When we consult with home owners who are either remodeling or building a new house, there is always an emphasis on making sure the internet is the best it can be. Both our expectation and the homeowner's expectation is that it should be fast and reliable. Typically the homeowner feels like they need to sign up for the fastest possible service from the local internet provider be it cable or telephone. They are often surprised when i tell them they don't need the top tier (generally around 1gbps) service. Let me explain why.
The weakest link
Nine times out of ten the actual service you are getting from your internet provider is not the slowest part of your internet service. Sometimes it is. We normally monitor the internet performance for our customers to insure they are getting what they pay for. The image below shows an internet connection that was, indeed, too low and we boosted the signal to improve its overall throughput and reliability.
But generally the weakest link has to do with the actual WIFI coverage in the house. Getting good WIFI coverage is part art and part science. But mostly science.
3 in 1
The basic device you get from the cable (or phone) company is going to be an "all-in-one" box (sometime generically called a modem or router). Inside this unit is three products: Modem, Router and Access Point (AP). For a small house or apartment these all-in-one units may work fine if they are located in a central location.
For the best performance we normally ask the cable company to provide just a Modem and then we provide a separate router and AP. The reason we provide a separate router and AP is so we can put the AP (or multiple APs in a large house) in the best location(s) independent of where the modem is coming into the house. A separate router generally has more features such as content filtering and changing routing to something more optimal. By breaking apart the three elements that make up all internet gateways we can provide the best in class in each area.
"If it doesn't move, stick a wire in it"
Before we get specifically to WIFI coverage, understand that the best network performance will always come from a wired connection. IF POSSIBLE, connect your device directly to the network switch (if you have one) with a network (often called category) cable. We have a saying: "if it doesn't move, stick a wire in it". Not only is this always the best possible performance but its one less device that has to depend on the WIFI system in your house. Ok, so now that you have your Xbox, security cameras and smart tvs all connected directly to the network with a wire lets focus on improving the WIFI.
What's the frequency Kenneth?
The actually WIFI device in your house that your portable devices (iphone, android, ipad, etc) connect to is called an Access Point (AP). The AP is just a radio or set of radios that operate in a certain frequency band. Radios of all types hate walls and barriers. Some radio waves penetrate walls pretty well which is why wireless security devices work so well but higher frequencies that WIFI use don't penetrate walls and floors as well. A general rule of thumb in a typical wood frame residence is that the WIFI signal loses half its strength for every wall or floor it has to penetrate. You could have a WIFI AP 10 feet from where you're standing but if you draw an imaginary line between the phone you're holding and the WIFI AP and there is more than two walls between you, likely you only have about 25% of the signal strength you'd have if you stood next to it. 25% is about the minimum usable signal strength.
When we do WIFI installation and testing we use professional measurement tools to determine the actual signal strength. The image below shows a very good "Haas" WIFI signal of -43dBm. Any signal below -70dBm is took weak to be considered usable. From these tools we can also see if there is any interference from neighboring WIFI systems and move the WIFI to a different channel if needed.
Location, location, location
The number one thing you can do to improve your WIFI is to get the WIFI AP in a good location. A good location is a central location in your house that is out in the open, not behind TVs or walls or inside a closet or cabinet or under the stairs. Often we see the WIFI AP in a basement corner of the house directly where the cable installer dude put it. This is a terrible place.
How much is enough?
We started this with asking the simple question of how much bandwidth I should subscribe to from the local internet provider. You should subscribe to as much as you need. Generally for a family of three to six you can get away with the 200Mbps subscription. Consider the image below. This image shows how much bandwidth watching 4K UHD videos on YouTube consumes. This image shows i'm needing 51008 Kbps (or 51Mbps) to watch 4K UHD streaming content. With the 200Mbps service from Spectrum cable i'm only using 25% of my available bandwidth. This is from my LG TV and i'm connected via a WIFI AP that is actually on the second floor of my house. Remember with WIFI its more about placement and protocols than anything. Sending emails or checking Twitter/Facebook consume very little bandwidth. Streaming videos are the biggest users of bandwidth.
If you've followed all these suggestions and you have ten kids who all stream 4K video i can promise you that your internet provider will gladly sell you more bandwidth.