Tech Matters: How to measure your Wi-Fi connection strength
When you work from home, Wi-Fi is as important as any of your other utilities: electricity, gas and water. You need a strong and stable connection throughout your house. You may pay for high-speed internet but if the connection is spotty, it doesn’t matter. Here we’ll talk about ways to measure the strength of your connection and ways to mitigate any problems you uncover.
Wi-Fi strength is not the same as speed. We’re talking about how strong the radio signal is between your device and your router. Maintaining a strong and stable connection is the only way you’ll enjoy the Wi-Fi speed you’re paying for. RSSI (Received Signal Strength Indicator) is the term used for connection strength and is measured in decibel milliwatts or dBm. These measurements are negative numbers where anything above -50 dBm indicates a great Wi-Fi signal while a reading below -80 dBm means the signal is weak and you’re likely experiencing problems with your Wi-Fi. As we go through the devices, you’ll see that strength may also be expressed as a percentage.
To find the signal strength in various locations throughout your home, you can use your computer and your phone. Start with your primary workspace. For PC users, look for the strength indicator in the lower right corner of your taskbar at the bottom of the screen. It’s the same radiating curved lines icon you see on your phone, but with an extra line. The more lines you see, up to three, the better your signal strength, but that’s pretty vague.
To see more detail, type “Command Center” in the taskbar search box, select “Network and Internet,” click on “Network and Sharing Center” and then select the blue Wi-Fi link. Now you can gauge your signal on an expanded bar chart with a maximum of five bars. For the most detail, type “PowerShell” into the search box and open this app. You’re now looking at a command screen. Where the cursor is blinking, type “netsh wlan show interfaces” and hit enter. Near the bottom of the figures, you’ll see your Wi-Fi signal expressed as a percentage. Any percentage equal to or higher than 79% is an excellent signal.
Mac users can simply hold down the Option key and click on the Wi-Fi icon to see Wi-Fi stats. Find the RSSI menu item on the panel and check the dBm value next to it to know the signal strength of your network at your primary location.
If you’re using a laptop, you can repeat these procedures around the house, anywhere you have a connected device such as your television. However, you might find it easier to do this with your phone. If you’re using an iPhone, you can only see any changes in strength as indicated by the Wi-Fi icon on your home screen. Apple does not allow third-party apps to access this data and does not provide a more detailed measure. Android does not have the same restrictions so third-party apps such as Wi-Fi Speed Test can be used. Try the Time Graph tab to chart signal responses as you move around the house. This will reveal any weak spots.
Signal strength usually decreases with distance, so the farther away your device is from the router, the weaker the signal will become. Signals also weaken when there’s a thick wall or other barriers between the two. Ideally, your router should be positioned close to your main workspace. You can add a booster or extender to pick up the signal from your main router and deliver a better connection to other parts of your home.
If you are using an old router, particularly if it was provided by your service provider that usually issues very basic routers, the best thing to do is upgrade to a Wi-Fi 6/6E router that offers multiband connectivity and very fast Wi-Fi signals over longer distances. Note that ISPs are by law no longer allowed to force you to use their equipment or charge you to use your own hardware. If you have a large home or want to extend your Wi-Fi outside, consider a mesh system that has a main router plus nodes to cover larger areas.
The easiest and most affordable option is to get Google Fiber if it’s available where you live. It’s $70 a month for fast internet, a main router and an extender, no charge for installation or equipment and the most reliable service I’ve ever had — even moving to a new house was a breeze.
Leslie Meredith has been writing about technology for more than a decade. As a mom of four, value, usefulness, and online safety take priority. Have a question? Email Leslie at email@example.com.