With more and more of our entertainment lives requiring an internet connection, making sure your are well connected in your home is becoming more and more important.
While US home owners can enjoy wooden frame constructed houses and plasterboard stud walls, in the UK thick brick walls and close proximity to other Wi-Fi networks are the normal fare.
Those and many other factors can all have a negative impact on your Wi-Fi performance. That might not matter if you are on a fast connection, but if you are trying to get the most out of every Kilobyte you've got, every bit of signal your device can get can potentially make a huge difference.
We invited Linksys into our home to see if it could help improve our Wi-Fi performance and teach us some tricks along the way.
The Pocket-lint home
Our test home is like many in the UK, a small Victorian cottage in a cul-de-sac street with a not so fast Sky Broadband 6MB connection. Wi-Fi is provided by Sky's standard Sky Hub router. Working from the garden we have a separate wireless network for the office connected to the Sky Broadband router via a long Ethernet cable. Our home suffers from black spots in certain rooms due to thick walls and poor internet connectivity upstairs. The challenge given to Linksys was to ensure blanket Wi-Fi coverage in all rooms so we could use a number of internet connected devices including our Philips Hue lighting system, Sonos music system, and Honeywell Evohome heating system.
Isolating the issues
Upon entering the home the first thing our man from Linksys wanted to do was see what performance was actually like.
Anecdotally believing something is slow might not actually be the same as being slow. It also gives you a good benchmark as to what is causing you a problem, be it a neighbours Wi-Fi signal or a fridge and then measure the change once you've implemented a solution.
To test the capabilities of our Wi-Fi signal, we used inSSIDer and SpeedTest. InSSIDer an app available for Windows, Mac, and mobile that scans and reports on all the Wi-Fi signals it finds. The idea is that by seeing what signal all the other networks are using you can pick a network channel that is less congested for your network.
It's worth pointing out that most modern routers automatically scan to find the path of least resistance, but it is still good to check to make sure you are using the best channel available. This in itself can make a huge difference.
Speed Test is a free app that will tell you the speed of your "up" and "down" connection.
The results vary on a range of factors including how far from the router you are, whether there is interference in the guise of another signal, walls, or furniture, or even by device. The Wi-Fi antennas in your laptop is going to be stinger than your phone so it is worth doing a number of tests around your home with different devices to determine and isolate and weak spots.
In our case, as our man from Linksys quickly discovered, upstairs in the master bedroom and in our breakfast room because our large American fridge was blocking the performance in that room, where the problem areas.
Solving the problem
Once we'd isolated the problem spots with our Wi-Fi network we were able to get on with solving them.
In our case we were recommended two possible solutions. The first was to add a more powerful router to extend the performance and range further within our home, while the second was to instal a number of network repeaters to extend the range of what we already have.
Linksys also recommended merging the two wireless networks we were running (one for the home and one for the office) by giving them the same SSID. Doing so would make switching between the two easier and if you are running devices like Sonos, that require you to be on the same network SSID, a better solution.
Updating our kit
Replacing the Sky broadband router isn't easy as Sky lock down the access codes you'll need to still use the service. That isn't a major problem, but it will mean you'll likely end up with two boxes instead of one.
In our case Linksys recommend we use its new beast of a router; the Linksys WRT1900AC (£232). Looking more like something from Battlestar Galactica rather than something that is going to make your internet faster, the new box from the company is a dual-band Wi-Fi router with a dual-core 1.2GHz processor, four antenna and eSata and USB2/3 ports so you can angle and position the signal for better performance and a Gigabit WAN port and four Gigabit LAN ports on the rear that delivers IEEE 802.11ac as you'd expect.
Installing this router not only boosted the signal, but also improved the speed as it's 802.11ac rather than 802.11n. You will of course need 802.11ac devices to benefit from the faster speed, but if you have them you will notice the difference.
While that improved the speed of our network, it still didn't improve all our black spots. To solve this problem we've also installed two wireless network extenders, one upstairs and one downstairs.
The extenders, available from Belkin and Linksys, simply plug into any wall socket and are a compact unit that doesn't need a nearby shelf. They can be instantly set up to connect to your network and the extenders, that cost around £60, are incredibly easy to setup.
There are some negatives to running an extender, as Linksys warned us, however in our case those negatives (increased network traffic) didn't outweigh the benefits.
Once the wireless extender is in place and working, the wireless network automatically reaches into that area. No more black spots.
The alternative to wireless extending the network is via a Powerline adapter. These are just as effective, working on your electrical wiring rather than via Wi-Fi.
The end result
For a total cost of around £360 we have fast blanket Wi-Fi coverage in our home (802.11ac), however if you are on a budget merely extending your wi-fi coverage to black spots in your house can be achieved by merely buying and strategically placing Wi-Fi routers in the right places.
If you're budget is tighter still, you might be able to get away with not even needing to add a range extender, but by following a few handy tips:
1. Put the router in the central most place possible in your house to cover the most ground, but remember you still have to connect it to your phone line.
2. Secure your wireless network with a password to stop your neighbours "borrowing" your signal.
3. If you can, place your router up high and away from your cordless telephone.
4. Change the Wi-Fi channel number. Like walkie talkies you can change the channel the signal is sent out on. If you and your neighbours are all using the same channel it might be best to change yours to a different number.
5. If you are using multiple routers in your home call them all the same name and give them the same password. It will let you roam around your house connecting to your gadgets virtually seamlessly.