What is a good WiFi signal strength?

Learn how to measure WiFi signal strength, what strengths and speeds can handle which online activities, and how you can improve a poor connection.

The issue with WiFi signals

WiFi signals keep us connected to the online things we love the most. You don’t give them a second thought when the device your using is working smoothly, but as soon as things begin to slow down, your blood begins to boil.

This slowing down effect usually comes from poor WiFi signal strength, which can be affected in a number of ways, the most common being:

  • Too many devices using the signal
  • Devices being too far away or blocked from the router
  • Broadband speed to the premises is not fast enough

Understanding WiFi signals

WiFi signal strength can be a confusing topic to understand. First, you need to know the units of measurement for a WiFi to understand what’s a good and what’s a bad WiFi signal strength.

Secondly, you need to know how to measure it in certain areas in your house and on different devices.

And thirdly, you need to understand what WiFi signal strength you require for the online activities you want to undertake.

As with most things in life, proper planning is key to good deployment of your WiFi signal and imperative if you are working from home and need to access emails, upload files and conduct meetings online.

Determining minimum WiFi signal strength requirements in specific areas of your home is pivotal in ensuring you that, tech-wise at least, you have a hassle-free day.

Understanding signal strength

The most accurate way to express WiFi signal strength is via milliwatts (mW) but thanks to loads of awkward decimal places, it can be pretty baffling to unravel.

RSSI (Received Signal Strength Indicator) is an alternative measurement method but handled differently by most WiFi adapters, some using a scale of 0-60 and some using a scale of 0-250. So that’s not a particularly useful benchmark either.

So we’re left with dBm, which means decibels relevant to a milliwatt. It’s a more consistent and readable measurement that has pretty much become the industry standard.

mW - milliwatts (1 mW = 0 dBm)
RSSI - Received Signal Strength Indicator (usually 0-60 or 0-255)
dBm - Decibels in relation to a milliwatt (usually -30 to -100)

Why WiFi signal strength matters

Receiving a stronger WiFi signal means you can connect more reliably to the internet. Different activities require more bandwidth to work at their best:

  • Low throughput activities include: Surfing the web and sending small emails
  • Medium throughput activities include: Voice calls, interacting with a smart speaker and streaming low resolution YouTube videos
  • High throughput activities include: Uploading big work files, downloading games, video conference calls and watching 4K TV shows and movies

If you are experiencing slow connection or connection dropouts it might not necessarily be due to poor WiFi signal strength.

Connect the device to the internet using ethernet and if the problem continues it’s a problem with your internet supply. If the ethernet connection is fine and you have rebooted your router, then your problem involves your WiFi signal strength.

How to check your WiFi signal strength the easy way

Depending on the device you’re using – whether it’s using iOS, Android, Mac, or Windows – you should have a WiFi indicator usually made up of five curved lines. The more lines that are lit up, or filled, the stronger your WiFi connection.

Every device behaves differently depending on what operating system it uses, how far it is from the router and how old it is. If one particular device is experiencing poor connection, it’s best to check other devices to see if the same problem occurs in the same place in your home.

Compare your WiFi strength results on all your devices and if they are quite similar you have a good baseline to work with.

You can also walk around your home with one of your portable devices and check to see when the WiFi bars drop out or pick up. This is a rudimentary test, but it should be good enough to show where the dead spots are in your home, where it’s best to set up a workstation and which rooms you might have problematic connections in. The number of walls between devices will usually have the most negative effect on your WiFi signal strength.

How to check your WiFi signal strength more precisely

If you own a Mac, you can check the strength of your WiFi signal very easily: just hold down the option key [⌥] and click your mouse on the WiFi symbol in the top menu. You’ll be able to access your dBm measurement in the RSS field.

To measure the strength of your WiFi signal on your smartphone or tablet, just use one of the many WiFi speed checkers available from your phone's app store.

Understanding signal strength

It’s all well and good knowing what WiFi signal strength is measured in, but what do the numbers actually mean? Let’s break it down as simply as possible…

What WiFi signal strength should I be looking for?

What kind of WiFi signal you require in your home depends on the kind of user you are and who else lives in your property. Let’s see what kind of user you are…

How to Improve WiFi Signal Strength

Okay, now you know how to measure WiFi signal strength and what kinds of speed you require in your household, the likelihood is that you’ll want to improve your WiFi signal strength to certain parts of your home. Remember: when it comes to internet speed, fast is always best.

Try the following workarounds and make sure consult this article for more in-depth look at boosting your signal strength.

  • Reposition your router: Make sure it’s up high, an equal distance (as much as possible) from the rooms that need a WiFi signal the most.
  • Upgrade your router: If you move only a room or two away from your router and your signal depletes massively, it could be that your router is too old to broadcast a strong signal. You might need to upgrade it.
  • Change router channels: Some router channels can be more congested than others. Switching your router onto a new channel can make your connections smoother.
  • Change frequency: If you’re buying a new router make sure you get one that can handle both 24GHz and 5GHz frequencies: 2.4GHz is favourable over long distances, 5GHz frequency works better over short distances and is faster and can traverse obstacles easier.
  • Get a WiFi extender, repeater or a booster: All of these devices are designed to strengthen your WiFi signal throughout your home.

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