Everything that might be slowing your Wi-Fi down

Everyone loves fast Wi-Fi, but unless you're perched on a stool right next to your router you might not get the speeds you're expecting. So what's the problem? A variety of obstacles, devices and blockages can slow down Wi-Fi, as we'll outline for you here.

Some are obvious, like the three floors that lie between you and your Wi-Fi box; others are a little less well-known, such as the fish tank that sits in your living room (you might have to choose between fast Wi-Fi and the fish, but we can't help you make that decision).

Walls, floors and distance

Let's start with the more commonly known enemies of speedy Wi-Fi: walls, floors and just simple distance. Every step you take further away from your router reduces the speed you get, though the most modern boxes can cover some serious ground.

Plaster-and-lath walls with corrugated wire inside can be particularly problematic in blocking wireless internet signals, as can walls made of more solid material: brick, stone and so on. You're typically going to find that walls block more of your Wi-Fi signals than floors and ceilings do, which might help you reposition your router.

Modern-day Wi-Fi signals have the least problems with plasterboard (or drywall if you're in the US), plywood, and other types of wood and glass. The truth is though that everything blocks the radio waves of Wi-Fi a little. The best you can do is keep your router and your devices as close together as possible with as few obstructions between them as you can.

Generally speaking, opening and closing doors isn't going to make much of a difference to Wi-Fi speeds - unless you happen to live in a heavily secured fortress with thick steel doors - but for the fastest connection you really need to have a line of sight to your router.

Microwaves and baby monitors

We've got some bad news for lovers of fast cooking and newborn babies, because microwaves and baby monitors are two of the worst offenders when it comes to interfering with Wi-Fi signals, thanks to the wireless signals they emit themselves.

The problem is that routers, baby monitors and microwaves tend to use the same 2.4GHz wireless frequency, which is going to cause issues. The best solution is to move the offending bits of kit as far away from your laptop and router as you can - though that may not be possible depending on the layout of your house, of course.

There is light at the end of the tunnel: modern-day microwaves are designed to be very well shielded in terms of the electromagnetic interference they pump out, while modern-day routers can work with a broader range of wireless channels, including 5GHz. If you keep your hardware regularly updated, you should be able to minimise the issues.

Cordless telephones are another type of device to watch out for - not in terms of your smartphone but in terms of landline phones that let you roam around the house free from any wires: don't be surprised if the Wi-Fi cuts out while you're making a call.

Other wireless electronics

Plenty of other electronic devices can interfere with your Wi-Fi, though in most cases the disruption will be minimal - otherwise none of us who owned more than one gadget would be able to get online.

Fridges and freezers can be bad news for a strong Wi-Fi connection - again our old friend electromagnetic interference is to blame. If you've got the router set up on top of the fridge in the kitchen then you might want to think about moving it somewhere else if you want a strong signal to reach all the tablets and laptops you've got at home.

The list goes on: Bluetooth devices, of which you've probably got a few, can cause some disruption of their own as wireless streams get crossed. If it's getting to be an issue for you then you're best off upgrading your kit, as most modern bits of Bluetooth hardware will be geared towards working happily with modern routers.

While we're on the topic it's worth keeping both your router firmware and your laptops and mobile devices right up to date with the newest software, which will minimise the chances of problems. Updating your router's hardware sounds overly technical, but with the help of the device's instruction manual you can do it in just a few minutes.

And some other household items

They may not make a huge difference to your Wi-Fi strength, but toaster ovens, electric blankets and heating pads have also been mentioned in the past as potential threats to the stability of your Netflix binge-watching. As we mentioned above, fish tanks can dampen Wi-Fi signals too.

And here's another you might not have known about: fairy lights. In fact flourescent bulbs of any description can potentially play havoc with your wireless - surprise surprise it's that electromagnetic interference again, and as we've touched on before, it's the older and cheaper kit that's going to be most problematic.

If you're living in an apartment, meanwhile, try and keep your router away from the corner nearest the lift, because all that metal isn't great for wireless connectivity. Marble is a known blocker of Wi-Fi signals too, as are mirrors and ceramics - something to bear in mind if you've got a luxury bathroom installed.

All of which might make you think you've got no hope for ever getting a solid Wi-Fi signal - but we've got you covered with some tips in that area. Meanwhile, consider setting up wired connections for your desktops and laptops and consoles - it might be easier than you think to fix some cables in place, and your internet suddenly becomes much more secure, fast and reliable at the same time.