Often you will see advertising for routers that include wifi coverage.

Here is a recent example that landed in my email:

Linksys Hydra 6:
Range: 2000 Sq. Ft.

First, the advertising hype is confusing range with coverage area.

Range is distance from the access point in the router.

Coverage is typcially the square feet.

Your house may be 2000 square feet, but that does not mean a router that advertises 2000 square feet will work. Why?

Marketing hype will NEVER overcome the laws of physics.

Wifi is radio. Radio signals are affected by all kinds of things, including metal, reinforced concrete, metal studs in walls, other wifi signals.

Additionally, coverage claims are what the router can do, NOT what your computer or phone or tablet can do. Yes, the router might have good reach, but your handheld device might now have the same power or efficient antenna.

Let’s dig into this.

Wireless Coverage Explained

Coverage is a measure of how large an area — not distance — a wireless transmitter can service. Coverage is dependent on distance or range.

Coverage Is Bi-Directional

Wi-Fi radio communication is a two-way affair! The signals from your PC, phone, or tablet must be able to reach back to the access point in the router to have real coverage.

This is important to remember because wireless devices, especially smartphones and other smaller devices, almost always send weaker signals than the wireless access points that they connect with.

Two Frequency Bands, Two Ranges

Wi- Fi connections operate on two different frequency bands: 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz.

2.4 GHz: Better Range, Poor Capacity

Older equipment typically only works on the the 2.4 GHz band. Additionally, some devices, like Wi-Fi thermostats, may only work on the 2.4 Ghz band.

Signals on the 2.4 Ghz band can reach relatively far, which also means that they can also create interference for other networks — and vice versa. Devices using 2.4 Ghz connections are also more susceptible to interference from others, such as neighboring networks and Bluetooth equipment.

If your router and devices only support 2.4 GHz, you are more likely to experience uneven speed and unreliable coverage, unless your home or apartment is nearly isolated from other wireless networks.

5 GHz: Shorter Range, Good Capacity

Signals in the 5 Ghz band are far less susceptible to interference and also create less interference for other networks because the signals have a shorter range.

Make Sure the Best Band is Being Used

Most new wireless equipment supports both the 5 and 2.4 GHz bands.

Be sure all devices connect where they get the best possible performance depending on the band.

Coverage Shape

Coverage indoors with external and internal antenna

How coverage around a wireless access point is created depends on how it’s designed, usually the type and number of antennas used.

A simple wireless router with two or more external antennas typically create a doughnut-shaped coverage area surrounding it. Directly above and below the router may end up inside the doughnut hole and therefore have poor or no coverage even though the router has a strong signal.

An access point with built-in antennas along all the sides will most likely produce a spherical coverage area, which basically reaches equally far in all directions.

Detriments to Coverage

Coverage is absolutely not just related to the equipment. Radio signals operate under the laws of physics. The best or most expensive equipment cannot over the laws of physics. Nearly all Wi-Fi signals, whether the “doughnut” or the “sphere” described above, will encounter blocks. The exception to this is if your device has line of sight to the access point.

First, physical obstacles such as reinforced concrete in walls, floors, and ceilings, or heated floors, or metal studs in walls, or metal filing cabinets degrade Wi-Fi signals. Wi-Fi signals For example, signals are unlikely to get through a fireplace in the center of your home.

Second, coverage is affected by interference from other wireless signals. These signals can be Wi-Fi from neighbors, a baby monitor, and even a  a microwave oven.

Measuring Coverage

If you want to know what the coverage is throughout your house, running a speed test or two is not sufficient. The best tool is a heatmapper application on your PC or phone to perform multiple measurements and that will assemble them into a heat map to show how the signals vary in your home.

Measure twice; one for each frequency band.

Improve Your Coverage for Free

Place all routers, repeaters or other wireless access points as high up and as free of physical obstacles as possible.

Eliminate as many obstacles as you can.

Be wary of Wi-Fi repeaters or extenders

Wi-Fi repeaters, also known as extenders, are often advertised as the solution for W-Fi woes. They may work in some cases, but they may actually make conditions worse unless the setup is stragetically done.

The Best Way For Best Coverage

If you want full coverage throughout your home there are a couple options.

Run Ethernet Cable to Dead Zones

Running an ethernet cable to a dead zone and connecting a Wi-Fi access point or another router with a built-in access point will almost always solve the problem in the most reliable way.

Even better, if the ethernet cable can be connected to a computer Wi-Fi woes are completely eliminated.

Use Mesh Equipment

A mesh network with multiple wireless access points is probably the safest, but not the least expensive solution. Get mesh units that can operate as a mesh even if each unit is connected to ethernet. Units that have three bands are more expensive and better. The third band is used for coordination of the unites and even data transfer, freeing the 2.4 Ghz and 5.0 Ghz bands to handle only data from the various devices around the house.