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Choose the Best Wi-Fi Channel for Your Router and Improve Your Wireless Network

A simple settings change to avoid interference from other Wi-Fi networks

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Caucasian businesswoman using laptop
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Everyone's running a wireless network these days, and all those wireless signals--if they run on the same broadcast channels--can interfere with your Wi-Fi connection. If your wireless router runs on the same channel as your neighbors', you could experience spotty or dropped wireless connections or simply mysteriously slow wireless access. If you want to optimize your wireless network, one of the easiest and simplest solutions is to change your router's Wi-Fi channel, so you can take advantage of the high speed internet access you paid for and get more done when working at home. Here's how to improve your Wi-Fi connection by finding the best channel for your wireless router.

Wireless networks and devices are subject to interference from a lot of things, including each other. A microwave, cordless phone, or baby monitor could slow down or entirely break a network connection between your laptop or desktop computer and the wireless router. If a nearby device is running on the same frequency band as your Wi-Fi router, that might be why you're experiencing slow network or Internet speeds.

How to Find the Best Wi-Fi Channel Number

For the best performance, you should choose a wireless channel less used by any of your neighbors. Many routers use the same channel by default--e.g., 6--and unless you know to test for and change the Wi-Fi channel when you first install your router, you're probably using the same channel as someone else nearby. In other words, decreased performance.

Some channels overlap with others, while others are more distinct. Channels 1, 6, and 11 are said to be distinct channels that don't overlap, so many people use one of these three channels for their routers. (However, that also means you have a greater chance of using the same channel as another like-minded person configuring his or her router.)

A number of tools are available to help you optimize your router's wireless signal by showing you which channels are most used by nearby wireless networks, so you can avoid them. inSSIDer for Windows, for example, is a free, open-source Wi-Fi scanner from MetaGeek that measures and graphs nearby access points. For Wi-Fi troubleshooting tools on your mobile device, try the highly acclaimed Wifi Analyzer for Android (which I recently used to drag my dad's wireless network out of the dumps), WiFi Scanner for Macs, or Stumbler for the iPhone.

If you don't feel like downloading and installing a new program, however, you could use the web-based WiFI Stumbler to scan and list nearby channels.

When you run one of these programs, it'll show you which channels are most in use. Look for the channels least used to find the best Wi-Fi channel for your network.

Change the Wi-Fi Channel on Your Router

Once you know the wireless channel that's least congested near you, head to your router's administration page by typing in its IP address in the browser address bar. Depending on your router, this will likely be something like 192.168.2.1, 192.168.1.1, or 10.0.0.1 (check your router manual or the bottom of your router for details). Head to your router's wireless settings to change the Wi-Fi channel and hit apply for it to take effect.

And you're done. There's nothing you need to do on your laptop or other devices on the network, and this one change may make all the difference for your wireless network performance.

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