In this article, I will share some tips on how to correctly position WiFi routers to improve your home’s WiFi coverage significantly. I will also talk about a new web app from AmpliFi, called the AmpliFi Web Controller, that can help you with finding the perfect position for your WiFi equipment based on your home’s floor plan.
Factors that influence WiFi coverage
The strength of your WiFi signal is determined by four primary factors:
- Distance to the router
- Electromagnetic interference from other devices
- Obstacles between your router and wireless endpoints
- Wireless band selection (2.4 GHz vs. 5 GHz)
Your wireless router emits radio waves to cover a specific area with WiFi. The coverage area depends on your router, its antennas, and their output strength, usually measured in decibel milliwatts (dBm). The coverage claims of most router vendors are based on perfect conditions. That means the promised coverage is only achieved if the router is in direct line of sight with connected devices and without interference. But unless you live in an empty loft and position your wireless router in the dead-center of the room, you will never have perfect conditions.
All electronic devices emit electromagnetic waves that can interfere with your wireless signal if you place them too close to your wireless router. Common culprits for interference include other wireless devices, such as routers, access points, or even phones.
Any object that you place between your wireless router and your connected devices can reduce the signal strength. Examples include drywall, appliances, furniture, windows, doors, etc.
Below is a list of common household objects and their impact on your signal strength as measured in dBm:
- Drywall (3 dB / 4 dB)
- Cubicle (3.5 dB / 7.5 dB)
- Wood (3.5 dB / 6.5 dB)
- Brick (12 dB / 20 dB)
- Concrete (12 dB / 20 dB)
- Glass (2.5 dB / 7 dB)
- Glass double pane coated (13 dB / 20 dB)
- Glass bulletproof (10 dB / 20 dB)
- Steel (16 dB / 28.5 dB)
As you can see, the denser the object, the more it weakens the signal. The numbers in parenthesis indicate the reduction for both the 2.4 GHz and the 5 GHz band. For example, a layer of drywall reduces the signal strength by 3 dB on the 2.4 GHz band and by 4 dB on the 5 GHz band.
It is also important to understand that there is a significant difference between 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz signals. Based on simple physics, the higher the frequency, the more susceptible the signal is to interference. Given equal conditions, the 2.4 GHz band usually has a longer range than the 5 GHz band. Most modern routers support both bands, and many even support them on the same network name (SSID). Example of such routers include the Apple AirPort base stations* and, of course, AmpliFi’s mesh-networking devices.
The advantage of operating both bands on a single network is that your devices can automatically pick the band with the strongest signal. Many ISP-provided routers don’t support both bands on a single SSID, and thus you end up with two wireless networks, one for each band. The disadvantage of that is that you have to change SSIDs manually to get the best possible coverage, depending on how far away you are from your router.
Simple tricks to get the best WiFi coverage in your home
Here are a few simple tricks to improve the WiFi coverage in your home:
1. Position your WiFi router close to where you need the best signal
If you only have one wireless router or access point, make sure to position it close to where you need the best signal. If you have a home office, place the router into it for the best possible coverage. If you don’t need your WiFi network for work but instead play online games or stream videos to your TV, I would recommend installing your router close to your gaming PC, console or TV set.
If the junction your ISP installed to get internet service into your home does not allow you to place the WiFi router close to where you need the most reliable signal, I would highly recommend investing in a mesh-networking kit*, such as the one from AmpliFi. I reviewed it a few months ago and compared it to my previous setup of multiple AirPort Extreme base stations. You can check out my full review here.
2. Make sure to place your WiFi router not right next to other devices
One common mistake I see a lot is when people place their WiFi router directly next to their modem. That is particularly bad if the modem has a built-in wireless router that has not been disabled.
But even if your modem has no WiFi antennas, I would recommend separating both devices by a few feet. If your modem also provides wireless service, make sure to disable that feature if you use a dedicated wireless router. Otherwise, you will very likely run into issues with interference between the competing wireless networks.
As a general rule of thumb, I would recommend not to place your wireless router directly next to other electronics to reduce the chance of interference.
3. Maintain a line of sight
If possible, maintain a line of sight between your wireless access point and your devices. Of course, that is easier with stationary devices, like an iMac than with mobile devices.
I have applied this concept at home to my various AmpliFi MeshPoints. In other words, my MeshPoints are in direct line of sight to my AmpliFi router to ensure the best signal strength possible.
4. Band selection
All the wireless equipment I have had over the past few years supported operating both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz band on a single SSID. As a result, I didn’t have to bother with a manual band selection.
But if your router doesn’t support a single SSID for both bands, you will have to select the proper band manually. My recommendation is to use the 5 GHz band when you are close to the router and the 2.4 GHz band when you are farther away.
The main differences between two bands, in a nutshell, are:
- The 5 GHz band offers more bandwidth and less chance of interference with other household devices. Especially older devices, such as cordless phones operate on the 2.4 GHz band and can thus interfere with your 2.4 GHz wireless signal.
- Because of the higher frequency, 5 GHz has much less range, and the signal can weaken drastically if you place obstacles, such as walls between your wireless endpoints and the router.
- The 5 GHz band offers higher bandwidth and throughput, but unless you have a Gigabit Internet connection, that doesn’t make much of a difference for simple web browsing, emailing or watching videos on YouTube.
My recommendation is to buy a wireless router or access point that supports the operation of both bands on a single SSID.
How to position your router and access points
AmpliFi has launched a new tool that is currently in Beta* testing called the AmpliFi Web Controller. It offers a web interface allowing you to upload your home’s floor plan and then virtually position your AmpliFi routers and MeshPoint to find the best possible coverage.
Once you have uploaded your floor plan, you can draw obstacles, such as drywall, brick, wood or windows that directly influence the signal strength on both network bands.
I didn’t have a floor plan of my home to upload, so I had to work with a demo plan. Nevertheless, it was interesting and eye-opening to see how the signal coverage changed after I added walls – especially in a comparison between the two different bands.
The AmpliFi Web Controller only works with AmpliFi devices and after you have enabled Remote Access via the AmpliFi app. If you own WiFi equipment that is not from AmpliFi, you can use tools like the NetSpot Wi-Fi Reported (App Store) to get similar results.
By following a few simple steps, you can significantly improve the WiFi coverage in your home and reduce the likelihood of interference. If you have to rely on proper WiFi coverage throughout your home, I would highly recommend mesh networking technology, such as the one from AmpliFi. I have used their equipment for the past few months to cover our range-style home with WiFi, and I am more than satisfied with its performance.