Is your wireless network slow or unreliable? There are a number of possible causes – we look at how to fix them.
Typical symptoms include significant slowdown when browsing, intermittent loss of internet access and a low ‘bar rating’ when looking at the wireless signal strength meter in Windows (2 bars or less is a poor signal and likely to cause issues).
Location Of Router – If your wireless device (e.g. laptop or netbook) is simply too far away from the wireless router you will not get a good wireless signal. Likewise, wireless signals degrade if passing through walls or other obstructions (two thin walls is usually the maximum).
1. Simplest (but often not practical) – move closer to the wireless router or move the wireless router to a room providing better coverage around the house.
2. If you have an old wireless-G router, consider replacing it with a new wireless-N router to provide an increase in speed and range – double or more. This is especially recommended if you have a newer wireless device which has a wireless-N adapter built in (most modern laptops etc from the last couple of years do) as you will then gain the full benefit of the router’s increase in speed and wireless coverage.
3. If your house is large or has thick walls, even a wireless-N router will struggle to produce a satisfactory signal everywhere – consider using a powerline adapter to extend wireless coverage around the house.
Lack Of Security – If your wireless router is not secure it is possible that your neighbors could be using it to download from the internet without your permission. Obviously the more people that use your internet connection, the slower it will be – quite apart from the security risks of allowing someone else onto your network (hacking, privacy, illegal downloads appearing to come from your house etc)
1. Make sure that your wireless network is securely protected by using WPA2 encryption with a hard to guess password e.g. at least 8 characters including some numbers, letters in lower and upper case and symbols (e.g. *).
Using no encryption (open) or the obsolete WEP standard (which can be easily cracked) is just asking for other people to use your wireless network – resulting in a slower and less reliable internet connection for you. See our article on how to set up a wireless router.
Interference From Other Wireless Networks – The wireless signal range in standard 2.4GHz routers is divided into a number of channels. There are 11 channels (1 to 11) available for wireless signals in the US whereas the UK and most of the world have 13 channels (1 to 13). Without going into too much techie detail, adjacent channels (e.g. 3 and 4) overlap and will interfere with each other – causing slowdowns or dropouts.
1. Set your wireless router to use only channel 1 or 6 or 11 to avoid interference.
Note: some routers offer ‘Automatic channel scanning’ which is supposed to search channels to find the one least used and prevent interference – in our experience this does not usually work very well so we set the channel manually as above. See our article on how to set up a wireless router for more detail.
2. If you have several close neighbors, the odds are that they too will have a wireless network which could interfere with yours if they use the same channel. To avoid this, scan for nearby networks, see which channel they are using and then use a different one – e.g. if they are using channels 6 and 11 then choose channel 1 for your own network. See below for a guide on how to scan.
How To Scan For Nearby Wireless Networks
The tiny program WirelessNetView is available from Nirsoft here. It is available as a standalone (portable) version – just scroll down the page to ‘download it in a zip file’, unzip the contents and run the WirelessNetView application. You must run it on a computer with wireless e.g. a laptop in order to detect wireless networks.
The program will detect any wireless networks nearby and provide you with a lot of information about them as shown in the example below:
Scroll to the right of the program to see the wireless Channel that each network is using – if one of the 1, 6 or 11 channel numbers is free you should use that one for your network to ensure there is no interference.
What If The Other Networks Are Using All Three Channels?
You will have to share a channel with at least one of the other networks but which one?
The answer is to share a channel with the network that has the lowest signal strength (the second column in the screenshot above) as the lower the signal strength the further it is away from you – and therefore much less likely to cause interference.
If there are multiple strong signals using all available channels (e.g. in an apartment block) causing major interference then you have to consider whether you would be better off using a faster and more stable wired network instead – using powerline adapters to cheaply extend internet access is a good solution if you can’t run additional network cables between rooms.