What's zapping your Wi-Fi connection?

Expert reveals Wi-Fi killers, ways to boost your speed

By Scott Johnson - Reporter , Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - From slowdowns to pixelations, dealing with a sluggish internet connection can be annoying, especially now that almost everything we do relies on Wi-Fi. News4Jax found actual "Wi-Fi killers" in your home -- including household items -- that can be making matters even worse.

Jim Scalise, the president of Star Tech Group, an IT consulting company based in Jacksonville, said it is common for Wi-Fi to fluctuate, and one reason is your neighbors.

"Especially in a larger city where the Wi-Fi density is greater, you're going to have difficulty getting your Wi-Fi to reach that maximum speed or work at all," he explained.

Scalise said people who live in urban areas or apartment complexes can have problems because there are so many competing Wi-Fi signals in a small area.    

"Wi-Fi signals are described to me as being like having a lot of noise around, makes it kind of hard to hear," Scalise said. "But if you eliminate all the competing noise, you hear me just fine. The same is true with Wi-Fi signals."

On the flip side, he said people who live in more rural areas, without competing signals, can get very good speeds.

Michelle Mealey lives in an apartment and said she deals with variable Wi-Fi signals all the time.

"Usually when people are coming home from work, about 5 or 6 o'clock. Also when people are streaming videos, it comes down as well," Mealey said.

Besides neighbors, Scalise said popular household appliances can slow down Wi-Fi.

"A common household appliance that can really affect your Wi-Fi signal is your microwave," he said, explaining that Wi-Fi signals are actually similar to microwave signals.

As for house phones, those also operate on similar frequencies, which means they can impact Wi-Fi signals, too. Scalise said he’s also come across cases where other electronics, like a computer or a printer, hurt signals as well.

To work around these “Wi-Fi killers,” Scalise recommends keeping a router at least a foot or two away from any electronics. It also helps to keep the router at least as high as the furniture in the house and avoid surrounding it with metal.

One other trick: Keep the router away from rooms where a lot of people gather, because humans are made mostly of water and water actually inhibits a signal.

Another option to boost Wi-Fi speed: Change the frequency on the router from 2.4 Gigahertz to 5 Gigahertz. But Scalise said that usually only works on newer routers and newer devices.

And remember, if you change the frequency on your router, you also have to change the frequency on any device you use to connect to your home Wi-Fi. Make the frequency change by going to the settings on the router as well as your computer and/or devices. (Step-by-step directions to change your frequency)

A website that can help find Wi-Fi dead zones in your home is Speedtest.net. Consumer Reports said with sites like this one, you can get a quick read of your speed at various times. It's a free service and is also available on the iPhone and Android mobile platforms.

How to use Speedtest.net:

  1. Start testing your speed in seconds by using the Begin Test button on the front page map. This will find a server near you, and test the ping, download speed, and upload speed of your internet connection.
  2. If you'd like more data, you can repeat the test, either to the same server or to a new one in a different location. The site has more than 2,700 hosts worldwide, so there are plenty of options for you to manually select from the map. These servers are used for the testing and measuring alone; they do not control your internet performance.

If you have additional questions about Speedtest.net, the website offers a step-by-step tutorial.

Scalise said there are also barriers throughout your home. Walls aren't that bad if they're just sheetrock, but concrete -- particularly concrete with rebar in it -- can cause a barrier, and you may need to move your router to a better spot.

If you have an older router, Scalise said consider buying a new one. Some can even be enhanced.

"You can get antennas that focus that signal, and so you're shooting that antenna in a specific direction and it will penetrate walls better," he explained.

Consumer Reports said the problem might be with the modem itself, which brings the signal into your home. If you have an older one, replacing it with a newer model can help improve speeds, too. If you rent your modem, you can ask your internet provider to replace it with a newer model. Learn more about how to get a stronger Wi-Fi signal at ConsumerReports.org.

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