Your home wireless network is more vital than ever with family members in the house working and going to school online during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The coronavirus pandemic has many students across the U.S. beginning the school year learning from home – possibly leading to crunch time for your home wireless network because lots of parents continue to make it their office.
Even if you’re fortunate to have enough devices – smartphones, tablets or laptops – to go around, everyone accessing the Internet at the same time could put some serious strain on your Wi-Fi.
Just as mom or dad don’t want stuttering video during Zoom conference calls with clients and co-workers, students need to ensure they’ve got fast wireless connections for studying online.
And let’s face it, we rely on fast connectivity for fun, too, such as binging a TV show on Netflix or playing an online round of Fall Guys with 59 other gamers.
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Fortunately, you have a few methods of improving the speed, range and overall performance of your home network, with several easy-to-follow suggestions below – plus there’s a new wireless standard you should familiarize yourself with called Wi-Fi 6.
Channeling your router
Today’s Wi-Fi routers broadcast in two different frequencies: 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. Figuring out the best one for your situation can improve your network’s reach, speed, and reliability.
Devices on the 5 GHz frequency minimizes interference among devices also operating on the 2.4 GHz frequency in the home, such as microwaves, baby monitors, and cordless phones. While the 2.4 GHz frequency is able to reach farther distances than the 5 GHz frequency, devices connected to the 5 GHz frequency operate at faster speeds.
When joining your devices to your router (required once), you can choose which frequency you prefer.
Check your ISP
You could have the fastest router in the world, but it won’t be useful if you aren’t getting fast speeds from your internet service provider (ISP).
Budget permitting, ensure you’re getting the fastest speeds offered by your ISP – especially if you like to stream video, play online games, and typically have multiple devices on the network at the same time. Usually, the more you pay, the faster the download and upload speeds, and the more data you’re allowed to use per month. (Unlimited data is the way to go if your ISP offers it.)
If it’s been a few years since you’ve upgraded the modem you rent or bought from your ISP, confirm with them it’s the best they got.
Location, location, location
The next step is to ensure your router, which gives you your wireless Internet, is in an optimal spot in your home.
Keep it on the main or top floor and close to the center of the house for optimum reach. Refrain from keeping your router in the basement, if you have one, as it’ll be tough for devices elsewhere in the home to communicate with it. On a related note, don’t shove the router in a corner of a home, or locked away in a cabinet, because you don’t like the way it looks. Instead, keep it out in the open for maximum reach in and around your home. Make sure it’s off the floor and on a desk or bookshelf.
Also, keep your wireless router up to date with the latest downloadable firmware.
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Wi-Fi 6, a wireless upgrade
If it’s time to upgrade your router, be sure to invest in a Wi-Fi 6 model.
Without getting too technical, Wi-Fi 6 (also referred to as 802.11ax) can transmit wireless signals more efficiently than past generations, such as Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) and Wi-Fi 4 (802.11n).
There are some cool (but confusing) technologies at play here – such as acronyms like OFDMA and MU-MIMO – but you simply need to know it results in faster upload and download speeds, not to mention support for many more devices on the network at the same time.
Conservatively, Wi-Fi 6 is nearly 40% faster than what you’re using now (likely, Wi-Fi 5), which is quite significant – and some routers can deliver even better performance than that. You may see Wi-Fi 6 routers advertising multiple “streams,” which means it can support more simultaneous devices, with better reliability, and even faster speeds.
Netgear’s Nighthawk RAX80 ($399), for example, supports up to eight Wi-Fi streams, while the Nighthawk RAX120 ($499) and RAX200 ($599) support up to 12 streams apiece, for even more bandwidth availability and less congestion.
Wi-Fi 6 is backward compatible, meaning your older wireless gadgets will work with a Wi-Fi 6 router, but you’ll only experience the fastest performance that device is capable of. Therefore, you’ll want to look for Wi-Fi 6-compatible laptops and smartphones, and such, to take advantage of your Wi-Fi 6 router. Apple’s iPhone 11 and many laptops powered by 10th Gen Intel Core processors already support Wi-Fi 6 as a standard.
Make a mesh
Those in a larger home might experience poor Wi-Fi performance in certain rooms. A “mesh” system is ideal, here, as these routers also support “access points” (or “bases” or “hubs”) you can place around the home to spread fast and consistent speeds to every room.
In other words, these hubs all wirelessly communicate with the router, and often with each other, to blanket a bigger space. Unlike a “repeater” or “extender” – an older way to extend Wi-Fi – you don’t need to change the name of the network, as your Wi-Fi-enabled devices will automatically join the closest and strongest signal.
If you have a front porch or backyard, a mesh system means you’ll likely have access to your Wi-Fi outside, too. In most cases, a companion app walks you through the optimal place to plug in these hubs throughout the home.
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