How to Get a Stronger WiFi Signal

Before you run out to buy a new router, try these tips for improving the signal throughout your home.

There are few things quite as frustrating as a crummy WiFi connection.

Picture the scene: You’re at home relaxing after a hard day of work and you decide to stream the latest episode of “Masters of the Air” on Apple TV+. With some snacks on the coffee table and a drink in hand, you hit the Play button on your remote control and wait for the program to begin.

And wait and wait and wait.

When it works, your home WiFi connection is your gateway to all the internet has to offer: the latest hits on Apple TV+ and Netflix; white-knuckle competitive gaming in Call of Duty; and sporting events available exclusively on Peacock or Prime Video.

Got an all-night dance party planned? A reliable WiFi connection ensures your Sonos can seamlessly stream Spotify without annoying skips in the music.

But when it fails you, your home WiFi connection can be a great big headache.

We’re here to help. We test dozens of WiFi routers a year in our labs just north of New York City, from high-end mesh router systems that can blanket a sprawling home layout in coverage to $20 extenders that eliminate dead spots in your home office. (The full results of these tests are available to CR members.) We’ve seen it all—which is how we know what steps you can take today to improve your WiFi signal.

Is Your Router a Slowpoke?

Understanding the basics of router operation can help you fix some hiccups.

“Think of a router as an electronic traffic cop,” says Richard Fisco, who oversees electronics testing for Consumer Reports. 

Once it’s hooked up to the modem provided by your internet service provider (ISP), it directs the internet access throughout your home, making it wirelessly available to devices like your laptop, phone, and TV.

If your WiFi connection is noticeably sluggish, you may be tempted to write off your current router as a dud. But don’t be too hasty—there may be other factors at play.

First, take a look at a bill from your ISP to see what level of broadband you’re paying for. You’ll need a connection of at least 15 megabits per second to stream Netflix in 4K, for example. So, if you’re not paying for at least that, or don’t have access to that kind of speed where you live, a brand new router isn’t going to help you.

You can easily run a speed test using a service like to see what you’re really getting. You may want to run this test a few times. First, run it with your laptop plugged into your router to check your speed in the best-case scenario. You can then move around with your laptop to different areas of your home to see how fast WiFi is at different locations.

Next, you’ll want to assess the placement of your router. They tend to do best when set up in the center of a home, allowing the WiFi signal to reach out in every direction. A router tucked away in a corner may not have the range to travel to the other side of the house, or from the second floor to the basement, because the signal degrades the farther it gets from the source.

If your router is in a suboptimal spot (a closet, say, or perhaps the basement), try moving it. One way is to buy a long Ethernet cable (keep it under 300 feet), plug it into the modem and the router, and move the router yourself. Or you can ask your ISP to help you relocate the modem, though the company may charge you depending on the labor involved. If you’re planning to change providers, Fisco says, you may be able to get the job done free, so ask while you’re negotiating the switch.

If your router is already in a central location, the slow connection might be due to obstacles in the house that can impede a WiFi signal. You can try moving the router around a room to address such problems.

If those tweaks don’t help, it may be time to find a model better suited to your needs, especially if you’ve been using a single-unit router in a multi-story home.

Which Router Is Best for You?

There are two types of WiFi routers on the market: traditional models and mesh network models. There are also WiFi extenders, which we’ll explain in a bit.

You’re probably familiar with traditional WiFi routers. They’re single-unit devices that plug into a modem. They can be plenty fast, supporting even the data-hungry activities of families with dozens of internet-connected devices. But they don’t always have the range to effectively blanket a whole home in WiFi, especially if you have a large or obstacle-laden layout. (See WiFi Roadblocks below.)

Mesh routers are typically packaged in a set with multiple units—a hub and one or more satellites—that work together to steer WiFi around certain obstacles and spread it into the far-flung corners of a home. If you place the hub, which plugs into your modem, near the center of your home, you can shift around the satellites, which help relay the WiFi signal, until you find a configuration that helps you eliminate any dead spots.

So why doesn’t everyone simply choose a mesh router? They’re pricey, for one thing. The top-rated models in our ratings regularly cost several hundred dollars, with a few models even reaching $1,000. That’s a lot of money just to watch Seinfeld reruns on Netflix. But we do recommend some models that cost roughly $100 to $200.

There’s also an argument to be made for simplicity.

With a mesh system, you have several devices strewn about your home vs. just one with a traditional router. If you don’t actually need a mesh router, there’s no reason to invest in one.

As for WiFi extenders, these are devices that can extend the reach of your existing WiFi network by repeating the signal. They’re not as effective as mesh routers, but can cost as little as $20. And at that price, given our testing of several popular models, they may be useful for those merely trying to eliminate a single trouble spot in their homes, such as one WiFi dead zone in a spare bedroom or attic office.

5 Common WiFi Roadblocks & How to Fix Them

Here are some common obstacles to think about as you search for the ideal place to put your router. In this diagram, we’ve arranged a three-piece mesh router network to help eliminate potential dead spots in a multilevel home.

For the best results, place the hub in the center of your home (1) and between the satellites (2 and 3), says CR’s Fisco. Note that satellite 3 sits on the kitchen counter away from the refrigerator (4). The WiFi signal from both the hub and satellites can also reach up and down to other floor levels, eliminating potential dead zones.

The Walls
Thicker walls tend to absorb more of a WiFi signal than thinner walls. While you can’t easily change how thick your walls are, simply repositioning a mesh satellite closer to a room’s entrance may help boost the signal.

The Fridge
A refrigerator and other appliances that contain a lot of metal can cause trouble, too. WiFi signals may bounce off them instead of passing through to the other side. Metal plumbing and rebar in your walls create similar problems.

The Neighbors
If you live in an apartment building or a heavily populated neighborhood, you might be susceptible to wireless congestion created by nearby devices running on the 2.4GHz frequency band. Most routers released within the last 10 years support an additional frequency band, 5GHz, while routers released within the past four years may also support the 6GHz band. These two bands are faster than 2.4GHz. Depending on your exact router model, you may have to go into the device settings to select these faster bands.

The Microwave
Microwaves also operate in the 2.4GHz frequency band, which can cause interference if, for example, you decide to make a second bag of popcorn while streaming a Netflix movie. To avoid the interruption on movie night, make sure your device is on either the 5GHz or 6GHz band.

The Fish Tank
Water absorbs electromagnetic radiation like WiFi signals, so make sure your router isn’t parked next to your new 20-gallon fish tank.

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