Wi-Fi networks are intended to make life more convenient, but a flaky wireless signal can make stringing network cable all over your house seem like a far less aggravating solution. If you’re suffering from a weak Wi-Fi signal, you don’t have to put up with slow speeds and dropped connections; you can usually improve your Wi-Fi signal without spending a lot of time or money.

Move Things Around

Wi-Fi routers may not be the most attractive objects in the world from a decorating standpoint, but that doesn’t mean you should hide them in drawers or cabinets. Wireless routers use radio signals to transmit data, and radio signals travel further and are stronger moving through space free of obstructions. Putting your router in a central location is ideal, but getting it up on a shelf or mounting it on a wall in the clear will also improve your signal strength. If that’s not an option, you can always move your computer closer to the router.

Go Channel Surfing

Just like radio stations, routers can operate on a variety of frequencies or channels. Many people don’t bother changing the default channel on the router -- usually 1, 6 or 11 -- which ends up creating interference and crosstalk as the signals in the area all overlap each other. Log in to your router’s configuration menu and try changing the channel to see if signal strength and quality improves. To take the guesswork out, try using a utility like inSSIDer or NetStumbler (links in Resources) to see which channels the nearby networks are using.

Upgrade Your Firmware

Manufacturers often release firmware updates for routers, especially after they’ve seen some use in real-world environments. Often these updates offer improved stability, increases in efficiency and new features. Check your router manufacturer’s support site to see if you have the most up-to-date version. If you’re willing to take a more advanced approach, you can install an aftermarket firmware like DD-WRT or Tomato (links in Resources). These allow you to customize almost every aspect of your router’s performance, including the ability to boost your router’s power output.

Antenna Modifications

If your router or wireless cards have provisions for external antennas, it’s possible to swap the stock antenna for one with more gain for better range and signal strength. Omnidirectional antennas are preferred for routers, as they are equally strong in all directions. A fixed device can benefit from a directional antenna aimed towards the router. If external antennas aren’t an option, or you’d prefer a less costly signal-enhancing alternative, you can add a reflector to your existing antenna. Place a metal sheet -- aluminum foil or a cut-open soda can works -- behind the router or device antenna to create a bit of directionality to the transmitted signal and help direct more received signal to the antenna.