Fix My WiFi: Router Placement

Your router’s placement within your home can make a night and day difference in how your WiFi performs, and thus your experience with your internet service. As someone who has seen, first-hand, router placement within hundreds of homes, I can say that far too many people are creating their own unnecessary WiFi problems.

Don’t bury your router

WiFi works by broadcasting signal from your router, and within that broadcast range, it’s sending information to and receiving information from devices connected to it. If you stick your router in a drawer, behind a desk, under a dresser or underneath a pile of papers or clothes, you should know that you’re messing up your router’s ability to broadcast and communicate efficiently.

Really, WiFi transmissions are very similar to what happens with your voice when you talk and how you converse with other people across distances. Imagine you’re trying to have a conversation with somebody who is in the next room. However, instead of facing in their direction to communicate, you turn away from them, get on the ground and speak with your lips on the floor. Or, talk into a large stack of papers or a bookshelf — same thing. This makes communication more difficult than it needs to be. The other person is going to have a harder time hearing you, and you’re going to have a harder time hearing them. This isn’t to say that you cannot communicate, rather that communications will be strained, and some information may not be conveyed properly or at all.

There are a lot of things that affect WiFi that you cannot easily control, but router placement is something that you have some say in. If possible, try to put your router in a central location in your home, if needing WiFi all over, and in the area(s) where you use WiFi most, try to minimize obstructions between your router and that general area.

Keep it out of the kitchen

Back before I worked for a WISP and knew relatively little about how the internet works and even less about routers, I had internet service that was setup in my kitchen. I moved things around and ended up putting my router on my microwave for a brief period. What I didn’t know at the time was that microwaves can knock out WiFi. Back in the early/mid-2000s you didn’t get a dual-band router from your ISP, it was 2.4Ghz only. It’s not hard to figure out if your WiFi cuts out completely, but if you’re only seeing mild disturbances, it could be harder to put two and two together.

If possible, keep your router out of your kitchen. Though this doesn’t guarantee that your microwave won’t cause WiFi disruptions, it may help. Because microwave ovens appear to operate at 2450Mhz, at least in the United States, you could also stick your 2.4Ghz WiFi on channel 1 (2412Mhz) with 20Mhz channel widths if possible to avoid actively using the same frequency as your microwave. 2450Mhz sits between Channels 6 and 11, so there’s a greater chance of disruptive interference if using those. You can also use 5Ghz WiFi to likely avoid microwave-related disruptions, but I know that heavy interference affecting a wireless AP can actually cause noticeable weirdness at the device level, so your mileage may vary.

If this topic is of interest to you, this Q & A on Superuser.com may be a worthwhile read.

Consider obstacle height

In the homes I’ve been in, it’s pretty common for routers to sit fairly low: either at a desk, on an end table or somewhere near a TV. One-piece routers, or those without external antennas, tend to broadcast more horizontal than vertical. So, with your router sitting at 2-3′ off the ground, there are likely a larger number of obstacles for your WiFi to travel through, thus hampering signal more than it possibly needs to as you get further away.

If you have a shelf or something up higher than your home furnishings and appliances, for example, by placing your router up there it may allow you to get better WiFi performance when you’re further away from the router. There are no guarantees that higher will be better, which can depend on your router, your home’s layout, wall makeup and wireless environment (amongst other things), but it’s certainly worth a try if you’re struggling to get decent WiFi performance in rooms beyond your router.

Respect your router’s personal space

Routers not only need room to breathe (as in airflow — they are computers, after all), but they need space around them for your WiFi to work properly. For most of us, this will take a little bit of work. Maybe you need to buy a 50′ cat6 cable or put up a small shelf. However, if you’re like most people, having internet access is extremely important, and your router’s WiFi performance can make or break your ability to use the internet freely, without constant struggles. So, it’s worth the minimal effort.

After I came up with the title for this post, I thought it’d be nice to create a little series — “Fix my WiFi”. So, as I add new posts to the series, which may take some time, you can find them under the Fix my WiFi tag.

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