If you’re constantly struggling with dropped Wi-Fi connections or experiencing annoying buffering when streaming online videos due to slow internet speeds, you’re not alone. According to a 2021 Park Associates survey, more than 40% of U.S. households with broadband have Wi-Fi problems, including slow speeds, dropped connections, and trouble connecting devices to the Internet. While you can just buy a new router, you don’t have to. Fixing these issues involves a simple solution and the problem may not even lie with your Internet Service Provider (ISP) or your current hardware.
So before you switch broadband providers or upgrade your existing Wi-Fi network, let’s show you how to quickly make some changes to your router settings to reduce congestion, reduce interference, and increase connection speed and reliability.
John Velasco / Custom Hour
What Causes Wi-Fi Interference?
The crux of Wi-Fi connectivity issues for some households can be the sheer number of connected devices trying to access the network, causing signal interference. During the pandemic, Deloitte noted that 38% of Americans were adding more Wi-Fi devices to their homes to meet remote working and learning requirements. The average home in the US now has about 25 connected devices, up from just 11 in 2019. That’s a 127% increase in the number of devices fighting for a good, stable Wi-Fi connection.
And if you live in a crowded apartment or apartment complex, you’ll have to deal with even more interference from signals coming from your neighbors’ units.
There are different types of interference. The first is called co-channel interference, and this happens when you have too many devices trying to communicate on the same channel. Adjacent channel interference is the second type, and it occurs when there is noise from overlapping channels. And finally, there’s interference generated by non-Wi-Fi devices, including home appliances like microwave ovens, cordless phones, and even old analog cameras.
How do WiFi devices connect?
Any Wi-Fi device, be it a smart doorbell or a tablet, connects to your router by jumping on a band dedicated to Wi-Fi use. Usually, the bands available are within the 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz spectrum. The lower 2.4GHz spectrum can travel further, giving you greater range throughout your home, but operating at a slower speed. This band is more susceptible to interference, while the 5GHz operates on a higher spectrum that is less likely to be subject to interference from nearby broadcast Wi-Fi devices.
The 5Ghz spectrum is usually faster, but covers a smaller area and is worse at penetrating objects such as solid doors and walls.
Because some household appliances, such as microwave ovens and audiovisual equipment, can interfere with the 2.4 GHz band, you should generally use the 5 GHz band whenever possible. Many routers allow you to select the band you want, and some also allow you to disable the 2.4 GHz band. Contact your router manufacturers for details on how to switch bands if necessary. Note, however, that some older devices still rely solely on the 2.4GHz band, so turning off this entire band may not be a viable option.
Within each WiFi band, there are also numerous WiFi channels. Think of the Wi-Fi band as the highway a device can jump onto, be it 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz, and the Wi-Fi channel as the specific lane a car can drive on the route.
If your router is on the same Wi-Fi channel as your many neighboring routers in your area, there could be a stalemate and congestion, such as a freeway during rush hour. In general, you want to find a channel that is least used in your area to avoid interference. In this way, it would be as if your devices are on an open highway.
Find the right Wi-Fi channel to connect
The first step to avoiding Wi-Fi connection interference is determining which channel to use so that you can change the correct settings in your router. To do this, you have to rely on the software that comes with your device or third-party apps. There are a number of Wi-Fi analyzer apps for Android, iOS, Windows, and macOS devices.
Step 1: Find and download a Wi-Fi analysis tool on your smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop. On my Mac, I navigated to Apple’s MacOS App Store and searched for “Wi-Fi Analyzer” in the search bar. A number of free, freemium and paid options appear. I chose “iWiFi” as the app of choice for this article.
Step 2: Install and launch your favorite Wi-Fi analyzer app. Run a scan of your Wi-Fi network to see the channels that neighboring devices and networks use to connect.
Step 3: You’ll want to see if there are any devices that use channel 1, 6, or 11, as these are the only Wi-Fi channels that don’t overlap and would help resolve interference issues. Based on the scan, you’ll want to identify the channel least used by nearby devices, and make a note so you can change your own router settings to use that particular channel. It’s like using a GPS navigator and rerouting your trip to take a less busy highway.
Configuring your router to use the correct channel to reduce interference
Currently, most Wi-Fi routers automatically choose the channel for you when you set up your network for the first time. As the wireless conditions around you change — your neighbors upgrade to a different router, and as you add more devices to your home — that channel may no longer be the best channel to connect your devices to.
Step 1: In the network scan of the Wi-Fi analyzer, identify and choose the least used channel to configure your network. In my case I can choose channel 6 or 11.
Step 2: The steps to change your router settings vary greatly between different router manufacturers and models. Consult your manufacturer for instructions on how to access your router’s administrator profile.
In my case, I’m using an older modem router combo unit from Xfinity, my broadband service provider. To change the channel, I have to navigate to the Xfinity Connect portal in my browser by typing “https://internet.xfinity.com” in the address bar.
For many other types of routers, you can access the administrator portal by typing “192.168.1.1” in the address bar. You will also need the administrator name and password to log in, both information that you can obtain from the manufacturer if this is your first time opening the portal.
Step 3: On my Xfinity portal, I have to click on the name of my router – which I had set up and changed when I started the broadband service with Xfinity, regardless of the default that was initially specified – and then click on View network on the next screen. A new screen will load and from there the “advanced settings” option will be accessible.
Under the advanced settings section, there are options to choose the 2.4GHz or 5GHz band, and under each band you can choose the channel and channel width. By default, the channel is selected automatically. You want to edit that and manually choose the channel. On the 2.4 GHz band you can opt for a width of 20 MHz, but you can also opt for a wider channel width of 40 MHz or 80 MHz.
Step 4: With a few recent routers and mesh networks, you can also access and change your router’s bands, channels, and channel width through a companion app that can be downloaded to your smartphone. This option may not be available for all routers or mesh networks, such as Eero.
What should I do if none of these steps helped?
If channel interference isn’t the culprit of your Wi-Fi problems, you can also try our guide on identifying some common Wi-Fi issues.
If none of the diagnostic tests work, you can try upgrading to a newer router or setting up a whole-home mesh network to extend your Wi-Fi signal throughout your home using satellite units. Advances in Wi-Fi technology, such as Wi-Fi 6 and the newer Wi-Fi 6E protocols, help reduce network congestion and latency, making routers relying on these standards ideal for streaming large video files, gaming and simultaneously connecting multiple devices . Wi-Fi 6 has been largely hailed as the biggest advance in Wi-Fi in a decade, and for good reason!
If you’re experiencing signal dropouts and dead Wi-Fi zones, the further away you are from your router, you can improve your coverage by switching to a whole-home mesh network. In general, in larger homes, you can add more satellite nodes to provide a Wi-Fi signal throughout your home. While these nodes serve a similar purpose to Wi-Fi range extenders, whole-home mesh networks simplify the process by broadcasting everything on the same network SSID. This way you don’t have to connect and disconnect between different SSIDs depending on which node you’re trying to access, and the process is more seamless than a range extender.