Scientific American presents Tech Talker by Quick & Dirty Tips. Scientific American and Quick & Dirty Tips are both Macmillan companies.

I’ve had a few listeners write in all with the same question: “How can I get better WiFi reception?” Ask and you shall receive! In this week’s episode I’ll be going over just how WiFi works and some quick (and free) fixes that might just take your WiFi signal from glacial to supersonic.

And next, in Part 2 of this WiFi series, I’ll follow up with an episode on some more advanced techniques you can use to boost your signal if the tips I mentioned today don’t quite cut it.

What Is WiFi?
Now, let’s just do a quick overview. Wireless fidelity or WiFi is how devices such as laptops and smartphones connect to the internet. Sounds simple, right? Well, actually, there’s a lot more to it.

What exactly is Wi-Fi? Well, it’s a radio wave that transmits on a 2.4 or 5 gigahertz frequency. Radio waves can go through many objects such as walls, but these impediments decrease the strength of the signal. Imagine you’re playing with a cheap pair of children’s walkie talkies. If you’re using them outside, the range is pretty good, but the moment you take them inside, you’ll start to pick up interference. This is the same case with your router, only routers are always getting interference while in the house.

So the real question is what blocks WiFi signals? Well, everything does to an extent, but the main culprits are concrete, metal, chicken wire, and stone. There are many other elements that can cause signal blockage, but the simple rule of thumb is the more metallic or dense the material, the more it blocks WiFi.


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