We love the freedom Wi-Fi provides: once you get a taste of being able to connect to the Internet wirelessly, it’s hard to imagine going back to being tethered to a desk. But just because you’ve set up a home Wi-Fi network doesn’t mean it’s working as well as it could be.

 

The Lamp Test

Placing your router right next to your desktop computer may sound like a good idea, but the computer itself can actually block the router’s signal. Hiding your router behind the TV or in a cabinet can have the same effect. Wi-Fi works best when you have direct line-of-sight between your router and your connected device: anything that gets in the way can lower the strength of your signal.

Imagine your router is a lamp and its signal is the light emitted by the lamp. Any “shady” areas will probably experience worse Wi-Fi reception than those in direct light. You’ll still have a signal in those shady areas, just as you can still see in the shade, but the signal won’t be as strong.

 

Electrical Enigmas

A wall and a couch can impede Wi-Fi signals, but electrical appliances can play a more active role: one of the main contributors to poor Wi-Fi performance is electrical interference. Your home is full of possible culprits, but many of the worst offenders are the ones that, like your router, produce radio waves: baby monitors and cordless telephones. Microwaves are another common source of Wi-Fi interference — they’re capable of degrading Wi-Fi speed by as much as 50 percent.

Some of the factors that can reduce Wi-Fi performance are fairly obvious, but others might come as a surprise. For example, a fish tank: it’s harder for Wi-Fi signals to pass through water than air, so don’t put your fish between your router and a spot where you’ll frequently use your Wi-Fi. Lamps are another surprise offender: fluorescent lights can interfere with your Wi-Fi signal.

 

Location, Location … Elevation

Even if there’s nothing nearby to block your router’s signal, its location still matters. Placing it in one far corner of the house might be the most convenient location, but the most convenient location and the best location aren’t always the same thing. Every Wi-Fi router’s performance degrades with distance. If it’s in one corner of the house and you’re in another, your Wi-Fi may not be as fast and reliable as it could be. To get the best performance out of your Wi-Fi, place the router either in a central location, providing maximum coverage for your home, or close to where you actually use it most often.

You can also unknowingly limit the quality of your Wi-Fi network by placing your router too low. Don’t leave it on the floor, or even worse, in the basement. Instead, place it as high as you reasonably can: the higher it is, the fewer obstructions the signal will have to pass through. If you live in a multistory home, place the router on the level where you’ll use it most frequently, or consider getting a Wi-Fi extender.

 

Not sure if you have a problem?

If you suspect your Wi-Fi should be faster than it is, there’s an easy way to test it. First, make sure you have a relatively new Wi-Fi router and know how much speed it’s capable of. If your equipment is up to date, try connecting your computer directly to your cable or high-speed modem using the Ethernet cord. If it’s dramatically faster than your Wi-Fi, you may have an interference problem.

If your Internet is still too slow when connected via cable, maybe what you really need is a new Internet Service Provider (ISP). Enter your ZIP code below to see which ISPs offer service in your area and to compare their plans.