WiFi and your router – The non-techie’s guide that will impress your friends.

One of the top technical support queries we receive from our customers is about WiFi. There’s a lot of misleading information about WiFi out there, and if you’re not technical, it’s hard to sift through for the facts. Here’s some key facts you should know.

1. What is WiFi?

Let’s start with radio frequencies – from the diagram below you’ll see the section of frequency used for wireless.

WiFi operates in the 2.4ghz band of the radio spectrum. It’s quite a narrow band, and there’s a lot of traffic. It’s used for other wireless electronics around the home, such as baby monitors and cordless home phones, and therefore it’s a bit crowded – like a room full of people with everyone trying to talk at once. To help make it less noisy you can pick up different channels (if your device is enabled for this), like you would a radio station or TV channel. These channels allow different maximum throughput and distance coverage.

This isn’t set by manufacturer, device or ISP, it’s just physics. Unfortunately, there are also a number of things that can affect this theoretical maximum. Walls are not a friend to WiFi. Again like someone talking in the next room, the thicker the walls, the less the sound travels.

2. How can I improve it?

I’m sure you know that the laws of physics apply to everyone (and thing!), so a closer look at some of the ISP claims is quite interesting. One thing we’ve noticed is providers often refer to their “fastest router” – but when you look at the small print they are referring to the fact that this newer router is faster than the ones they have offered before, often because they now have a router with 802.11.ac enabled, whereas their previous models didn’t.

If you want to get the most out of your Wifi, what you need to do is use devices like homeplugs to extend the coverage. They work by repeating the signal using your electrical circuit. If you happened to live in a mansion, you could always get a technical whizz to help you create an internal network known as a LAN around your property and configure wireless access points in each area or zone. However for most of us, even in a larger older house with thick walls or a large office, the homeplug solution is usually enough.

Of course, none of this will improve the speed of your internet connection. Depending on the technology behind your broadband (see blog on different technologies) there will be maximum speeds and factors that affect what you receive. If only 4mbps comes into your router, then that’s not going to increase with WiFi. However, if you do have superfast speeds and a router happily broadcasting wireless on the 802.11.ac channel, then it could be the receiving device that’s slowing things down. If your laptop is only enabled for the 802.11.n channel, then you’re not going to get the best speeds possible from your superfast connection.

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