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  3. Configuring Wi-Fi Channels and Channel Widths to Fix Slow Speeds and Disconnects

Configuring Wi-Fi Channels and Channel Widths to Fix Slow Speeds and Disconnects

The vast majority of Wi-Fi issues are the result of an incorrectly configured wireless network. If you have not set your wireless network correctly, or if you have too much competition for wireless airspace, you will suffer disconnects and slowdowns. It is not uncommon for this issue to only affect one or a few devices, as those devices are probably the devices that rely on a steady connection to the Internet. Comparing to a smartphone, for instance, will not always tell the whole story, as most smartphone applications are designed to work with interruptions in connection to the Internet, while most Windows applications are not.

When adjusting or setting up your Wi-Fi network, be it in a home or business, the primary goals are to:

  • Minimize interference
  • Maximize range
  • Maximize throughput (which is what you will see on an Internet speed test)

To do this, you will need access to your specific router’s setup interface. You will likely notice that many settings are set to “Auto.” These automatic settings sometimes do the job well enough. However, if you’re here, you are probably experiencing issues with wireless slowdowns or drops, which means the automatic settings probably aren’t optimal.

Choosing The Right Channel

You can use the Killer Control Center’s Wi-Fi Analyzer to determine which channels are least used on each band (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz) and change your Wi-Fi router’s settings accordingly. Here are some tips on which settings to choose:

  • On the 2.4 GHz band, which is usually Wireless-N, always choose Channels 1, 11, or 6. Try to pick the emptiest of the three, using the Wi-Fi Analyzer as your guide. Channels other than 1, 11, or 6 will receive more interference. European users can also use Channels 12 and 13 on the 2.4 GHz band. You should treat these the same as Channel 11 as they will interfere with, and receive interference from, Channel 11. Keep in mind that:
    • Channel 1 will interfere with and receive interference from 2.4 GHz channels 1-5.
    • Channel 6 will interfere with and receive interference from 2.4 GHz channels 2-10.
    • Channel 11 will interfere with and receive interference from 2.4 GHz channels 7-11

Using the above information, you can see why you should always choose channels 1, 11 (or 12/13), or 6. Doing otherwise invites interference from more than one other primary 2.4 GHz wireless channel.

  • On the 5 GHz band, which is usually Wireless-AC (though some routers do support 5 GHz Wireless-N) choose a channel that is as far away from other channels as possible. If you are experiencing Wi-Fi drops or cannot see your wireless access point, and you are using a DFS channel, (Channels 50-144 in the USA, other areas can be found on this chart), try changing to a non-DFS 5 GHz channel and see if that improves the issue.
  • If you cannot find an empty channel, aim for the channels with the weakest signal.
  • If you have extenders, access points, or any other wireless routers, make sure they are operating on a different channel than your primary router. Even a single Wi-Fi router with multiple radios can conflict with itself if those radios are set to the same channel.

Choosing The Right Channel Bandwidth (or Sideband, Channel Width, etc.)

Try changing your channel width (some routers may call it sideband or side channel). Channel width is another area where many routers are, by default, set to “auto,” but typically do a poor job. The higher the channel width, the more data the stream can carry, making it potentially faster, and the more likely the signal is to get around solid objects. However, the signal will have overall less strength and will be more prone to interference from other nearby channels.

Think of your wireless signal like water. The wider the wave, the more it will hit and the more it will get around, but the less strength it will have than if it were contained to a more narrow channel. A wider wave will also catch more objects on its sides which, when talking about wireless networking, results in more interference.

Depending on your Wi-Fi landscape, it may be best to give up some channel width to get the extra strength and dodge interference, even if your router and adapter can handle higher channel widths. If you are experiencing wireless drops, a too-wide channel width could be the cause.

  • On the 5 GHz band, set the channel width to 40 MHz and see if that improves reliability. Keep in mind that 80 MHz and 160 MHz channel widths may carry the promise of extra speed, but will also interfere with, and receive interference from many more sources than 40 MHz.
  • On the 2.4 GHz band, set the channel width to 20 MHz and see if that improves reliability. 40 MHz Wireless-N is rarely optimal as it will interfere with nearly the entire spectrum of Wireless-N channels.

Other Considerations

  • Wi-Fi is a line-of-sight radio technology, which means that it operates not by surrounding your device with a wireless signal, but by connecting directly to it, through whatever walls, subflooring, or other electronic devices are in its way. Each solid object between the antenna of your wireless access point (router/modem) and your computer will diminish the signal. Repositioning things by inches can make a world of difference.
  • Sources of interference are not always obvious. Many times, you may be receiving interference from hidden wireless networks or even some electronics. Interference from electronics is more prevalent with the 2.4 GHz radio spectrum, but such interference also exists on the 5 GHz radio spectrum. If you are using a low channel width on a free channel and are still seeing wireless disconnects, even while near your wireless access point, then the issue could be something else occupying that spectrum. Try experimenting with other channels.
  • In a crowded wireless landscape, wireless performance will often degrade and improve on its own, as other people use their Wi-Fi networks. Experimenting with channel settings can help here, as well, since some of your competition may rarely use their Wi-Fi, while others are continually transferring data from many devices. If you live in an apartment complex, for example, and your neighbor has their router against a shared wall, sharing a wireless channel will not become a noticeable problem until they get home, connect with their smartphones, and start streaming to their television. However, at that point, your Wi-Fi may become completely unusable until you change the wireless channel.
Updated on February 26, 2019

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