A gadget’s only as good as its internet connection. Few things drive you crazier than a stuttery PUBG session or an episode of Game of Thrones streaming one. Halting. Word. At. A. Time. You probably don’t think much about your router, though. And yet, by the time you’ve connected a family’s worth of phones and tablets—plus your laptop, Roku, Xbox, smart fridge, doorbell, and thermostat—you’ve stressed out that Netgear RT-X86Something you bought at Circuit City in 2008. You remember your router, right? The one stashed in a closet somewhere, forgotten until the Comcast guy tells you to unplug it.
You can do better. And so can your Wi-Fi. Luckily, getting faster internet requires nothing more than some light interior decorating and a few strings of numbers that we swear we’re not using to hack you. Or, if you’re into upgrades, you can solve your problem with one credit card swipe.
Believe it or not, routers finally feature upgrades worth the price. Mesh networks, as they’re known, use two or more boxes to create a larger, more capable range of coverage. You can connect more devices and get internet in more places; plus, most of these new devices are smart enough to choose the right channels and bands to keep your internet running smoothly. Buy an Eero, or Google Wifi, or maybe a Plume, and in five minutes you’ll have a dramatically better home setup.
Don’t want to drop $300? OK, at least make sure you’re running the latest version of your router’s firmware. Every router works slightly differently, but a quick Google search will show you how to get in, and a quick update will ensure you’re getting the best performance and the most security.
Location, Location, Location
The short wavelengths used by Wi-Fi routers don’t do well with walls, floors, doors, couches, and carpets. Keep your router out in the open where you can see it—anything between your gadget and your router just slows things down. Put it next to the TV, not in the cabinet.
For best results, try a few places by plugging in your router, running a speed test, and finding where things work best. Pro tip: Place it somewhere high. Because of the way most antennas are designed, the stream of internet your router emits mostly travels downward. The higher you place it, then, the more directly it’ll get to you. Kitchen counters are good places, or if you’re really after that low-latency goodness, stick the thing to your ceiling. It’s like a chandelier!
We shouldn’t have to tell you this, because you read WIRED, but you need a password on your Wi-Fi. It’s good for keeping hackers away, and keeping neighbors from Netflixing off your bandwidth. Make sure you use AES encryption, too (it’s usually right there in the dropdown), which is both the most secure and most speed-friendly security option.
Another thing: Your probably should have two networks. One for you, one for guests. Everyone asks for the password, but you’re better off limiting the number of people and devices on your personal network to things you actually want there. Plus, let’s be real: Do you really trust your friends? If they’d text your exes just because you left your phone unlocked, they’d definitely hack you just for fun.
Plan and Prioritize
Does it ever feel like the internet’s slowest right after dinner, or when some big TV show is on? That’s not in your head. The more people online, the slower your connection. This isn’t a router change, it’s a you change. Start your big downloads right before you go to bed so they can work in relative calm, and if you need rock-solid connectivity to the DOTA servers, maybe fake a cough and head home early. Nobody’s stealing your bandwidth at 1:30 pm.
It also helps to reduce the number of devices on your network. Having dozens of things tapping into the Wi-Fi can be just as problematic as trying to play FIFA online while simultaneously torrenting the whole of The Sopranos. Plug anything you can into Ethernet, and unplug anything you have connected but don’t need (like that “smart” tea kettle you never once got to work). Make sure only the things that need internet get internet.
On most recent routers, you can even prioritize a particular device or service through the same wonky settings menu you’d use to create a password or update the firmware. It’s a hacky but handy way to make sure your games never get interrupted by someone’s Facebooking. If you have Luma or Google Wifi, you get even more granular controls—you can prioritize the Fire TV, but only for the next two hours.
Remember, though: Wi-Fi is a strangely personal thing. Performance depends on where you are, what the walls are made of, when your microwave was manufactured, and whether the guy who laid the cables did it right. You never see the speeds advertised on the box. But without trying very hard, you can make the situation much better. And with a new set of routers now, your network can be ready for the next time you come back from Home Depot with a car full of smart-home stuff. You know that’s happening soon.