Kim Komando / for USAToday
Sometimes Wi-Fi doesn't seem to make any sense. You're trying to connect to your home network but you're getting a stronger signal from the neighbor's router than your own router.
Inconsistent coverage is one of Wi-Fi's big problems. It always seems to stop just short of where you need it. Even when you do connect, the signal is spotty and unbearably slow. Fortunately, there are several tricks to boost a Wi-Fi signal. Even better, most of these tricks are free.
Choose the right location
Most Wi-Fi antennas are omni-directional: the signal goes every direction equally. So if you put the router along an outside wall, you're wasting half your signal outside. In fact, many times that's why you get such a strong signal from your neighbors. They're making the same mistake.
Cool trick: If you need to send a Wi-Fi signal a long-distance in just one direction, you can add a parabolic reflector to your antenna. If your router has an internal antenna, a sheet of curved aluminum foil set behind the router can work as well.
For the best all-around signal, you want your router as close as possible to the middle of the house, or the middle of the area where you need it. That means if you live in a two-story house, you want it either on the first floor near the ceiling, or on the second floor near the ground.
You should also pay attention to what's around the router. Putting it right next to a wall or inside a bookcase can partially block the signal. And definitely keep it away from metal, a microwave or a cordless telephone.
Change the channel
If you've moved the router and it didn't help as much as you'd hoped, then you might need to tweak a router setting. This mostly applies to 802.11g and older 802.11n routers. If you have an 802.11n router purchased in the last few years or an 802.11ac router, it should do this for you automatically.
To access the settings, open your computer browser and type in the router's IP address. The IP address will be in your router's manual, which will also tell you the default router username and password so you can log in.
Important side note: If you haven't changed your router's default password, you're leaving it wide open for hackers. So, be sure to change the password while you're in the settings.
Once you're in the settings, you can adjust the router broadcast channel to reduce interference with other routers. Most 802.11n and g routers are set to channel 1, 6 or 11, and you should stick to one of those. For example, if your router is set to channel 1, try switching to 6 or 11 and see if that improves your signal.
If you want to see what's really happening in the invisible world of radio waves, grab a program like Vistumbler for your laptop or the Wi-Fi Analyzer app for your Android gadget. Both will show you the routers in your area and what channels they're using.
You don't want too many routers using the same channel. See how many routers are using channels 1, 6, and 11 and use whichever channel is least crowded.
Upgrade your router
If you do have an 802.11b, 802.11g or older 802.11n router, it might be best to upgrade to a new router. Newer routers often have better range, faster speeds and extra features like guest networks.
You can also buy a Wi-Fi booster or range extender, but unless you have an especially large house those shouldn't be necessary. If you do buy a new router, you might be able to use your old router as a range extender.