Is Your Connection Trapped in a Wireless Dead Zone?

You’ve set up your wireless router, used WPA2 encryption for your network, and picked a clever password. But something isn’t right. In parts of your home, the wireless signal is strong and stable, while in others it seems to disappear entirely. Chances are you’re the victim of a wireless dead zone. Here’s what you need to know:


Dead Zone?

Wireless or “WiFi” connections work by transmitting radio waves that can be picked up by any device equipped with the right reliever technology. If these waves are interrupted, obstructed, or altered in any way, the result is poor network performance or a complete lack of connection, also known as a wireless dead zone. To find dead zones in your home, grab a wireless-enabled device and go for walk. Keep an eye on the wireless connection strength indicator as you move from room to room, and see if certain areas cause a reduction in connectivity.

A couple of tips:

  • Be thorough. Rooms may have a single dead zone or several, so don’t just stand in the doorway and assume you’ve covered the whole area.
  • Make sure to move slowly. Your wireless connection indicator doens’t update instantly, so if you run through the house at full speed you won’t get an accurate network picture.

What Causes Dead Zones?

Dead zones can be caused by a number of factors. The simplest one is signal strength: The farther you get from your router, the harder it is to detect a signal. At the farthest point from your router in your home — for example the basement or back porch — you may lose connection entirely. Objects like walls, doors, and appliances also impact signal strength. Drywall, for example, reduces the strength of a signal by up to 50 percent. Large appliances like fridges or stoves are worse, resulting in an 80 percent or greater loss. Devices that produce signal interference, such as microwaves or baby monitors, can also hamper network performance while in use. In addition, other networks in your neighborhood can interfere with WiFi signals.

Tests and Fixes

If you’ve found a wireless dead zone in your home, it’s worth running a speed test to determine where the connection drops off and to what extent. These tests give you a general idea of download speed in megabits per second (Mbps), upload speed, and also the amount of time it takes for data packets to be sent from your device to the test site server and back again, known as latency. If you have slow speeds and high latency, chances are you’re on the edge of a dead zone.

If you want more detailed information about wireless strength in your home, consider the free Android WiFi Analyzer app or inSSIDer software for Windows or Mac laptops. Unfortunately, mobile iOS devices don’t support a more detailed WiFi look.

You have several choices when it comes to fixing wireless dead zones:

  • Start by moving your router, especially if it’s inside a cabinet or under a desk; the fewer obstacles signals must pass through, the greater their strength.
  • If moving the router doesn’t help, consider purchasing a WiFi booster. This device increases the range of your router’s signal and may help cure dead zones around the edge of your home.
  • It’s also possible to migrate your connection to a less-used wireless channel. The WiFi app or inSSIDer can show you which wireless channels in your area contain the most networks. You can then change to a clear channel through your router’s administrator website. The setup guide that came with your router should contain site address, login, and password details for this site.

Wireless dead zones can be frustrating, but with the right tools and a little patience, you can improve the reach and stability of your home network.

Photo credit: Flickr/NightRStar