The Route(r) to better WiFi and Internet

WiFi likes big open spaces, thin walls and line of sight.
WiFi hates other bits of metal, microwave ovens, cordless telephones off of the ‘80s, and stuff that isn’t air.

Free solutions

  1. Move your router – assuming it is on the ground floor of your property, elevate it as high as you can get away with! Also keep it away from anything big and metal, like a TV, metal shelf or something like that.
  2. Locate it as centrally as possible, and away from any thick walls. Easier said than done however.
  3. If there are aerials out the back of the router, point one vertical and one horizontal.
  4. Complain to your ISP (Internet Service Provider). Often if you put up with a poor internet connection, or a rubbish router, they will leave you alone and only fix the connections of the people who complain. There are often better routers, that they will send to people who have issue with the standard (sometimes quite rubbish) router. Often there will be one Fibre provider in the street, who will supply the fastest speeds, but the other providers will still have good enough speeds for most needs (including online content creators). Consult Money Saving Expert for advice about negotiating with your ISP and switching providers without losing internet access.
  5. Use your phone as a WiFi hotspot. Your phone is probably the most powerful computer in your house, and one of it’s party tricks is to share it’s 4G connection as a pop up WiFi network. It can often be as fast or faster than your WiFi. It really benefits from anything that makes you phone signal better, so get it close to a window and high up in your property. Also it kills the battery, so plug it in if possible. If you do this regularly, it might be worth getting on a unlimited data phone package. The ones from Three work well with “tethering” (as it’s called).
  6. Test your device speed. You can use this information to work out where to position your streaming device. The most common app is Speedtest by Ookla, the results will give you 3 useful answers:-
    a. Download speed. This will be the biggest number (and bigger is better). It relates to the speed that content will come from the internet to you (such as receiving content). This will determine how quickly webpages load, the quality level you get from Netflix, etc..
    b. Upload speed. This will on almost all occasions be substantially (often 10x) LESS than download speed, and relates to the speed at which content will go from you to the internet. This is used for uploading or streaming content, so if you are a content producer this will often be the slowest link in the chain. If you are regularly streaming content then I would suggesting changing to an internet package that has a faster upload speed.
    c. Ping. This is like “internet reaction time” and relates to the time it takes for an action to be acknowledged. Lower is better; if you have a child playing online games (such as Fortnite) and they complain about about the game being ‘laggy’ then bad ping between their console and the game server is the most likely cause. Better ping won’t have as big a benefit as upload speed on content creation, but it will make the whole experience with your internet connection less laggy and more enjoyable.

Free but technical solutions

  1. Change the channel of your router. Routers work on channels, a bit like radio frequency bands. If you and your neighbour’s routers are on the same band, they might be ‘bumping into each other’, a bit like two people trying to go through a doorway at the same time. This can be done by going onto your router’s settings and changing the channel. Consult your router’s instructions. A lot of modern routers will do this automatically however.
  2. Manually set your DNS – your DNS setting for your router translates www.google.com that you understand to something like “212.188.33.69” that your computer understands. It is that first bit of delay whenever you load a web page. If you set this on your device, or on your router, to Cloudflare DNS (which is widely recognised to be the fastest) rather the one from your internet provider, then your internet connection will be faster. The address is 1.1.1.1 and 1.0.0.1 for primary and secondary DNS, and the instructions for your router will explain this (or just google the router model number and “change DNS”).

£ Solutions

  1. Ethernet cable – If you are using a computer, and it has an Ethernet port (looks a bit like a telephone socket) then connecting to the router with an Ethernet cable will get you much faster speeds (wired rather than wireless). You can buy them from Amazon/Currys etc, they cost £5 to £15 for about 2 metres.
  2. WiFi Repeater – These cost about £25, and repeat your WiFi signal. They are a little box that only needs a plug and about 5-10 minutes of setup. I have had mixed results, but they certainly work for a lot of people.
  3. Homeplugs/Powerline – These are a pair of units that work like an Ethernet cable, but piggyback your electricity wiring. I have had great success with these for device that have an Ethernet port (like a PC or a smart TV) – my Mum uses these to get decent speeds for her smart TV. They are about £25 for a pair. You can also get Homeplugs with built in WiFi Repeaters.

£££ Solutions

  1. Replacement Router – These can cost anywhere from £50 to £500, but broadly fall into two types:-
    a. Conventional Routers – Like what you had before, but bigger, better, etc. You would put your existing router into “Modem Mode” (consult instructions) and then connect the new router. I have used this approach, it often gives you more options (like guest networks) and prioritising certain devices. This is a good option if your router is in the middle of your house, and you just need a bit more range.
    b. Mesh Routers – £200 upwards, this is similar to (a) but you have around 3 devices around your home creating an even spread of wifi. I can recommend Google WiFi (this is my setup), but BT do a set and there are several different brands on Amazon. If you pay for fast Internet (25Mbps upwards) then you should really be doing this IMHO (or have a strong conventional router). If you have enough money and just want your internet to be ‘better’, then getting the fastest broadband package and then buying a mesh router is probably the most effective low hassle way to get your internet fixed.

Every home network is different, and I am by no means an infrastructure engineer. I do work in IT and know a lot of very smart people, and am lucky enough to have been able to try all of the technologies and hacks above to find out what works and what doesn’t. Best of luck.