Everyone wants the best Wi-Fi coverage most quickly, with the least effort!
This post includes quick tips for those looking to buy new Wi-Fi hardware today and set it correctly. It will explain things briefly and point you in the right direction, including links to in-depth guides, detailed posts, and best lists.
So, you might get overwhelmed by the number of related posts. Want to obtain a quick answer even faster? Use the Table of Contents below.
Building a Home Wi-Fi Network Correctly: Understanding the obvious
Since Wi-Fi is a complicated realm — there’s no one-size-fits-all — it’s a good idea to understand its nuance.
Let’s start with a few seemingly obvious items we often overlook that might lead to unnecessary Wi-Fi issues.
1. Wi-Fi and the Internet are two different things
If you’ve read some user reviews somewhere about a venue and run into comments about its Wi-Fi, know that the reviewer means Internet access. Folks often use one to tell the other.
And most of the time, that’s OK. But when troubleshooting or setting up a new network, knowing that Wi-Fi and the Internet are two different things is imperative.
Specifically, getting a new Wi-Fi router does not necessarily improve your online experience — that’s on your Internet.
2. Wi-Fi coverage is a sphere
That means the coverage resembles a sphere with the emitter in the center. However, in reality, it’s more like an egg in most cases, or even less ideal than that — it’s impossible to have a perfect orb — but you get the idea.
That said, you generally can orient a broadcaster however you see fit. If you want to know more about Wi-Fi signals, check out the posts on dBi and dBm below.
3. Wi-Fi range: What you see is not what you get
The diameter of the coverage sphere, in any direction, is a Wi-Fi broadcaster’s range — how far its radio waves can travel outward. So the million-dollar question is, what’s the actual coverage?
There’s no exact number. It varies depending on the environment, the hardware, and the Wi-Fi band. At any given time, there can be a lot of invisible stuff in the air hindering the radio waves.
Generally, the lower the GHz in frequencies, the longer the range but the slower the speed. In my experience, the 2.4GHz band of Wi-Fi 7 or 6E has almost double the range of the 6GHz band but just a fraction of the real-world bandwidth.
Generally, depending on the band and the environment, inside a home, a Wi-Fi broadcaster can blanket between 800 ft2 (75 m2) to 2500 ft2 (230 m2) of a leveled surface area. It’s tough, borderline impossible, to get a more extensive coverage.
With that, let’s consider some specifics regarding home Wi-Fi network building.
Building the best Wi-Fi network: Hardware purchase
Getting the proper hardware is the most important thing to create a robust home Wi-Fi network. Below are three tips on getting the correct hardware parts for your network.
1. Own, don’t rent, your broadband terminal device
In land-based broadband access, you generally have two options, Cable or Fiber-optic, of which the terminal device is a modem or an ONT.
DSL is similar to Cable, and satellite or cellular is similar to Fiber-optic.
But no matter what you get, here are a few suggestions:
- Get a standalone terminal device (modem or ONT)
- Avoid using a combo device — the gateway — which is a Wi-Fi router with a built-in terminal device.
- When possible, use your own equipment instead of renting one from the provider.
- For Fiber, have the ONT installed at a good place in your house — more in the placement section below.
- For Cable Internet:
2. Getting the right hardware: Single router vs. mesh system
A mesh system (which consists of multiple broadcasters) is not an upgrade to a standalone router but a necessary alternative. It’s best to have just one broadcaster within a home to avoid interference.
One router is enough if you live in a medium or small home — consider moving it as close to the center as possible. As for which one to get, that depends — this post on routers will explain more — but it’s safe to get one on the best lists below.
On the other hand, getting a mesh can be very complicated. As I explained in this post on Wi-Fi systems, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind:
- If you’re using an ISP-provided gateway:
- If your home is wired with network cable: Consider Dual-band Wi-Fi 6 or Tri-band Wi-Fi 6E hardware. (Wired backhauling is the only way to get the best-performing network — more below.)
- If you need a fully wireless system:
Below are the links to the current best mesh systems.
3. Three things not to do when getting Wi-Fi equipment
When getting new Wi-Fi hardware, keep these three don’ts in mind:
- Don’t be “cheap” or go for “future-proofing”.
- The Wi-Fi router is the most important gadget in your home — it’s like running water. Spend money where it matters, and don’t use cost as the main factor in picking hardware.
- Contrary, you shouldn’t waste your money on “future-proofing.” There’s no such thing. Get the equipment that works for you today.
- Don’t fall for “petite”: While the look can play a role — I’ve gotten quite a few comments from men complaining about the “wife acceptance” issue with particular routers — it’s important to note that size does matter in Wi-Fi. While you might not need a humongous router, tiny, cute, compact devices will never give you good performance and range. It’s just physics. A fast, powerful router needs to be of a certain physical size. Though not always, they tend to be bulky, ugly, or even slightly noisy, or all of that. Pick a combo you can tolerate.
- Generally, don’t get vendor-dependent devices: Specifically, I’d stay away from hyped-up and highly sponsored/affiliated Google Nest Wi-Fi, eero, and alike. Their requirements (login account, live connection with the vendor at all times, etc.) can translate into privacy risks. But most importantly, they tend to deliver mediocre performance and little or zero Wi-Fi customizations, which further hinder the performance.
