This story is part Tips for the houseCNET’s collection of handy tips for getting the most out of your home, inside and out.
I spent the last two years at CNET wifi router test and reviewand if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s this: in most homes, the most effective way to improve Wi-Fi is to switch to a mesh router.
The reasoning here is quite simple. Traditional Routers emit a Wi-Fi signal from a single point in your home, but mesh routers use multiple devices to emit a usable signal from multiple points in your home. This makes them more like a team of routers working together to relay your traffic to the modem. It’s a much better approach to home networking, especially in large multi-story homes, where a traditional single-point router will likely leave you with dead spots in the farthest rooms. They can even make a significant difference in smaller homes, especially if you have dead zone rooms where speeds aren’t as fast as you’d like.
Most mesh routers are fairly simple to use: just connect a device to your modem with an Ethernet cable, plug it in, then follow the instructions in the system app. From there, you’ll need to choose locations for the remaining satellite extenders, which are also sometimes called nodes (or “points” if you’re a Nest WiFi user). Still, you’ll want to think about where you put things, as their specific location will have a significant impact on system performance. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind as you go. (You can also consult our advice on the best location for your Wi-Fi routerand how to protect your home Wi-Fi network from hackers.)
Where should you install your mesh router?
As with most wireless transmissions, it doesn’t take much to disrupt your Wi-Fi signal and slow it down. That’s why it’s important to place your mesh extenders strategically, in places where they can work best.
Move your main router
First, you’ll want the main router in your setup — the mesh device that’s wired to your modem — to be located as centrally in your home as possible. This is the same approach you would take with a single routerand the reasoning is the same: routers send out Wi-Fi signals in all directions, so placing your router in a central location in your home will get the most out of your connection.
This goes double for mesh systems, where the strength of the connection near your extenders will largely depend on the strength of the incoming signal from the main router. A stronger connection between the two will help ensure that you achieve the fastest Wi-Fi speeds possible throughout your home.
Your options for moving the router may seem limited by the location of your modem, and incoming wiring for your home Internet connection. An extra-long Ethernet cable can be useful here, giving you the freedom to move the router away from where the modem is, if needed. If that’s not practical, you’ll want to at least move that main router out into the open, and preferably as high off the ground as possible.
Try moving those extenders
Once you’ve placed the main router in the best possible location, you’ll want to choose good locations for the extenders. With most systems, you can connect each device to the main router with an Ethernet cable for the fastest possible speeds, but most users prefer to connect everything wirelessly. In this case, you’ll want to be very strategic about where you place extension cords throughout your home.
Again, in the open and off the ground is your best bet for a clear signal, but you’ll also want to think about your home layout, as physical obstacles between the main router and extenders can slow things down. .
A good rule of thumb, as a general rule, is to try to keep the devices in your mesh setup within two rooms of each other. This will vary from home to home, especially if yours is built with dense materials like brick or concrete in the walls that can be difficult for Wi-Fi signals to penetrate. You’ll also want to watch out for interference electronics from televisions and other major appliances, so if you’re sticking a mesh extension cord in the kitchen, resist the urge to hide it on the fridge and keep it away from your appliances. absolutely.
Furniture can also block Wi-Fi signals, so if you have something large or bulky between two of your mesh devices, consider moving it. Fish tanks are another classic antagonist for your mesh setup, as Wi-Fi struggles to transmit through water.
The best way to make sure your mesh network is as well connected as possible is to open its app and check each device’s signal strength, which most systems offer. You can also find system-specific advice online at the links below:
Avoid dead zones
If you have a back corner of your house where the signal drops out, it might be tempting to stick a mesh extender right in the middle of that dead zone to boost your speeds. In many cases, that would be a mistake.
Remember that just like your phone or laptop, your mesh extenders must connect wirelessly to the main router in your setup. And if that back corner is a dead zone for your phone or laptop, it will likely be a dead zone for your mesh extender as well.
The best approach is to place this extension adjacent to the dead zone to a place where it will have an easier time connecting to the main router. In some cases, it may be halfway between the dead zone and the main router, but you may need to experiment a bit. Hit the sweet spot, and the Wi-Fi signal it emits should be healthy, and one that will stretch into the dead zone to bring it back to life.
Run a speed test
Other than the diagnostic tools in your mesh router’s app, the quickest way to check your system’s performance is to run speed tests. There are many free online services that we recommendeach of which will tell you the upload and download speeds on the device you’re using in a minute or less.
For the best information, grab your laptop or phone and run several speed tests in every room in your home where you need a usable Wi-Fi signal. Ultimately, you should have a good rough idea of where the velocities are most stable and where they dip. From there you can try moving your extenders around to try and balance things out, or you can consider buying an extra extender to fill in the gaps. Either way, your home should have a strong signal wherever you need it.
Other Things to Consider for Your Mesh Router
Remember that your mesh router can only offer speeds as fast as what you pay for from your ISP. If the speeds are grossly insufficient in your area, it may be time to consider upgrade to a faster plan (and it might be worth seeing if your ISP will let you try a faster plan for a few days to see if that’s the problem). Your ISP may also be able to provide you an updated modem it will bring better and faster speeds to your mesh system to begin with. It can’t hurt to ask.
If speeds still seem slower than you’d like and your ISP isn’t the answer, there are a few other things you can try. For starters, if your provider’s modem is a gateway device that doubles as a router, you’ll need to disable its Wi-Fi network so that it doesn’t interfere with your mesh system’s Wi-Fi network.
Speaking of interference, it’s possible that a neighbor’s Wi-Fi network is interfering with yours. To remedy this, go to your mesh router’s app and find the channel settings which allow you to tune your network to a different part of the Wi-Fi waves, potentially moving away from any channel used by nearby networks. . You’ll also want to make sure your mesh system’s firmware is up to date, which should be easy to check in its app.
To learn more, check out our picks for best wifi 6 routersand how to find free wifi anywhere in the world.