- 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi bands reach about 150 feet, while 5 GHz bands extend for 50 feet in ideal situations.
- Performing a speed test close to the router and moving further away can help determine Wi-Fi range.
- Physical impediments like walls, furniture, and insulation can lower Wi-Fi reach.
- Newer protocols like 802.11n and 802.11ac transmit farther than their predecessors.
- Mesh router systems, wireless access points, and range extenders can help extend Wi-Fi reach.
If you have sluggish Wi-Fi, don’t assume you need to upgrade speeds with your Internet service provider. The problem may be a weak Wi-Fi signal reach within your home. Some people incorrectly think they are either connected to Wi-Fi or not. But the further away from the router you go, the weaker the sign
Internet speeds tend to get slower as you move outside or throughout rooms—more walls between a wireless device and a router lead to slower speeds. But if you’ve recently upgraded routers, chances are the new one isn’t as strong. That leads to the biggest factor, bands, which can vary in strength from a few feet to a few miles.
Step 1: Determine the Ideal Range
Every network is different, and some factors come into play. In an ideal situation, 2.4 GHz bands will reach about 150 feet, while 5 GHz bands will extend for 50 feet. Of course, that assumes you have an unobstructed line between your device and router. Unfortunately, these numbers will not be the case for most users.
Step 2: Perform Speed Test
A simple test at home can determine your Wi-Fi’s range. A good way to start is by performing a speed test close to the router and subsequent tests while moving further away. For an even better depiction of 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands, test each separately at the exact distances and compare how the signals drop off.
Step 3: Move Around
A more straightforward method to determine Wi-Fi reach is to connect a laptop or mobile phone to the network and progressively move away from it. You should notice the number of bars drops the farther you get. The drop in bars will coincide with a drop in speed. However, this isn’t an exact metric and will also vary depending on the device’s antenna.
Step 4: Compare Results
For example, we tested a home connection and found the results consistent. Our 5 GHz band only made it about 40 feet before dropping. Surprisingly, that is pretty close to the expected distance. The 2.4 GHz band made it about 60 feet, dramatically less than it should be. While we could still connect to the 2.4 GHz band beyond 60 feet, it was almost unusable.
What is a Frequency Band?
In radio communication, a band refers to a signal output type. Your home’s Wi-Fi relies on radio waves like other communication devices. Different radio waves run on various bands so that they won’t interfere with each other. Cellular phone service and LTE internet operate on a much wider band that travels for miles.
In contrast, home Wi-Fi uses bands with shorter signal lengths. The FCC in the United States dictates what bands specific devices can operate on, which prevents interference. However, it also limits the distance devices can transmit signals. While options for long-range Wi-Fi exist, the average home router operates on one or two bands.
Home Wi-Fi Bands
For years home Wi-Fi ran on 2.4 GHz, which delivered long-range reliability at a reasonable speed. However, internet speeds increased, and 2.4 GHz could no longer keep up with the faster speeds. Therefore, new routers can simultaneously provide 5 GHz connections. While 5 GHz delivers a faster connection, it is a much narrower band.
A 2.4 GHz band will travel about 150 feet in an open room. A 5 GHz band will only travel about 50 feet, assuming no walls or furniture are in the way. Most walls do not completely block Wi-Fi, but they will inhibit how far the signal travels. Therefore, it is best to place routers in a central part of the home.
The walls in most homes are constructed with drywall and are otherwise hollow. The good news is that Wi-Fi can travel through walls, so you won’t have much signal loss. However, routers placed in the corner of the house may struggle to reach the opposite side, depending on how many walls are in the way and the size of the home.
Another consideration is that two-story houses have numerous layers between the floors. It is very difficult for Wi-Fi signals to travel through thick layers of flooring and wood. Similarly, Wi-Fi is often weak outside the house because sheathing, siding, and insulation significantly obstruct the signal. But don’t forget that even furniture such as bookcases, desks, and cabinets can lower your Wi-Fi’s reach.
Another factor that goes hand-in-hand with frequency bands is internet protocols. These protocols fall under the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, which sets the standards for wireless internet connectivity. Consumer routers fall under IEEE 802.11, with different suffixes coinciding with Wi-Fi generations set by the Wi-Fi Alliance.
Within the 802.11 protocol are a couple of major subsets, including 802.11n and 802.11ac. These are two of the most common protocols found in routers sold today. However, there are other examples, such as 802.11g, which was popular for a long time, and 802.11b. The protocols coincide with the amount of data that can be transferred over the network.
Each router sold conforms to one of the protocols, with most using 802.11ac. This protocol operates a 5 GHz band, but many 802.11ac routers simultaneously transmit a 2.4 GHz band based on the 802.11n protocol. If all that information is too confusing, don’t worry. The takeaway is that newer protocols like 802.11n and 802.11ac transmit farther than their predecessors.
Make Your Wi-Fi Reach Farther
If your Wi-Fi doesn’t reach far enough, then there are several options to consider. It is very common to extend the Wi-Fi range, particularly in large homes or ones with multiple floors. A great way to do so is with a mesh router system. While expensive, these small devices ensure that wireless connectivity reaches every end of your home.
A more traditional approach would be to install wireless access points or network repeaters. You can even repurpose old routers as access points. Doing so requires some work, as you have to run an ethernet cable to the access point. The device then sends the same signal as the main router expanding the network’s reach.
A simple yet affordable option is a range extender, which has some limitations but is quick to set up. Range extenders require an electrical outlet and a few basic steps. But before spending any money, try relocating your router to a central point in the houseConnectct your devices to the 2.4 GHz band rather than the 5 GHz band. While the speed is slower, it reaches farther.
For a crash-course in how to extend your Wi-Fi, we recommend the following video:
The image featured at the top of this post is ©Thapana_Studio/Shutterstock.com.