How to change the Wi-Fi channel on a router

If you’re constantly struggling with dropped Wi-Fi connections or experiencing annoying buffering when streaming online videos due to slow internet speeds, you’re not alone. According to a 2021 study by Parks Associates, more than 40% of U.S. households with broadband experience Wi-Fi problems, including slow speeds, dropouts, and difficulty connecting devices to the Internet. Although you can simply buy a new router, you don’t have to. Fixing these problems involves simple repair, and the problem may not even lie with your Internet Service Provider (ISP) or your current hardware.

So before you go through the process of switching broadband providers or upgrading your existing Wi-Fi network, we’ll show you how to make some quick changes to your router settings to reduce congestion, reduce interference and increase connection speed and reliability.

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What causes Wi-Fi interference?

At the heart of the Wi-Fi connection problem for some households can be the sheer number of connected devices trying to access the network, causing signal interference. During the pandemic, Deloitte noted that 38% of Americans added multiple Wi-Fi devices to their homes to meet the demands of remote work and distance learning. The average US home now has approximately 25 connected devices, up from just 11 in 2019. That’s a 127% increase in the number of devices fighting for a good, stable Wi-Fi connection.

And if you live in a crowded apartment or apartment complex, you face even more interference from signals coming from your neighbors’ units.

There are several different types of interference. The first is called co-channel interference, which happens when you have too many devices trying to communicate on the same channel. Adjacent channel interference is another type, and it occurs when there is noise from overlapping channels. And finally, there’s interference from non-Wi-Fi devices, including household appliances like microwave ovens, cordless phones, and even old analog cameras.

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How do Wi-Fi devices connect?

Every Wi-Fi device, whether it’s a smart doorbell or a tablet, connects to your router by hopping on a band designated for Wi-Fi use. Bands within the 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz spectrum are usually available. The lower 2.4 GHz spectrum can travel further, giving you greater range throughout your home, but it operates at a slower speed. This band is more prone to interference, while 5 GHz operates on a higher spectrum that is less likely to be subject to interference from nearby Wi-Fi transmitting devices.

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The 5 GHz spectrum is usually faster, but covers a smaller area and is worse at penetrating objects, such as solid doors and walls.

In general, since some household appliances, such as microwave ovens and audio-visual equipment, can cause interference in the 2.4 GHz band, you should use the 5 GHz band wherever possible. Many routers will give you the option to select the band you want, and some will even let you turn off the 2.4GHz band. It would be a good idea to check with your router manufacturer for details on how to change the band if necessary. However, it should be noted that some older devices still rely exclusively on the 2.4GHz band, so turning off the entire band may not be a viable option.

There are also numerous Wi-Fi channels within each Wi-Fi band. Think of a Wi-Fi band as a highway that a device can hop on, whether it’s 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz, and a Wi-Fi channel as a specific lane that a car can drive on a route.

If your router is operating on the same Wi-Fi channel as many neighboring routers in your neighborhood, it can cause congestion and congestion, like a highway during rush hour. In general, you should find the least used channel in your neighborhood to avoid interference. This way, it would be like your devices are on the open highway.

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How to find the right Wi-Fi channel to connect to

The first step in avoiding Wi-Fi lag is to identify the channel you will be using so you can make the appropriate settings changes on your router. To do this, you’ll need to rely on either the software that comes with your device or third-party apps. There are a number of Wi-Fi network analysis apps available for Android, iOS, Windows and macOS devices.

Step 1: Search for and download the Wi-Fi Analyzer tool on your smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop. On my Mac, I went to Apple’s MacOS App Store and searched for “Wi-Fi Analyzer” in the search bar. A number of free, free and paid options will appear. I chose “iWiFi” as the app of choice for this article.

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Step 2: Install and launch the desired Wi-Fi analyzer application. Run a scan of your Wi-Fi network to see the channel(s) that neighboring devices and networks are using to connect.

WiFi analyzer scan.

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Step 3: Check if any devices found are using channels 1, 6 or 11 as these are the only Wi-Fi channels that do not overlap with any other and would help resolve interference issues. From the scan, you’ll want to identify the channel that nearby devices are using the least and note so you can change your own router settings to use that particular channel. It’s like using a GPS navigator and rerouting your journey to a less congested highway.

A pair of hands work with the Eero Pro Mesh WiFi router-extender at a wooden table.

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Configuring your router to use the appropriate channel to reduce interference

Currently, most Wi-Fi routers automatically select a channel for you when you first set up your network. However, as wireless conditions around you change—your neighbors upgrade to a different router, and as you add more devices to your home—that channel may no longer be the best for connecting your devices.

Step 1: From the Wi-Fi Analyzer network scan, identify and select the least used channel for network configuration. In my case, I can select channel 6 or 11.

WiFi analyzer scan.

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Step 2: The steps to change router settings will vary greatly between different router manufacturers and models. Consult the manufacturer for instructions on how to access your router’s administrator profile.

In my case, I’m using an older modem router combo unit from Xfinity, my broadband provider. To change the channel, I need to go to the Xfinity Connect portal in my browser by typing “https://internet.xfinity.com” into the address bar.

For many other types of routers, you can access the admin portal by typing “192.168.1.1” in the address bar. You will also need an administrator name and password to log in, both of which you can get from the manufacturer if you are accessing the portal for the first time.

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Step 3: In my Xfinity portal, I need to click on my router name — which I set and changed when I started broadband service with Xfinity regardless of the default value given at the beginning — and then click See the network on the next screen. A new screen will load and from there you can access the “advanced settings” option.

In the advanced settings section, there are options to select the 2.4 GHz or 5 Ghz band, and under each band you can select the channel and channel width. By default, the channel is selected automatically. You’ll want to edit that and manually select the channel. On the 2.4 GHz band, it is fine to choose a width of 20 MHz, but you can opt for a wider channel width of 40 Mhz or 80 MHz.

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Step 4: Several recent routers and mesh networks will also allow you to access and change your router’s band, channel, and channel width via a companion app that can be downloaded to your smartphone. This option may not be available for all routers or mesh networks, such as Eero.

What should I do if none of these steps help?

If channel interference isn’t to blame for your Wi-Fi problems, you can also try our guide to identifying some common Wi-Fi problems.

If none of the diagnostic tests work, you may want to try upgrading to a newer router or setting up a whole-home mesh network to extend your Wi-Fi signal throughout your home using satellite units. Advances in Wi-Fi technology, such as Wi-Fi 6 and the newer Wi-Fi 6E protocols, help reduce network congestion and latency, making routers that rely on these standards ideal for streaming large video files, gaming, and connecting multiple devices simultaneously. Wi-Fi 6 has been widely hailed as the biggest advancement in Wi-Fi in a decade, and rightly so!

If you experience signal drops and Wi-Fi dead zones the further you get from your router, you can improve your coverage by switching to a whole-home mesh network. In general, you can add multiple satellite nodes to larger homes to cover your entire property with a Wi-Fi signal. While these nodes serve a similar purpose to Wi-Fi range extenders, whole-home mesh networks simplify the process by broadcasting on the same network SSID. This way, you don’t have to connect and disconnect between different SSIDs depending on which node you’re trying to access, and the process is more seamless than with range extenders.

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