Boosting your Wi-Fi: Time to change the channel

Did you know that the channel your router is using, can impact the speed and strength of your Internet connection?

If you’re in a populated area such as flats, student dorms, or a city centre, then chances are there’s a list of Wi-Fi networks currently using the exact same channel as you. For every network that’s connected to the same channel, you should expect to encounter more interference, which will have an impact on your network’s performance.

By switching to a less crowded channel, you can avoid all the interference from neighbouring networks, and boost the speed, strength and overall quality of your Internet connection.

In this article, I’ll show you how to see exactly which channels your roomates, colleagues and neighbours are broadcasting on, before showing you how to switch to a channel that’s much less crowded.

2.4GHz or 5GHz?

Just like radio stations, Wi-Fi operates on different frequencies:

  • 2.4GHz. This frequency is typically slower, but is better than 5GHz at penetrating brick and concrete. Typically, 2.4GHz has 13 different Wi-Fi channels, but there’s a number of household devices that share the 2.4GHz frequency, including baby monitors and cordless phones.
  • 5GHz. This frequency is typically faster than 5GHz and doesn’t overlap with other common household applications, but 5GHz doesn’t pass through obstacles as easily as 2.4GHz.

Modern routers broadcast both 5GHz and 2.4GHz Wi-Fi signals at the same time, so your router shouldn’t have any issues shifting between these frequencies, depending on what works best for you. There’s also a choice of channels for both 5GHz and 2.4GHz frequencies.

Check your neighbours!

For the fastest, most reliable Wi-Fi, you should identify and connect to the least crowded channel:

  • Hold down the “Option/Alt” key on your keyboard, while pressing the “Wi-Fi” icon in your Mac’s menu bar.
  • Select “Open Wireless Diagnostics…”
  • From the toolbar, select “Window > Scan.”

The subsequent window contains a wealth of information about all your neighbouring networks. To see exactly which channels you and your neighbours are broadcasting on, scroll right, to the “Channel” column.

While it’s interesting to get an insight into your neighbour’s networks, you don’t have to dig through this table in order to discover the least populated channel. Take a look at the “Summary” section, and you’ll find a “Best 2.4 GHz” and “Best 5 GHz” channel – for the best results, these are the channels you should be connecting to.

Changing the channel: Automatically and manually

Unless you have a specific reason not to, you should switch to Wireless Diagnostic’s recommended channels.

You can encourage your router to change channels, by turning the router off at its power source, and then turning it back on again. Once your router powers up, it should select the strongest channel automatically.

If you have a specific channel in mind, then you can move to this channel manually, by editing your router’s settings.

In this section, I’ll outline the general steps you’ll need to take, in order to modify your router’s settings. Some details may vary depending on your model of router, so if you encounter any difficulties, then consult your router’s user manual or online documentation for more information.

  • Find your router’s IP address by navigating to “System preferences > Network > Advanced.”
  • Select the “TCP/IP” tab; you’ll find your router’s address next to “Router.”

  • Enter this address into your web browser, which should launch the settings for your particular router.
  • Look for a page or section related to your Wi-Fi channel, for example “Change wireless channel,” “Channel settings,” or even something generic, such as “Wi-Fi settings.”
  • Once you’ve found the correct section, follow the onscreen instructions to switch to your desired channel.

Could you be entitled to an upgrade?

In the worst case scenario, you’ll discover that a lot of nearby networks are broadcasting on the 2.4GHz frequency, but you have an older router that isn’t able to transmit at the 5GHz frequency.

While you could splash out on a new router, it’s always worth getting in touch with your Internet Service Provider (ISP) first, as they may be willing to upgrade your router for free – especially if you just-so-happen to mention that you’re considering switching to a competitor who is willing to supply you with a shiny new router!

Before you go

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About the author

Jessica Thornsby

Jessica Thornsby is a technical writer based in Sheffield. She writes about Android, Java, Kotlin and all things Apple. She is the co-author of O'Reilly's "iWork: The Missing Manual," and the author of "Android UI Design," from Packt Publishing.

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