I thought I’d cover the one of the most talked about issues in the world of streaming and thats WiFi and how to get the best out of it, practical measures and not some of the voodoo you read on some forums!
What is WIFi?
The term Wi-Fi refers specifically to the IEEE 802.11 set of standards for wireless networks. Several different standards are designated by a letter suffix on the 802.11, such as in 802.11g or 802.11n. In general all of the 802.11 standards operate on either a 2.4GHz or 5GHz radio frequency. 5GHz has much greater speed capability but a reduced range; generally speaking the lower a frequency the further it will travel, so don’t expect miracles if you switch to 5GHz.
A key thing to note here is that if ANY device uses the older “b” standard then ALL devices *could* have their speed reduced to 11mbps on “g” networks, depending on your router. This really applies to older equipment or cheap equipment with old parts used in it *cough* think cheap chinese droid boxes. That said, I haven’t seen any myself for over 12 months, but just keep it in mind.
Wireless transmissions are all covered by some basic rules and generally speaking obstacles reduce the signal strength, therefore the more walls a signal has to pass through the weaker it gets. Metal obstructions such as boilers, radiators and pipework will act as blocks, possibly creating “blackspots” in their “shadow”, so router placement is important. My own house is quite a modern one, built in the last 20 years and some of the construction materials are recycled metal “noggins” and “studding” (internal wall construction) which caused a lot of head scratching with WIFi problems, as well as my boiler sitting centrally in the house creating a big blackspot for my WiFi signal in 2 bedrooms…grrrr!
Microwaves are monstrous killers of wifi, don’t believe me? Fire up your mobile, play a youtube vid, stand by microwave and nuke a glass of water or something – watch your wifi signal just vanish!
Improving Your WiFi Speeds
Ok, lets be clear before we start here, there are no magical cures, no apps or bits of software that can alter the either the IEEE standards that govern the wireless protocols and therefore speeds, nor magically boost your line speed by altering a buffer setting – thats just hogwash (and I’m being polite here!). We are therefore left with optimising the layout and position of the router (if you can) and ensuring that you have the best channel settings in relation to neighbouring wifi transmissions. I will demonstrate how this can make a BIG difference
Positioning Your Router
The above image shows how wifi signals propagate and how they are blocked or weakened by obstacles.I know very often you will be limited on placement, as it needs to go close to the telephone socket, probably the master socket but I have tried my own in different ones with no measurable effects on speed, so don’t be afraid to try. If you can, position it centrally in your household (ideal but I have never seen anyone do it yet!) as this will give a better overall coverage. If however you are like me, mines stuck at one end of the house. C’est la vie.
If its upstairs, place it on the floor if you can, try to think about line of site to where things like your TV etc that will be linking to it are not obscured by radiators or equally effective signal blockers, one of mine turned out to be my hot water tank…drove me mad for days trying to work around it! Don’t be fixated on this, there are ways to work around wifi limitations using powerline adapters which I will cover in another article.
Choosing Your WiFi Channel
Choosing your channel is important, actually, its VERY important, most routers in use will be supplied by your Internet Service Provider (ISP) usually provided free and thus they are cheap, nasty and very poor from a performance perspective. I have a Sky one – its truly AWFUL, and I have had to piggyback a better one – again, I’ll cover this in another article.As you can see from the above image channels 1, 6 and 11 are not overlapped by any other channels and are therefore your best choice. This is why every ISP ships their router on one of these channels. Thinking ahead? If a bunch of neighbours are all with Sky then their routers are all set the same and you will have reduced performance due to channel clashes.You will need to use an app like WIfi Analyzer – one of my fav little tools I recommended this as a must have droid tool available from the play store, use this to look at whats around you. If you are clear, then no need to mess around, if yours looks like this the image below you will need to choose carefully;
You can see here that channels 1, 6 & 11 are indeed congested around me, with a mix of Sky, BT, Plusnet and TalkTalk routers.
To make this test fair, I ran several checks, same pc, same location etc so the comparison was reasonable.This was the speed test set on a busy channel – best of 5 tests, so no fluke. I know my max line speed is around 14mbps download, so this is miserable performance.
There are fewer users on channel 1 in the above image, so I opted to change from channel 11 to channel 1, again same kit – never moved laptop etc. Just changed the channel.
Now initially this looks to have slightly less power than in first image, but I think this is down to natural fluctuations of the app I used to test, however, you can clearly see, that channel 1 is much less congested….and so to the speed test as proof;
What a result – almost 3mbps more bandwidth! No twonky apps or gimmicks – just some basic science and a little knowledge. Yes, I do accept not everyone will get these types of gains, the point is to highlight that doing the basic checks can yield some pretty big gains – 3mbps is the difference between having to watch 576 rather than 1080, you decide if its worth an hour of your time.
I have seen several posts and articles suggesting these things work, however dubious I am, I couldn’t do this article justice without covering the possibility under testing that their maybe some truth in this. My father was a radio ham so I have a basic knowledge of aerial configs and the benefits of directional antennae over omni-directional. However, there will be no careful layouts, just some card, tinfoil and 15 mins of messing about!
This is my simple reflector – you can use a pop can or beer can, just be careful cutting them out. I used a cereal pack and some tinfoil for this – as you can see, nothing exotic at all;
I included this picture so you can see how basic my reflector was, took me 5m to put together and cost nothing. I curved this a little more than in the pic to give better directional output, well that was the thinking. I placed this about an inch back of the aerial on my router (a cheap £25 TP-link) so again, nothing exotic.
The signal check showed this;
This is still on channel 1 as before, but with a tin foil reflector, 5 speed tests and this is the speed i recorded;
Pretty impressive huh? I have to save whilst i was cynical at the potential for improvement had I not tested this and done it myself, I wouldn’t give it any credence, but you know I don’t post rubbish.
I know the tin foil reflector results are impressive, but in a little over 30 mins i have doubled the speed to the furthest reaches of my house. I have used a basic £25 router, an android wifi checker, a piece of card and a short length of tinfoil. I would be really interested on the results anyone trying this gets and I’d very much like to hear back from you.