We massively rely on Wi-Fi these days, don't we? At home, at work, on the train, in the bath? Perhaps not so much in the bath.
Fifteen years ago (or so) having Wi-Fi (Wireless Fidelity) was a bit of a luxury at home but we didn't rely on it that much as the home computer was probably connected to the internet router via a cable (Ethernet cable). We slowly realised that having Wi-Fi technology was much better because as laptops also over took the home computer or PC, being able to move around the house with the laptop AND stay connected to the internet was a no brainer.
Then the mobile broadband boom happened which was a match made in heaven for Wi-Fi. This meant we could access the internet using mobile phones from anywhere we wanted. Including the bath.
Anyway, I'm drifting off topic slightly because the point of this post was to talk about what slows down our Wi-Fi connection and how to combat it. Before I get into it, it's probably worth explaining a little bit more about Wi-Fi.
Wi-Fi signals are invisible radio waves transmitted through the air on dedicated frequencies. A wireless router with an antenna connects to the internet usually via a cable by way of a telephone line before connecting the devices such as computer or mobiles devices allowing them to also connect to the internet.
Wi-Fi radio waves use two bands or frequencies - 2.4GHz and 5GHz.
This is the most popular band used by the most common devices around the home, making it quite congested. 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi supports speeds up to 460-600 Mbps and uses longer range transmissions which means it can pass through walls and obstructions more easily than long range frequencies.
This band is less congested and therefore more stable and faster. Using shorter waves means it is less able to pass through walls and obstructions. This can be fixed by using range extenders around the home.
Wi-Fi works well in buildings with open spaces or office environments to connect computers to a network. In larger buildings devices called access points are used to transmit the signal so that all devices can reach it.
Wi-Fi technology and wireless routers use what is known as Wi-Fi standards to connect to compatible devices. These have been around since late 1990’s and have moved on as device technology and speed has moved on. An organisation called the Wi-Fi alliance came up with the standards. Here’s quick summary (without getting too heavily into it)
Created in 1997 being the first and now no longer in use
First developed in 1999 for the 5 GHz band
Also developed in 1999 used more commonly with the 2.4 GHz band. This standard started the Wi-Fi boom!
This standard was created in 2003 and supported the increase in data rate speed to 54 megabits per second. Still in use today and reliable for devices unable to support the newer standards.
Introduced in 2009 and compatible on devices supporting the 2.4 GHz and 5GHz frequencies. Can also support speeds up to 150 megabits per second.
First distributed in 2013 for high speed wireless data throughput on 5 GHz. Extended channel ranges on much higher frequencies. Commonly found in the latest smartphone and wireless device technologies.
So what can slow down a Wi-Fi signal?
Solid walls and furniture
If the wireless signal needs to pass through solid objects such as walls or furniture, then this can degrade the signal. Wood, glass and plastic aren’t too bad, but brick, marble and water may cause issues closely followed by plaster, concrete and metal. Stud or plasterboard walls with metal inside are yet another reason Wi-Fi signals can be degraded.
To get around this it’s important to position the wireless router in a central location in the home. Away from the objects that might cause issues and in fairly open area such as on top of a desk and not in a cupboard. If you access the internet mainly on the ground floor of your home, then ideally that’s where the wireless router needs to be placed. If the router has directional aerials it’s also best to point them away from anything likely to degrade the signal.
Bluetooth has become more and more common on devices for communication between mobile phones, smart speakers, remote controls and so on. Bluetooth transmits over the 2.4 GHz radio frequency so again this can conflict with your home Wi-Fi network at a minimal level. So again, check to see if it’s possible to move over to the 5 GHz frequency.
Microwave ovens can play havoc on Wi-Fi signals. They leak interference in the 2.4GHz band. Research has shown that wireless data throughput can be reduced by 64% if it’s within 8 metres of a microwave! It’s time to move the wireless router out of the kitchen!
If your wireless network is using the 5 GHz band then this won’t be such as issue so it’s worth checking your router’s admin settings to see which band you are using.
Next Door Neighbours
Wi-Fi signals overlap from property to property which mean your neighbour’s wireless network could influence yours. Wi-fi signals are based on channels and operate between the frequencies of 2400 and 2500 MHz. The 100 MHz in between is separated into 14 channels.
If your neighbour’s wireless router is using the same channel as yours then this can affect your signal. Your router will automatically find the best channel it can but it’s worth checking because you can manually move the channel to one that’s less busy by accessing the router’s settings.
Mirrors reflect wi-fi signals as well as light. This can degrade the signal depending on where the wireless router is positioned in relation to the mirror. Large wall mirrors near the router can cause signal issues. Small mirrors aren’t likely to have much effect.
Cordless phones used for landlines also operate on the 2.4 GHz and 5GHz bands. If the wireless router is in the vicinity, this can also interfere with phone call quality as well as Wi-Fi signal quality. Again, it’s a case of making sure the landline and router aren’t too close together.
Christmas tree lights
Christmas tree lights are proven to reduce Wi-Fi performance by 25% if the wireless router is nearby. I can vouch for this one because I noticed a big difference in internet speed one Christmas when my wireless router was near the festivities.
For more on Wi-Fi, have a look at my post from September 2017 - Fantastic free Wi-Fi and where to find it.
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