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You're watching your favourite show on Netflix and then it freezes, you wait patiently for the buffering to catch up, but to no avail.
WiFi signals today are better than they have ever has been, but learning how to boost your 5 GHz WiFi signal can make the difference between an evening of enjoyable entertainment, and a night of frustration switching your router on and off.
What is the difference between 2.4 and 5 GHz Signals?
When you connect your device to a WiFi router, you will see sometimes see two choices.
I say sometimes because, certainly on my router, I have to split the channels using the router admin console.
But if your channels are already split, you will see the name of your router followed by a 2.4 or 5. But what is the difference?
The numbers tell us the frequency the signal is being transmitted on. 2.4 GHz was only supported by old or low-quality routers. As a frequency it tends to be the slower of the two, but also puts out a more stable and longer range signal. New routers support both types of signal.
5 GHz is faster than 2.4 GHz but has less range. However, it has more channels, so is less likely to be disrupted by other devices connected to the router.
By learning how to boost your 5 GHz WiFi Signal, you can get faster internet, streaming speeds and general browsing.
6 ways to boost your 5 GHz WiFi Signal
Here are 6 tried and tested methods that will help you boost your internet speed.
Place your router in the right place
The placement of your router is crucial. A 5 GHz WiFi signal is faster but has an effective range that is one third of the range of a 2.4 GHz signal. This could be as little as 10-15 metres in some cases depending on how good your router is.
Make sure your devices are as close as possible to your router within reason. For example, making sure the router is in your study or living area closest to the devices that require the highest bandwidth (i.e. those that you will use to watch multimedia.)
Physical obstructions can also reduce signal distance by another 25%. So, your router should ideally not be hidden behind brick walls, steel beams, or on separate floors.
The further away your device is from your router, the slower your WiFi speed is going to be. If your router is more than 10 metres away from your device, this will significantly slow down your 5 GHz signal, so move it closer.
Finally check that your WiFi isn’t being obscured or disrupted by other equipment that emits radio signals such as:
- Wireless audio equipment
- Cordless telephones
- Baby Monitors
- Wireless cameras (Amazon)
- Some external monitors
These devices transmit radio frequencies which may operate at the same or a similar frequency as your WiFi, which will distort or diminish the WiFi signal that you are receiving on your device.
Ideally place your WiFi router in the centre of the house, on a table or at least above ground level, or away from the interference of anything else that creates radio waves, like phones and microwaves.
Upgrade your hardware
When you signed up for your broadband utility provider you would have been sent a shiny but basic new router like this:
I say basic, because it delivers the minimum required to ensure that you can connect to the internet and get your broadband. These standard routers are not designed to boost signals, or deliver improved performance throughout the home.
You could upgrade your router, or purchase antennas which can connect to your router and boost your signal. Most stock routers don’t come with antennas. With a screw-in antenna your router can put out a stronger signal across a longer range. Stock antennas tend to be 2 dBi, but you can upgrade these to 9 dBi, to double or triple your signal strength.
This is particularly helpful if you experience weak spots in certain areas of the house, as you can use a directional antenna to target these areas.
The best wireless routers today can support broadband speed of 1 Gbps! That means if you are using old hardware, it doesn’t matter how fast your speed is coming through your cable, your hardware cannot transmit it fast enough.
Better routers will also be more customizable and have a more in-depth options menu for you to play around with channels, and prioritising what tasks use WiFi as a priority.
You ideally would be looking for an 802.11g (up to 54Mbps) or 80-2.11n (300Mbps) router and above.
If you are feeling adventurous and money is no option, you could choose a brand-new mesh WiFi system. Personally, I recommend either this Google WiFi system (Amazon) or the NETGEAR Orbi (Amazon). Both of which provide whole home coverage.
This works using a system of nodes which you distribute throughout your house. The nodes blanket your home with WiFi signals providing a high broadband speed throughout.
Of course, this option is costly for those with a large home.
Choose the right channel
5 GHz WiFi has 24 channels, but only generally 11-14 are available. Imagine a channel is like a plug socket. Only one plug can go into each socket. All routers automatically assign your device a channel, but it may not be the best one for connectivity.
Each channel represents a different frequency, from 5 GHz up to 5.83 GHz. Generally lower frequency signals are better for devices which are far away and vice versa.
So if your laptop is normally next to your router, but you use your phone in your bedroom on the other side of the house, you want your laptop set to use a channel closer to 5.83 and your phone set to a channel closer to 5. As the higher the GHz the stronger the signal but shorter the range.
Some routers will just assign your device to a default channel, rather than finding the best channel.
Each router and service provider are different, so Google "How to change WiFi channel for my XX router".
There is also numerous free software out there which can help you find the best channel on your router.
Set up a wireless range booster
Your house may just be too big or have particularly thick walls. There are a multitude of reasons why your WiFi signal can’t be boosted due to the physically space that the router is sitting in.
For example, generally you should have a WiFi router or range booster for each floor of your house. If you are trying to stream a movie on the second floor, through two floors of concrete to your router on the ground floor, no amount of software or hardware tweaks are going to make a difference.
Luckily range boosters (Amazon) are cheap and easy to set up. They just plug into a socket near you, picking up the router signal and boosting it to your device.
You don’t need an extender that is the same make and model as your existing router, any will do.
Limit devices sharing WiFi
In today's modern family you may have 4 people who each have a phone, laptop, desktop or tablet, all competing for the same WiFi. Irrespective of your broadband speed, bandwidth is finite.
The more devices you have sharing a single WiFi router, the slower everyone’s browsing is going to be overall. For those of you who are more tech savvy you can try and boost and optimise WiFi speed, by adjusting your routers menu for what actions it prioritises. For example, prioritising video calling over file downloads.
For those who have the time and the inclination, there is a lot of tweaking you can do from a desktop or laptop.
For everybody else, just get people to disconnect from the WiFi if it really starts to slow down. Devices may keep connections open just for incidental downloads which slows everybody else’s device download speeds down.
Update your router’s firmware
Your broadband provider is always updating its devices software so that you can get a better and faster speed from your existing broadband. If in doubt simply search out how you can check if your router’s firmware is up to date.
Always check that your software is up to date, and if possible, set it to update automatically.
Hopefully your internet is setting a speed record now. Always remember that you can test the speed of your internet upload and download connection using an internet speed test. If your provider isn’t giving you the broadband speed that they are advertising, then it might be worth calling them up or looking at switching providers.
In the 21st century there is no good reason for you to suffer from slow WiFi speeds. There are many other methods to improve your router speeds besides these six such as really getting into your router software or installing DDWRT.
But remember the most tried and tested method for all technological fixes – if in doubt, simply reset your router by switching it on and off!