There is a standard procedure to follow when home internet fails. Let your anger stew into a cortisol bouillabaisse, complain using exotic swears on Twitter and then let rip at an underpaid helpline worker, having spent 40 minutes listening to scratchy, old, big-band tunes while on hold.
But there may be an easy solution if the issue is down to range and signal quality, rather than a genuine failure of your ISP.
1. Finding the problem
A simple test lets you, in most cases, determine if the problem is ISP or range and signal quality related. Plug a laptop or desktop computer into your router using an Ethernet cable and run a speed test, such as the one found at speedtest.net. Performance still poor or non-existent? You may have deeper problems than those we’ll attempt to solve here.
Haven’t owned a computer with an ethernet port since 2012? Performing a Wi-Fi-based test right next to the router should give you an idea if the issue is range-related, if not eliminating every Wi-Fi issue as the culprit.
2. Move the router
Frustration has a habit of knocking out a certain foundational level of our cognitive abilities. In other words, we’re not calling you stupid, but have you tried moving your router?
A router’s antennae are designed to transmit signal in a roughly radial pattern, in their standard configuration. While most of us tend to place a router within a metre of the wall socket into which it is plugged, it makes more sense to put it somewhere between the rooms that need good Wi-Fi signal the most.
The problem? No ISP router comes with the cabling you’ll need to do this. For fibre internet an optical cable is needed. Standard broadband requires a normal ethernet cable. Ten-metre lengths of either cost just a few pounds online.
3. Change the channels used by your router
Changing the channel is another thing to try. Most routers these days transmit their Wi-Fi over 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies, using specific frequency bands in these spectrum classes.
Other wireless equipment you have in your home may interfere with the 2.4GHz signal in particular. Baby monitors, wireless speakers and just about any other wireless home gadgets have the potential to cause this, although we only tend to see it pop up in less well-designed products, like wireless speakers made by small companies.
Live in a densely populated area, or one with several street Wi-Fi hotspots nearby, and the chance of this congestion issue increases. More routers mean more congestion.
To change the channel, you need to log into your router’s dashboard. This involves entering the IP address, usually printed on a sticker on the case, into the address bar and looking for the channel part of the interface. You’ll also need to enter admin login details. If they are not also on the case, you can usually find the standard login details for ISP routers online.
Most recent routers have an “Auto” mode that switches to channels with low interference. But one, six and 11 are the recommended ones for 2.4GHz Wi-Fi.
4. Update your router firmware
You may be used to updating the software on your phone and laptop, but there’s a good chance your router’s firmware has not been updated since you installed it. Some newer routers auto-update their software. Others, particularly older models, don’t. And you can understand why. Updating requires restarting the router, which can leave you without internet for several minutes and, crucially, lead to you thinking your internet is broken.
Security is the primary reason for updated firmware. However, router makers also fix bugs, some of which may affect Wi-Fi performance in certain cases. Software improvements may also have a big affect on traffic management, where a router judged the priority of the requests from your devices to improve all-round perceived performance, and other traffic juggling that falls under the router’s purview.
To update your router you’ll have to login to its dashboard, as mentioned in the “change the channel” section. Or use your router’s companion phone app, if it has one.
5. Get a repeater
A Wi-Fi repeater is one of the cheapest and simplest add-ons for adding Wi-Fi to the furthest room in your house. Most popular designs simply let you plug them into a power socket. They are unobtrusive, and don’t add to your home’s swamp of tangled cables. The TP-Link 300Mbps is a solid low-cost option. Check out our full guide to the best Wi-Fi extenders.
Performance is the potential problem here. You will usually see significantly reduced speeds and increased latency. A repeater is better for patching up annoying dead spots than supplying signal to PCs, games consoles and smart TVs (for this, see mesh networks, below).
6. Try Powerline
Powerline tech may initially sound like something made up by an eight-year-old drunk on orange juice. These little boxes transmit your home internet through the electrical wiring of your home. They usually come in packs of two, one on each end of the handshake.
You attach one end to the router, with an ethernet cable, and a plug socket. The other box sits by whatever devices currently don’t get a strong enough signal from your router.
Most low-cost Powerline kits use wired ethernet ports at the other end, but you can buy sets that create their own Wi-Fi network, too. These are handy for home or garden offices packed with things that don’t have ethernet ports, on the other side of the house from the living room, where the router lives.
Powerline tech relies on your house’s wiring. If it was put together by a Dickens-era cowboy electrician, you may encounter some issues. But in most situations a Powerline setup will easily outperform a Wi-Fi repeater.
7. Or get a mesh network
A mesh network is the latest, and currently best, way to solve Wi-Fi range problems. These are made up of two or more nodes that communicate with each other, in some cases over several frequency bands. And as the network operates with the nodes available to it, the whole thing does not fall apart if an issue arises with one of them, say if your partner unplugs one of the units.
Highly regarded mesh-style kits include Eero Mesh, Netgear Orbi, BT Whole Home Wi-Fi and Linksys Velop. Cost is the main issue here. A three-node mesh system may cost £300 or more. Check out our full guide to the best mesh Wi-Fi routers here.
8. Consider a third-party router
Routers supplied by internet service providers are much better than they were a few years ago. They were once mostly dreadful. Now most are at least passable performers, particularly those supplied with fibre broadband contracts.
However, a solid third-party router will usually outperform them. They usually to have higher spec wireless systems, for one. Routers tend to be advertised by their top transmission speeds, such as AC1500 and AC1900.
This tells you they support Wi-Fi standards up to “ac”, and that when the bandwidth of their supported channels is added together, it adds up to a maximum potential speed of (for example) 1,900Mbps.
Today’s newest routers, such as the Asus RT-AX88U, already support next-gen Wi-Fi 6, also known as Wi-Fi ax. Only a few phones to date support ax, including the Samsung Galaxy S10, but high-spec routers like these often also have more powerful antennas, which means stronger, more reliable Wi-Fi signal for your house.
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