi and powerline networking for great coverage and speed at a reasonable price is the TP-Link Deco P9.
How can I extend Wi-Fi to a specific room or an outbuilding?
Tip 4. 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 that's already in your house. This means you can extend the internet around your house without having to run unsightly network cables or worry about whether a Wi-Fi signal will reach.
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 room such as a loft room, garage, shed or other outbuilding. As long as any separate 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 - they do not boost the wireless network that already exists like a Wi-Fi extender. Powerline kits with Wi-Fi cost more than extenders but are much more versatile and can provide faster speeds.
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 £135.99 from Amazon (these aren't available in the US).
Do Wi-Fi extenders really work?
Tip 5. Buy a wireless booster
Wi-Fi extenders - also called repeaters or boosters - increase your Wi-Fi signal by 'capturing' the wireless signal from your router and then rebroadcasting it.
They are not expensive. Models such as TP-Link’s TL-WA860RE can cost at little as £20 / $20 or so. However, this uses the older 802.11n standard. If you want something faster and more up to date, then the TP-Link RE300, which supports 802.11ac, is about £35 / $35.
You can use a Wi-Fi repeater to boost 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 such as high-definition video. 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, as shown in the image above. 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, as you can use these to your advantage.
Wi-Fi can use one of two frequency bands: 2.4GHz or 5GHz.
The trade offs between them have to do with interference, range, and speed.
2.4GHz devices face a battle for the available space, because lots of other things also run on this frequency including microwaves, baby monitors, Bluetooth and more. These all cause interference between each other.
The 2.4GHz band is so called because it is not one precise frequency. There are overlapping channels of slightly different frequencies. 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.
But 2.4GHz does have one big advantage over 5GHz: range. The higher the frequency, the shorter the wavelength. And 5GHz signals cannot penetrate walls, ceilings, desks, and, yes, people as well as 2.4GHz signals. (Incidentally, this is why 5G is promising such fast speeds, because it uses much higher frequencies - called millimetre wave - but these signals have a tough time getting through glass, trees and even rain.
Also, the more interference, the less speed and range a Wi-Fi signal has. 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.
The bottom line is that you can get a faster Wi-Fi signal from your router if you force whatever device you're using - say a laptop or phone - to connect to the router's 5GHz band. Some routers combine the two bands into one network, which means you can't choose which one your device uses. However, dive into the router's settings and you can usually stop this from happening and get it to broadcast two separate networks which you can rename as 2.4 and 5 so that it's obvious which one to join when looking through the list on your phone or laptop.