Building the best Wi-Fi network: Tips on coverage and performance
These are general tips. Some apply to all situations; others are only to specific homes.
1. Run network cables
It might sound counterintuitive, but getting your home wired is the best way to bring the optimal Wi-Fi coverage. That’s especially true if you’re thinking of going Multi-Gig and getting 2.5Gbps, 5Gbps, or even 10Gbps connections.
Sometimes, you need to run only one cable. For others, you might want to wire the entire home. In any case, network cables will give you the most options for the best Wi-Fi coverage and performance.
For a home already wired to a cable TV network, you can use MoCA adapters to turn the coax wires into a network cable. In a wired home, it’s much easier to build a mesh network. With wired backhauling, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll get the best Wi-Fi performance out of each broadcaster in a system.
2. Proper placement
After wiring, placement is the second most important in Wi-Fi setup, especially when you have to use a fully wireless mesh system.
Common Wi-Fi placement rules
Considering the sphere notion above, it’s best to put your Wi-Fi broadcaster (router, access point) close to the center of the area. Additionally, you would want the broadcaster and your devices on the same “plane.” It’s best to elevate it by wall mounting or placing it on a shelf, clear of other objects.
No matter where you can place your broadcaster, make sure:
- Keep it out in the open
- Don’t cover it with anything. (The aluminum foil idea you might have heard of is nonsensical!)
- Keep its antennas, if any, in the vertical position, then leave them alone.
Wi-Fi placement rules: Wired vs. wireless
Sometimes, running a single network cable helps a lot. For example, you can use one cable to connect your modem or Fiber ONT to the best place you want the router to be, which is recommended to be the center of the desired coverage.
Or, if you use a mesh system, run a cable to link the router from one corner of the house to a satellite unit at another to form a reliable and strong backhaul connection between the two.
If you use a mesh system in a fully wireless setup (no network cable involved), the hardware placement can be tricky. But generally:
- Place the satellite around the main router in the star topology.
- The satellite should be at the ideal distance from the primary router, where its signal is around -70 dBm in strength.
3. Other tips for the best Wi-Fi coverage and performance
Below are additional general tips you can do to keep your home Wi-Fi network at its best.
Cut down the number of legacy and “smart” Wi-Fi devices
Wi-Fi Internet of Things (IoTs) devices often use dated Wi-Fi standards and can bog down a modern Wi-Fi 6 (or later) router. That said, consider the following:
- Avoid using no-name Wi-Fi smart devices
- Use Smart Home devices with a separate hub as the only device that connects directly to your network (via Wi-Fi or a wired connection.)
- Use a separate Wi-Fi network (access point or band) for these devices.
If you want to know why using dated Wi-Fi clients is no good, I detailed that in this post on Airtime Fairness.
Separate the bands
When possible, separating the Wi-Fi bands instead of using “Smart Connect” gives you more control of the network. You can segment the network accordingly. Such as:
- Delegate the 2.4GHz band to slow devices.
- Put fast devices on the (first) 5GHz band.
- Connect mixed 5GHz devices to the second 5GHz band (if available).
- Use the 6GHz band (if available) exclusively for fast clients.
On top of that, many routers also enable you to create virtual networks out of a single band, such as a Guest network. You can use them for this purpose.
Using all of the bands as a single network allows you not to have to reconnect when you move far from the router. The 2.4GHz band has the best range, but in my experience, it tends to cause more bandwidth and performance issues.
At the very least, all bands must work in compatibility mode, which is never good.
Turn off the VPN when not needed
If you work from home and need to connect to your office, then a VPN is helpful. Sometimes, it’s a requirement. A VPN allows your device to be part of a remote network securely. For the same reason, it’s also useful when you travel.
However, when you don’t need to be part of a remote network, using a VPN will only worsen the connection’s speed, not to mention the privacy risks – your device’s online activities go through the VPN server.
That said, when you’re at home and use a third-party VPN for “better security,” you should consider turning it off or removing it. You’re probably fooling yourself at the expense of your connection speed and privacy, not to mention the monthly cost.
Prioritizing your bandwidth
Generally, a single device can hog all of a sub-Gigabit broadband bandwidth.
For example, when you download a large file, all available Internet bandwidth will be used until the task is complete. During this time, other devices might have problems staying connected. That’s especially problematic when you’re on a video call.
That’s where a feature called QoS, or Quality of Service, comes into play. QoS helps prioritize the Internet bandwidth at a device or application level. A good router always has this feature built-in.
Networking is always complicated. Hopefully, you have figured out where to jump by now.
Simply put, you must understand your home’s layout, what you need, and how Wi-Fi works to get a solution that gives you the best coverage and performance. Come to think about it, getting a Wi-Fi solution can be as complicated as looking for a partner — both are networking — albeit with much lower financial and emotional risks.
In any case, remember: you never get everything. I speak from experience.
Dong’s note: I first published this piece on January 9, 2022, and updated it on February 15, 2024, with up-to-date information.