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 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)
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…
Doubtful you’ll even be able to connect.
Minimum strength for basic online activity.
Can handle low throughput tasks, such as surfing the web and sending an email.
Can support mobile devices as well as multiple in-house devices.
Engaging in your favourite online activities should not be a problem.
Multiple occupancy, heavy user households will be able to function efficiently using this WiFi signal.
You’re probably right next to a new fttp-primed router.
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…
The internet plays a small part in your life, but it’s certainly not the hub of your working or social life. You check your mail and your bank account, you update social media occasionally and check for your likes. You browse the web, but streaming movies and playing online videogames isn’t necessarily your bag.
What WiFi signal strength do you need? You could probably just about manage on -80dBm, but you’d be much better off with -70dBm and above. Even the simplest online tasks are made better on a faster connection.
The average internet user spends 6 hours every day glued to the web researching for work, checking mail, sending files and sharing documents. You access the web continuously throughout the day, check your social media accounts regularly and enjoy bingeing the latest show from your preferred online hub.
What WiFi signal strength do you need? You need the industry minimum, which is regarded as -67dBm, but you should be aiming for at least -60dbm to make your online life more pleasurable.
Most of your evening entertainment revolves around streaming or downloading movies and files from the web and you enjoy online gaming and don’t want any lag. You know you use a lot of data, you hate the dreaded buffering wheel and you’re willing to pay more for a steadier connection.
What WiFi signal strength do you need? -60dBm and above bare minimum. When you have multiple devices all connected and wanting their slice of the WiFi pie, you may require a bit more speed to keep things ticking over smoothly.
Multiplayer online games are very much your thing. You can’t stand any latency or lag and you want to be able to download the latest videogames in the quickest time possible—even the biggest ones. Given your usage, only the smoothest and steadiest internet connection will do.
What WiFi signal strength do you need? The heaviest users require the fastest connections. You should be aiming for between -50dBm and -30dBm.
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.