Tech Talk: How to improve your wi-fi signal

BOX CLEVER: This top-of-the-range router from Linksys will set you back �200.
BOX CLEVER: This top-of-the-range router from Linksys will set you back �200.
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IF I were a betting man, I’d wager that the router on a shelf in your house is the one that came free with your broadband account. And I’d put down a few pounds more on it being the cheapest model your internet company could get its hands on.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean you should part with any of your own cash to upgrade it. Routers are the boxes which take the data sent through your phone line and distribute it to all the internet-enabled devices in your house. You’ll see stacks of them at your local Currys, from around £50 to £200, all promising faster speeds and more robust wi-fi transmission – and if you believe the manufacturers’ claims, you may well be tempted to pick one up.

However, before you do, it’s worth asking yourself a few questions – chief among which should be whether you’re dissatisfied with the connectivity you already have. It’s common to find wi-fi blackspots in your house, but you would be wrong to think that a new and better router would necessarily eliminate them. A simple and cheap universal range extender, available from larger supermarkets, may do a better job.

You should also consider whether the faster speeds promised by expensive routers would actually make a difference to the devices you own. An upgrade may double or even quadruple the transmission speed of your present, standard-issue model – but only to devices capable of receiving those speeds.

The latest trend in routers is for dual-band models, which simultaneously generate two wi-fi networks in your home – one at the highest-available speed for compatible devices, and a second “slow lane” for older units. Dual-band routers cost more, so only consider one if you have a number of devices capable of receiving at the new standard of 5GHz.

If none of the caveats put you off, it’s worth considering a second-hand router from eBay. Pick wisely and you can have a fully working unit for around £30.

Be sure to choose the right model for your internet connection – an ADSL modem/router for standard broadband from BT, Plusnet, Sky and others, and a cable router for Virgin packages. Confusingly, a cable router is also the right choice for fibre broadband, irrespective of supplier.

Remember, your internet company’s helpline won’t be able to help you set up your new box, so put time aside as well as money.