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Get some Wi-Fi feng shui

Happy Wi-Fi happy life.

When the Wi-Fi in my house is working well then life is good! When the Wi-Fi isn’t working so well then there is discontentment and restless natives. The quickest way to call a family meeting is to turn off the Wi-Fi and then walk to the center of the house. (wait for it…..)

I’ve been in search of Wi-Fi feng shui for a few years because the place where I chose to put my cable modem and Wi-Fi router created some difficulties with a strong signal throughout my house. Since I cut the cord on cable TV, I heavily rely on streaming video content. Stable Wi-Fi is a must.  The good news is that it my setup has improved and good enough to have multiple devices streaming simultaneously without lags.  So I wanted to write down some simple things you can do that may help you find that happy place too.

Some of this may be technical mumbo-jumbo to you but there are few good tips that I will underline. I’ll also add a picture that may help to visualize the wording.

My Setup

First, a little about my setup. I have a two story house sitting on a basement. I chose to put the cable modem and Wi-Fi router in the basement where the cable enters the house so that I didn’t have to look at the equipment in the main living area. A few years after doing this I hooked all the cable outlets in the main house to a HD antenna in the attic.  What that means is my only connection to the cable company is in the basement, so the cable modem is there to stay. The basement has some data wires (CAT-5) running to a few outlets that were installed a few years ago, but there are no data wires to the main levels.

This is not a typical setup. The important thing to get out of this is that the primary Wi-Fi router is in a corner of the basement (farthest distance from the main living areas).

Improvements I’ve made along the way.

  1. The first improvement I made a few years ago was moving from a Wi-Fi router that only supported 802.11b/g to one that also supported 802.11n. This isn’t a technical dialogue, but 802.11n Wi-Fi came with more range, faster speeds, and the ability to use the 5GHz frequency in addition to the standard 2GHz frequency. (It should be noted that there is a newer standard now 802.11ac that promises even faster speeds. Most new routers sold today should support this and the price is coming down.  Both your router and device have to support the protocol.)
  2. The next improvement was to get a Wi-Fi extender device to put on the main level. This device takes the signal from the main Wi-Fi router and rebroadcasts or strengthens the signal. I located this device as close to the center of the main level of the house as I could to provide the best chance of getting Wi-Fi signal to each corner of the house.
  3. Despite doing these things there were still issues from time-to-time with signal strength. I attributed this to the main Wi-Fi router being in a corner of the basement where the cable modem was. There are many obstructions in the way to degrade the signal (doors, walls, ceiling, and insulation). Remember I said that I had hard wiring to other parts of the basement. So I moved the Wi-Fi router to a bedroom in the basement more centrally located. This made a noticeable difference in the signal strength throughout the basement and main levels and also gave a stronger signal to the Wi-Fi extender. It follows a typical guideline that says to locate Wi-Fi as centrally in the house as possible.
  4. After some time I started getting some periodic Wi-Fi disconnect/reconnect events. The Wi-Fi would just drop and then automatically reconnect seconds later. After looking into this I believe the main cause was signal interference with all the Wi-Fi units from surrounding neighbors. The 2.4 GHz frequency (default for the Wi-Fi) is also a crowded space with other types of wireless signals. To help with this I moved some of my Wi-Fi to the 5 GHz range on the Wi-Fi router. The 5 GHz range was built-into my Wi-Fi router. It runs at a shorter distance but offers less interference. So I set all my Roku devices in the house to connect to the 5Ghz Wi-Fi. I also changed the channel my 2.4 Ghz Wi-Fi was using by a Wi-Fi analyzer tool.
  5. One of my Roku devices used for streaming video is located in the basement. The device supports Wi-Fi but it also supports a wired connection. Even though the Wi-Fi was working well with the unit I decided I wanted to make the connection better and less likely to have interruptions by using the hard wire. My problem was the hard wire terminated at the location of the cable modem but I had moved the Wi-Fi router to an adjoining bedroom. To accommodate for this I had to insert an old Wi-Fi router between my cable modem and Wi-Fi main router to act as a data switch.
  6. After I completed “improvement  4” I realized I had taken a step back for all the Wi-Fi even though I had created a hard-wired connection for a Roku device. The problem was that ethernet connection of the new router I added was capped at 100Mbs. Effectively, I had created a slower connection to the cable modem for my house. The ethernet connection in my newer Wi-Fi router (the one I moved to central spot in the basement) supported Gigabit ethernet. The solution was to swap the two Wi-Fi routers so that the Gigabit ethernet port was hooked to the cable modem, the other Wi-Fi router, and the hard-wired Roku.

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Results

Speedtest.net is a popular site to measure the speed you are getting from your internet connection. I have started using the tool from Google and Bing that shows in-line with search results. Just type “Speed Test” in Google or Bing.

After completing step 1 I went from speeds below 10Mbps to speeds consistently above 20 Mbps. Somewhere in this time frame my cable company provided a new cable modem and more bandwidth to the house. When I had the 100Mbs ethernet connection (step 5) I would top out around 20 Mbps on the Wi-Fi speed. After completing step 6 I now register speeds consistently between 50-60Mbps on the Wi-Fi. That’s plenty of bandwidth for streaming video content and hopefully enough to keep my data hungry family happy. I call it Wi-Fi feng shui.

Summary

  1. Locate Wi-Fi routers as close to the center of the house as possible.
  2. Use a Wi-Fi-extender if you have multiple levels in the house.
  3. Set permanent connections, like TV streaming devices or gaming devices, on the 5Ghz Wi-Fi.
  4. Check your Wi-Fi router to make sure the ethernet connection supports Gigabit ethernet for the connection to the cable modem or DSL device.
  5. Check your Wi-Fi router to make sure you are at least supporting 802.11n protocol but preferably 802.11ac.

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Onward and Upward!