A common problem we see with consumer grade networks is network channel overlap. This is an easy problem to solve and can drastically improve the performance of your network. The devil is indeed in the details, but let’s start with the basics.
WiFi Channelization 101
Your WiFi is a lot like your radio or TV. It operates over radio waves that are segregated into channels.
(Image above of neighbors on the same channel, Channel 36. Router dashboard of everyone on Channel 36 with Neighbor 1 experiencing a weak signal)
When two different radios (your WiFi router or access point) are broadcasting on the same channel they create massive interference, similar to when your car’s radio picks up two different stations at the same time and all you hear is overlapping noise.
Most consumer routers come out of the box broadcasting on the same channel. This means your neighbor’s router is on the same channel as your router and your other neighbor’s router.
Having everyone on the same channel causes interference (noise) and disrupts everyone’s WiFi experience. This may explain why your WiFi signal is weak, unstable, slow, frozen or dropping devices.
Before you knock on your neighbor’s door to change their channel – let’s try our first WiFi troubleshooting tip – channelization. Channelization is the process to adjust your WiFi radio so that it has its own clean channel.
We begin with a basic SSID scan of all networks seen by our computer (or phone). The SSID (Service Set Identifier) is the name of your WiFi network. Here’s a list of networks near our home:
(Image of SSID list below)
An SSID list can tell you a lot about your house and your neighbors. Here are a few things we noticed from this list:
• Whoa, there are a lot of networks!
• XFINITY appears on every SSID list – it is a parasitic public hotspot
• Printers, office speakers, and a smart plug – these are all considered Rogue APs. Rogue APs are wireless polluters. If you have one, refer to the manufacturer’s instructions on how to join them to your WiFi network.
For the next step you need a WiFi scanning utility. WiFi Explorer Lite works well for both PC and Mac users. WiFi Analyzer and WiFiMan are both great options for Android users. iPhone users – you’re out of luck. But don’t worry – just use your laptop. Navigate to the portion of your app that shows channels and you should see something like this:
Note that My SSID, Neighbor 1’s SSID and Neighbor 2’s SSID are clustered around Channels 36-48. There is a wide gulf of unused airspace between Channels 52-128. Locate your SSID in the list to determine the channel it’s using. Our example, !My SSID!, is centered around channel 40.
You may notice that some SSIDs are wider on the graph than others. This has to do with channel width. The goal is to use the widest channel possible without overlapping another access point. If you want more technical info now, here is a good source. Or wait for our next blog post, we promise to keep it simple.
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Next change the wireless channel of our radio. This method differs based upon the make and model of your equipment. Consult your manufacturer for the exact steps. Online forums are a great resource. Try Googling “(make and model of your router) change wireless channel”
Below is an example from the Unifi Controller made by Ubiquiti.
We have successfully moved My SSID to Channel 64 where we enjoy improved performance. Note that Neighbor 1 and Neighbor 2 are still duking it out for the same airspace on Channels 36-40.
It can still get better for everyone. Knock on your neighbor’s door and encourage them to change their channel as well (using these tips). Here’s what channelization could look like if we worked with our neighbors.
Neighbor 1 has moved to channel 165 and reduced his channel width to eliminate interference. Neighbor 2 has reduced their channel width as well and remains near Channel 36-40. With these adjustments we’ll all experience improvements in the speed and reliability of our networks. The best part is, we did it all without spending a dollar on new equipment!
Your WiFi performance can improve by changing only your channel. However, by working with your neighbors you can make an even bigger difference. With this in mind, consider it your civic duty to reduce interference in your neighborhood.
Help Someone In Need!
Do you have a friend or family member who is about to lose their mind because their home WiFi speed is destroying their life? Please share this article with them, and encourage them to sign up for our Home WiFi Network series too.