With summer coming up, you're probably going to want to spend a lot more time outside. That doesn't mean you'll want to give up those gadgets. Music, games, video, email, the latest season of Game of Thrones are all made to travel to the backyard, barbecue, and pool—but sometimes Wi-Fi only goes so far.
Don't max out your data plan or unplug altogether. Instead, think about improving your Wi-Fi. Sometimes the fix is as easy as rebooting your wireless router. Unplugging seems to solve so much! When that doesn’t work, there are plenty of other things you can do to boost that connection.
1. Move that router
Most Wi-Fi routers aren’t pretty. However, you can't stuff that device into an out-of-the-way place and expect good service.
“That’s not good for signal strength,” says SEO Expert Bradley Shaw. “The signal will be weaker by the time it reaches your devices, thus slower.”
Seek out a central location for equipment. Of course, you don’t have to put it in the middle of your living room. Shaw suggestions finding a spot near the center of the house, but on a top floor. “Radio waves best travel down and laterally,” he says.
If you’re still not sure where to put the equipment, download NetSpot. This free utility will help you identify weak and strong spots on your network, using a Mac or Windows PC. The company also has an iOS app available for $8.99.
2. Upgrade old equipment
That Wi-Fi router doesn’t last forever. Just like any other electronic device, technological advances will make it obsolete over time.
“You'll find all sorts of opinions on how often to replace your router. I've seen as little as every two years,” says Chris Brantner, founder of CutCableToday.com. “And many experts will tell you that even routers a few years old might not keep up with today's demands and technology.”
If you have issues with bandwidth or dead spots, contact your ISP to get a replacement—or buy your own. “You could save money by using your own router—and possible upgrade for a better signal,” says Brantner. Just keep in mind that if you go your own way, your ISP may not walk you through the setup process or troubleshooting down the line.
Dave Cox, CEO of online privacy service LiquidVPN, recommends AmpliFi ($349.99 for a 3-piece starter kit), a mesh router system that combines 802.11ac Wi-Fi, antenna technology, and an LCD screen. “It has a slick smartphone app to install, configure, and monitor the network," he says. "Mesh networks are the best way to extend your Wi-Fi coverage."
We recently tested the top Wi-Fi mesh routers to find the best, and the AmpliFi was by far the easiest to set up, with fantastic coverage and easy-to-manage settings that anyone can master. The basic kit comes with a base station and two extra antennas that are pre-paired so you're up running in minutes; you just have to plug them into the wall around your home.
3. Stretch that networking setup
If buying a router, Dr. Tim Lynch, CEO of Psychsoftpc, suggests 802.11ac, which can provide speeds up to 2 Gbps. If you already have an 802.11ac router, consider adding a range extender. This device can put Wi-Fi into some of the weaker spots of your home by extending or repeating the existing signal.
“You want to position it near the edge of your current signal or closer to the point where you want your signal to go,” Lynch says. “So if you want to cover the backyard, place one near the back of the house indoors.”
Netgear’s Nighthawk AC1900 ($109) is a popular desktop range extender that uses a dual-core 1 GHz processor to deliver speeds up to 1,900 Mbps. For something less intrusive (and less expensive), the Netgear AC1200 ($58) is a plug-in range extender that's perfect for surfing from your smartphone out on the deck, up to 1,200 Mbps.
4. Take advantage of updates
Manufacturers are constantly trying to keep up with technology, which means they’re always coming out with fixes, patches, and upgrades. These updates can be made over your web connection, with just a few clicks.
If you’re having problems with your Wi-Fi connection, make sure the firmware is up to date on all of your equipment, whether it’s your router, smartphone, or computer. Some products even allow this to be automated; check the device’s settings or manual to see if you can adapt a set-it-and-forget-it approach.
5. When out and about
Bad Wi-Fi isn't restricted to your backyard; it's everywhere. With so many people traveling each summer, you'll probably encounter it a lot, as you try to cram yourself into public networks available in hotels, coffee shops, and everywhere else you go.
Safi Mojaddidi from Ubiquiti Labs [UBNT], the creators behind AmpliFi, says to stay away from paying bills and checking bank accounts on public Wi-Fi. The information is very sensitive and the connection is not always safe. It's not always reliable, either. So if you need a quick restaurant recommendation, directions, or an update on Facebook friends, choose your position wisely.
“When choosing a seat, pass on sitting on the floor or behind support pillars, because your Wi-Fi signal will potentially be weaker. The more obstructions in between you and the Wi-Fi access point means reduced performance,” Mojaddidi says. “Instead, choose a high-top seat with the skinny tabletop that many of the airports now have near the gates. They’re elevated, providing clearer access to the airport’s Wi-Fi access points, which are usually installed on the ceiling.”