Weak Internet Signal? Tips & Tricks for Boosting Your Wi-Fi
Have you…ever…had…to wait…forever…just to…load a video? When trying to play, stream, work, or learn online, there’s nothing worse than a painfully slow internet connection. If you regularly have trouble streaming movies, uploading files, or loading webpages, it’s time to investigate your weak internet signal.
Keep reading to learn what can cause slow internet speeds, whether or not bad weather affects Wi-Fi, and how to boost a weak internet signal.
5 Common Causes of a Weak Internet Signal
If you’ve ever performed a speed test on your wireless internet, you’ve probably noticed that upload and download speeds fluctuate frequently. Small changes like these are completely normal.
Signals strengthen or weaken for various reasons, including varying connection speeds from your internet service provider (ISP) and in-home factors, like router distance. However, if your Wi-Fi connection is frustratingly slow all the time, there may be a bigger issue at hand.
Because Wi-Fi signals are radio waves that travel wirelessly through the air, they can be interfered with, weakened, or blocked altogether. From dead zones to outdated tech, peak usage times, and more, many different factors can affect internet speed.
1. You’re Too Far From the Wi-Fi Router
This one is pretty simple: the farther you get from your router, the weaker the signal strength. Most Wi-Fi routers use what is called “dynamic rate scaling.” Dynamic rate scaling automatically adjusts your connection speed to maintain a reliable connection.
While dynamic rate scaling extends the range from which devices can connect to the router, the tradeoff is that you’ll suffer from lower connection speeds the farther away you are. In other words, the farther you are from your router, the harder it is for the Wi-Fi signal to transmit data such as pictures and videos to your devices.
2. Your Wi-Fi Signal is Blocked or Disrupted
Not only do Wi-Fi signals weaken over distances but they can also be interfered with or blocked. Since Wi-Fi signals are radio waves, anything that produces a similar wavelength can disrupt the signal your device is receiving. In other words, your microwave could be causing your Wi-Fi woes! Other signal-producing devices, such as baby monitors and Bluetooth speakers, could also be to blame.
What’s more likely, however, is a blocked signal. Blocked signals in your home lead to “dead zones” where the Wi-Fi signal can’t reach your devices. Even though the radio waves that make up a Wi-Fi signal can often pass through walls, sometimes a wall is too thick, or there are simply too many objects to pass through, disrupting the signal. Look at where your router is located, and see if it’s being obstructed by walls and furniture.
3. You Have Too Many Connected Devices
Another common cause of Wi-Fi trouble is that too many devices are connected to the same router. When five different people are trying to video chat, stream shows, shop online, and play video games, the wireless router may not be able to provide adequate speeds to each device. In other words, your router’s bandwidth—the maximum volume of data it can transmit at once—is stretched to the limit.
4. Your Current Internet Package Is Too Slow
If you find that your family never has enough bandwidth to stream movies or browse the web simultaneously, your current internet package may be capped at a certain speed. ISPs offer varying connection speeds at different price points. If you’ve opted for a package limited to 300 megabits per second, for example, it may no longer be enough for all the devices and users in your home.
On the other hand, sometimes the slow connection speeds come from the internet service providers themselves. In neighborhoods that share the same ISP, you and your neighbors may find your internet slows down during peak usage times—typically in the early evenings—as the cable company or other ISP tries to deliver sufficient connection speeds to every home at once.
5. Your Modem or Router is Outdated
Connection issues may also be caused by outdated technology. Internet speeds have come a long way since dial-up, and the modem or router you’re using may no longer be able to keep up with today’s lightning-fast connection speeds.
The latest generation of Wi-Fi technology is called Wi-Fi 6 (often referred to as 802.11ax), which can offer insane speeds of up to 10 gigabytes per second (that’s like… really fast!). But if you received your router or modem years ago, you could be stuck with outdated technology that’s jamming up your digital signals.
Note: Relatively speaking, anything below Wi-Fi 4 (802.11n) is practically obsolete in 2022.
