Wi-Fi: Everything you need to know

ByKim Staples
Wi-Fi symbol

Tired of hooking up fiddly cables whenever you want to get online? Sounds like you need Wi-Fi.

Wi-Fi is the basic networking tech that lets you link your devices up to the internet without the use of wires. Instead, your router sends out a radio wave signal via an antenna, which your gadgets can then connect to. It's super simple and a lot less hassle than faffing around with ethernet cords.

These days, pretty much all home routers come with Wi-Fi capability. You'll also find public Wi-Fi hotspots in places like cafes and hotels, and the majority of offices, universities, and schools provide it too.

Read on and we'll take a look at the pros and cons of Wi-Fi, how to get it, and how to boost your signal.

Best Wi-Fi deals

Most broadband providers include a wireless router, so you can set up a Wi-Fi network quickly and easily. Here are some of the best deals currently available:

Best Wi-Fi broadband deals

TalkTalk
Sky
Virgin Media
Plusnet
SimplyBroadband Broadband Unlimited Broadband: 50Mb + Talk Weekends Unlimited Broadband + Weekends
Monthly cost Free (for 18 months, then £5.00 per month thereafter) 1st year cost: £6.75 Monthly cost Free (for 12 months, then £10.00 per month thereafter) 1st year cost: £6.95 Monthly cost £4.00 (for 12 months, then £17.50 per month thereafter) 1st year cost: £48.00 Monthly cost £2.50 (for 12 months, then £9.99 per month thereafter) 1st year cost: -£14.01
Up To 17 Mb Up To 17 Mb Up To 50 Mb Up To 17 Mb
Pay as you go Pay as you go Weekend calls inc. Weekend calls inc.
Go
Call TalkTalk on 0800 049 7843
Mon to Thurs 8am-10pmFri to Sun 8am-9pm
Go
Call Sky on 0844 241 1407
Mon to Sun 8am-10pm
Go
Call Virgin Media on 0808 168 6088
Open 24/7
Go
Call Plusnet on 0808 178 5954
Mon to Fri 8am-8pmSat 9am-7pmSun 9am-6pm

 

Why use Wi-Fi?

  • There aren't any fiddly wires to deal with. That means it's far easier get your various gadgets online, and you can move them around as much as you like without disconnecting or knocking things over.
  • You can connect to the internet from anywhere in your home - not just in places within a wire's distance of your router. Most routers have a signal range of a good few metres.
  • It's ideal for mobile gadgets like smartphones, tablets, and ebook readers too, none of which have ethernet ports.
  • Loads of devices can connect at once. Most households have at least one computer, a few phones, perhaps a tablet or gaming console… and they all need to get online wirelessly, at the same time.

When shouldn't I use Wi-Fi?

  • When you're experiencing very slow broadband speeds - they'll be even slower over Wi-Fi. Plug in an ethernet cable instead.
  • When you're in a building where Wi-Fi doesn't work very well. Thick walls and old architecture aren't conducive to radio waves - or if you live in a big house, they may struggle to reach everywhere you want them to.
  • When you're concerned about security. Going online via Wi-Fi isn't as secure as doing so with a cable. This is simply because it doesn't require a physical connection, making it more open to security breaches and hacking.
  • When you don't want even the tiniest bit of latency. That's lag, if you're a gamer. Since Wi-Fi connections are a little less reliable than wired ones, you'll want to hook up an ethernet cable to avoid dodgy delays when you're playing online.

How to get Wi-Fi

Luckily, pretty much all broadband packages come with a Wi-Fi-enabled router these days. Whether it's a BT Home Hub 5 or Sky Hub, they're all boasting some of the latest wireless tech.

As for your gadgets, all kinds of things can connect to Wi-Fi:

Once your router is plugged in and switched on, go into your gadget's settings and enable Wi-Fi. From there, you can pick the right router, enter the password, and presto - you're connected.

How can I get better Wi-Fi signal?

Wi-Fi acting up? There are a few tricks you can try:

1. Choose a good spot for your router - Somewhere in the middle of your home is best, or at least near the rooms with devices that need to connect to it.

2. Keep it away from interference - the signal from your router can get mixed up with signals from other wireless electronics, like cordless phones and microwaves. If moving it doesn't work, try switching to a different wireless channel, by going into your router's settings and choosing one that shows as little interference as possible.

3. Upgrade your router - Sometimes the problem isn'twherethe router is, butwhenit is. It could be stuck in 2005 with some outdated tech. If you've had your router a few years, it may be time to upgrade to a new one. A lot of the time it's simply a case of contacting your provider and asking if they can send one out to you. The newest version of wireless tech is known as AC, or 802.11ac, and it's got some pretty cool features - like a superfast theoretical transfer speed of 1Gb, and 'beamforming' technology that zeroes the Wi-Fi signal in on your connected devices.

4. Update your gadgets' software - You may also need to upgrade the software in your gadgets. Older devices may still only be compatible with outdated versions of Wi-Fi - a problem which can be solved with a new wireless card or a downloadable software update.

5. Get a Wi-Fi booster - A wireless repeater can give your signal a boost by bouncing it over a greater distance, and you can pick one up fairly cheaply. Or, for a bigger boost, a powerline adapter can re-route your broadband around your home using the internal wiring, so you can create Wi-Fi hotspots on your free plug sockets. It's more effective, but costs a little more.

For more in-depth tips, see what our expert has to say.

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