What is the range of my Wi-Fi signal?
Wi-Fi is generally split up into two bands – 2.4Ghz and 5.0Ghz – and it’s the 2.4Ghz band that can be stretched further. 2.4Ghz bands can reach up to about 46m indoors, though we wouldn’t want to experience the slow speeds that far away! 5.0Ghz bands can only achieve about half of this as a theoretical maximum, but the speeds across this shorter distance are likely faster.
- Modern routers with 802.11n or 802.11ac classifications on 2.4Ghz bands can theoretically only reach about 25m indoors.
- Older, slower, routers on the 802.11a classification generally gave better range but at the cost of speed.
At this rate, it’s generally a compromise of either range or speed, but numerous other factors are at play that can hamper your wireless internet experience.
What’s the difference between 2.4Ghz and 5.0Ghz?
The 2.4Ghz Wi-Fi band is generally the more ‘hardy’ of the two, but slower. 5.0Ghz bands are more susceptible to obstructions and appliances, and by the time this reaches the bedroom, signal can be patchy at best and drop outs can occur. But close up, 5.0Ghz can be the way to go to get faster speeds:
- Placing a dual-band router near technology that can make the most use of the faster 5.0Ghz band – such as gaming consoles – and leaving 2.4Ghz bands for phones and computers could make an ideal Wi-Fi set-up.
Think of the 5.0Ghz as a high-performing Formula 1 car – it needs to have a lot of pampering to go fast. While, yes, the 5.0Ghz band can deliver faster speeds, the 2.4Ghz band is the workhorse and more likely to bust through walls and give signal to farther reaches of the home.
What affects Wi-Fi signal and range?
In realistic scenarios you’re likely to never experience maximum Wi-Fi range, as Wi-Fi signal is heavily dependent on and can be impeded by:
- Walls and Obstructions: A router placed near a wall and trying to get signal in a far-flung room of the house can be problematic due to the literal signal blocking walls can put in place.
- Weather: This more applies to using Wi-Fi outside, but electrical storms can interfere with the electromagnetic signals that Wi-Fi emits and this can wreak havoc on wireless networks.
- Appliances: Yes, your appliances can affect signal – especially with microwaves. Because microwaves emit radio signal, this can interfere with Wi-Fi network range.
- Antennas & Direction: You might have noticed on your shiny new iPhone 8 – or any other new smartphone – that simply facing the device away from the router can make your signal drop a bar or two. This is where directional antennas can help.
Placing your Wi-Fi router away from walls and obstructions can boost signal, and if possible, placing it where it’s most commonly used – e.g. in the living room – can yield better signal.
What about long range Wi-Fi?
If you’re living in a large home, need Wi-Fi out in the shed or Wi-Fi out in the garden, a long range Wi-Fi router may be ideal. However, the catch is that speeds can suffer as a result.
TP Link is a wireless modem brand that offers two ‘high powered’ modems – the TL-WR941HP and the TL-WR841HP. TP Link claims its high-powered modems are capable of covering up to 10,000m² – or one hectare – of range.
- These high-powered models support between 300-450Mbps wireless speeds and TP Link claims the 9dBi high-gain antennas are capable of cutting through walls and obstacles to deliver more powerful signal even in far reaches of the home.
However, there is pretty much always a compromise. Even with high-powered modems, speeds can still suffer. The modems mentioned above are not capable of gigabit speeds and their speeds may still suffer further, the further you are away from the modem. However, these routers are generally at the cheaper end of the scale, so they may be worth a go.
How do I extend my Wi-Fi range?
Beyond placing your router in an ideal location, there are a few devices you can purchase that can boost Wi-Fi signal. If your router is in your living room but your bedroom upstairs gets next to no signal, there are a few easy – and maybe cheap – devices you can purchase:
- A Wi-Fi Extender/Repeater/Booster: Call it what you like, these beauties are plugged into an electricity socket. They then pick up your Wi-Fi signal and retransmit it to be dispersed in your home. They can cost as little as $50 and the high-end models can support transfer speeds up to 2.2Gbps.
- A word of warning: Boosters can severely affect latency or ‘ping’ scores, which can be bad news for gamers who need millisecond-precise responsiveness from their Wi-Fi.
- Powerline Adaptors: Powerline adaptors are purchased in a pair and are plugged into two power points in different ends of the home. This means that Wi-Fi can be transmitted across powerlines. Adaptors often cost over $100 but are arguably more effective than boosters.
- A word of warning: For your powerline adaptors to ‘talk’ to each other and work, they need to be on the same line. Houses can have multiple lines so it pays to check before dropping $100+ on a device that won’t work.
While these two devices certainly can boost Wi-Fi signal, they’re not without their setbacks. No matter what you do to boost your Wi-Fi signal, there tends to be some compromise – be it link speeds, latency or cost. It’s usually a case of ‘pick two’ and suffer the other.
The final word on Wi-Fi range
Wi-Fi’s biggest drawback is its range – less than 20m most of the time – and in order to get faster speeds you usually have to compromise on range even further. The split between 2.4Ghz and 5.0Ghz bands also means you need to prioritise what device needs the faster speeds, and what need the longer range.
- Range issues have given rise to signal boosts and powerline adaptors, but these are not without their flaws either – costing too much, affecting latency or hampering maximum speeds being the biggest factors.
Arguably one of the best and most simple solutions is to simply place your Wi-Fi router in an ideal location – away from appliances, walls and closer to where the action is (most likely the bedroom or living room). Wi-Fi range may sound like a nightmare, but following a few simple steps can mean the difference in Netflix buffering or enjoying it in glorious high definition.