How to Boost a Weak Internet Signal
Whether you work from home, learn online, or want to relax with your favorite show, good internet connections are a necessity. Fortunately, there are many free and low-cost ways to boost your internet signal at home, including:
1. Move the Router to a New Location
Sometimes, the simplest solution for a better Wi-Fi signal is just to move your router. Wireless signals can be disrupted, weakened over distances, and completely blocked by physical objects. That means your Wi-Fi woes could be eliminated by moving the router to a more open and centralized location in your home, away from walls and obstructions.
If your router is on the ground, furniture such as couches and bookshelves could also be blocking the signal. Try placing the router higher up, so fewer things get in the way of the signal.
2. Plug in Your Ethernet Cable
Wireless signals are convenient, but nothing beats the speed or reliability of a wired connection. Plugging an ethernet cable into your laptop or desktop provides a direct line to your internet connection, minimizing disruption by distance or signal interference.
3. Switch to a Different Wi-Fi Frequency
Most modern routers offer Wi-Fi connection on two different frequencies or “bands.” You may have seen this on your device’s Wi-Fi menu as either a “2.4 GHz” or “5 GHz” next to your Wi-Fi name.
The 2.4 GHz band is the most commonly accessed frequency, so it can sometimes become overcrowded with devices. If your connection is slow on one frequency, try switching to the other and see if it improves.
The tradeoff is that the 2.4 GHz band travels farther through walls and other objects but provides slower connection speeds, whereas the 5 GHz band provides a much faster connection but does not extend very far. That means the faster 5GHz connection is better for devices that require a lot of speed, such as gaming consoles, laptops, and smartphones. The 2.4 GHz frequency is better suited for less intensive devices such as smart speakers and security cameras.
4. Use a Wireless Range Extender
If you’ve repositioned your router to the best possible location and still can’t secure a decent internet connection, it might be time to purchase a Wi-Fi extender. A wireless extender is a small device that acts as a two-way relay station with your main wireless access point (the router) to boost the signal further.
Plug the Wi-Fi extender into an outlet within range of your router’s signal. Then, connect your device to the extender as you would with the router. Wi-Fi range extenders are an easy and low-cost way to eliminate dead zones and ensure internet signal reaches even the furthest corners of your home.
5. Add More Access Points with a Mesh System
An alternative solution to a Wi-Fi range extender is to use a mesh system. Mesh systems replace your router entirely in favor of several router-like access points that act as a Wi-Fi “blanket” across your home. These systems often place one access point in each room of your household to create a web of interconnected access points that reach all your devices, no matter where they are.
6. Update Your Wi-Fi Technology
When was the last time you updated your internet hardware or software? It’s one of those things we tend to forget about until we’re faced with a terribly slow connection. With all the advancements in wireless internet technology over the years, boosting your signal might be as simple as upgrading your current Wi-Fi technology. Often, that simply requires investing in a new router. For the best speeds, you’ll want a router that can handle Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) or Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) connections.
If you don’t plan on upgrading your router, check your current unit for a software update. ISPs regularly send updates to their routers to ensure quality connection speeds and data security. While newer routers typically update automatically, older models may require manual updates from the equipment manufacturer’s website.
Does Bad Weather Affect Wi-Fi?
Can bad weather affect internet speeds? It depends on the type of internet service you have and the weather you’re experiencing! Digital subscriber line (DSL), fiber, and cable internet—wired connections that run underground—are usually only affected by power outages. But even DSL, which uses copper wiring from telephone lines, can sometimes continue to provide internet signals if you have a backup battery to power your router.
4G, 5G, and fixed wireless internet, however, will not only stop working in a power outage (you need power to make your router work), but may also be affected by heavy precipitation like rain or snow. This is because heavy rain can disrupt the wireless signals that must travel over the air between the signal tower and your router. However, the closer you are to a signal tower, the less likely rain or snow will affect your connection.
The type of internet service most susceptible to weather is satellite internet. Wireless signals from a satellite must travel extremely far (we’re talking literally from space) and, therefore, can experience a lot of weather-related disruption along the way. Everything from heavy rain, snow, and even dense cloud cover can affect the signal quality received from satellites. And since satellite internet requires a receiver dish installed on your home, weather such as high winds and accumulating snow can move the satellite dish position or block the signal.