Wireless broadband: Everything you need to know about Wi-Fi

ByDuncan Heaney
Wi-Fi written in the sand

What is wireless broadband? Should you be using it? How do you secure it? And how do you make sure you get the best wireless speeds? We answer all your questions...

In this guide:

Why use Wi-Fi?
When shouldn't I use Wi-Fi?
How do i get Wi-Fi?
How do I secure my Wi-Fi?
Video: How to boost your Wi-Fi speed and signal
How do I boost my Wi-Fi?

Here's a rule we live by: the fewer wires we have to deal with the better. If you've ever tried to manage the cables attached to your TV and set-top box, or untangle the Spaghetti Junction of cables behind a computer, you'll no doubt agree.

So hooray for wireless broadband, or Wi-Fi as it's commonly known.  Wireless broadband lets you connect a device to the internet without using any cables. That means you can wander round at will and, so long as you stay within range of the wireless signal, you can get online.

Wireless broadband deals

Virgin Media
TalkTalk
BT
Sky
Broadband: 152Mb + Phone: XL SimplyBroadband Broadband + Weekend Calls Broadband Unlimited + Talk Weekends (Existing Sky TV Customers)
Monthly cost £27.50 (for 12 months) 1st year cost: £330.00 Monthly cost £1.75 (for 12 months) 1st year cost: £26.00 Monthly cost £5.00 (for 12 months) 1st year cost: £66.95 Monthly cost £3.75 (for 12 months) 1st year cost: £51.95
Up To 152 Mb Up To 16 Mb Up To 17 Mb Up To 17 Mb
Day, eve & wknd calls inc. Pay as you go Weekend calls inc. Weekend calls inc.
Go
Call Virgin Media on 0808 256 6147
Go
Call TalkTalk on 0808 252 0069
Go
Go
Call Sky on 0808 163 1093

Each of the major UK providers offer wireless broadband as standard, making wireless broadband the quickest, easiest way to connect to the web for most people. Even so, just because it's the norm, don't necessarily assume you should use it all the time. For some of you, particularly those of you who live in remote areas where broadband speeds move like treacle, it's may be more sensible to forgo Wi-Fi and use a wired connection for internet access. 

Wireless broadband

Why use Wi-Fi?

A Wi-Fi connection in the home opens up a wealth of possibilities. For example, you can:

  • Get internet access all over the house - your living room, bedroom, kitchen, even the bathroom if that's your thing
  • Use the internet on smartphones, tablets, laptops, TVs, games consoles and any other wireless -compatible gadgets may have scattered around the house
  • Let multiple people access the web at the same time - perfect for families or shared houses then
  • Have fewer cables in use to get tangled up behind your computer
  • Let guests and visitors get their phones online while they're at your pad without having to use their mobile data allowance

When shouldn't I use Wi-Fi?

While Wi-Fi is convenient, there may be times when you don't want to use it or connecting to the internet using an ethernet cable is a better option. Here's why:

  • Connections lose a bit of speed over Wi-Fi - if you regularly experience slow broadband speeds, a direct, wired connection may be preferable
  • In a large house, or in a building with thick walls and doors, a Wi-Fi signal may not stretch to all rooms
  • Wi-Fi can be less secure than wired connections - we'll talk about how to secure a wireless network later on in the guide

How do I get Wi-Fi?

As we mentioned earlier, every major broadband provider in the UK includes wireless broadband as standard, which means they provide all the equipment you'll need to set it up, such as a BT Home HubSky Hub or Virgin Media Superhub wireless router, depending of course on which provider you're with.

Setting up your wireless connection is easy - you'll be walked through it step by step by your provider when you switch broadband.

Here are just some of the options out there right now, and remember you can compare broadband deals in your area using our postcode checker:

Popular wireless deals

Virgin Media
TalkTalk
BT
Sky
Broadband: 152Mb + Phone: XL SimplyBroadband Broadband + Weekend Calls Broadband Unlimited + Talk Weekends (Existing Sky TV Customers)
Monthly cost £27.50 (for 12 months) 1st year cost: £330.00 Monthly cost £1.75 (for 12 months) 1st year cost: £26.00 Monthly cost £5.00 (for 12 months) 1st year cost: £66.95 Monthly cost £3.75 (for 12 months) 1st year cost: £51.95
Up To 152 Mb Up To 16 Mb Up To 17 Mb Up To 17 Mb
Day, eve & wknd calls inc. Pay as you go Weekend calls inc. Weekend calls inc.
Go
Call Virgin Media on 0808 256 6147
Go
Call TalkTalk on 0808 252 0069
Go
Go
Call Sky on 0808 163 1093

How do I secure my Wi-Fi?

You need a wireless encryption key. This is a series of numbers and letters, that work like a password to turn data into a code before it's sent, making hacking more difficult.

Many providers now give you an encryption key as standard. This information is often printed on the back of your router - entering that supplied password when you initially connect to a wireless network will let you log on.

Some of you may want to be more hands on though, and set an encryption key yourself. The most commonly used methods are:

  • WEP with 64bit or 128bit encryption strength -  simple encryption that offers limited security and is relatively easy to break
  • WPA-PSK (WPA-Personal) - offers better security and is backwards compatible with older routers and USB keys
  • WPA2-AES - gives you the best security and performance, but may not be compatible with older devices

You can choose which type of encryption you want to use in your router settings. Consult your router's manual or contact your provider, to find out how to change these.

Video: How to boost your Wi-Fi speed and signal

How do I boost my Wi-Fi?

Boost broadband speeds

When you use Wi-Fi you'll want to make sure you get the best possible performance, so here you go - five easy tips to help you get more from your wireless connection.

Put your router somewhere central - the position of your wireless router makes a big difference to your home Wi-Fi connection. The nearer you are to the router, and the fewer obstructions in between, the better the signal, so it's worth putting the router somewhere central and out in the open, so that it covers as much of the house as possible.

Try to keep your router in, or near rooms you frequent  - everyone has rooms in their house they use more than others, and you should make sure you get a good signal in these rooms. For example, perhaps you often sneak away to the tranquillity of your bedroom to catch your favourite show on Netflix, or have a study where you work - make sure your router is as close as possible to these locations to give you the best broadband speeds where you need them.

Keep your router separate away from interference - one last router tip: try to keep your router away from other electronic devices that send wireless signals, such as cordless phones and microwaves. They may cause interference, causing your wireless signal to drop out. That means resetting the router and waiting for it to reconnect - who can be bothered with all that faff?

Weak signal? Try a wireless repeater… - you can increase the range of a Wi-Fi signal by 'bouncing' it over a greater distance with a wireless repeater. Many companies, including Netgear and Huawei make repeaters, which can cost less than £50, making them relatively affordable. Simply positioning the repeater halfway between your router and the device or area where you want to connect can give you the boost you need to get online!

…or a powerline adapter - alternatively, if you're still not getting the speed you want, you could get a powerline adapter. These re-route your broadband connection across your home using the internal wiring, creating a Wi-Fi hotspot wherever you have a free plug socket. The bad news is that they tend to be a lot more expensive than wireless repeaters.

 Where can you connect to Wi-Fi outside the home?

Topics: Wireless Hardware

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