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Guide to WiFi in your home

By Phil Wilkinson-Jones | Monday, October 19th 2020

Wifi has become such a big part of our lives that we kind of take it for granted. Its name has become synonymous with the internet but wifi is in fact a specific type of technology and is one of a number of ways to get online.

In this guide, we'll define exactly what wifi is, describe how it works and – for those of you looking for practical advice – explain how to set up wifi at home. We'll also give you our top wifi security tips and answer some commonly asked wifi questions.

What is wifi?

Wifi is a wireless technology that connects devices to the internet. It was developed as an alternative to wired connections as it eliminates the need to trail ethernet cables around your home in order to get devices online.

The word wifi was coined as Wi-Fi in 1999 by a branding company called the Wi-Fi Alliance. The name doesn't stand for anything, it was inspired by the term Hi-Fi and was chosen because it would be easy for people to remember.

How does wifi work?

Wifi uses radio signals to transmit data between a router and all of the devices it is wirelessly connected to. Your router receives data from a broadband connection and converts this into radio signals using a wireless transmitter. The radio waves create a small wifi network in your home, allowing other devices with the right kind of wireless adapter to get online. This network is sometimes called a wireless local area network or WLAN.

Wifi is typically transmitted across one of two wireless frequencies – 2.4GHz and 5GHz. The difference between the two is that the 2.4GHz band gives a longer range but transmits data at slower speeds, while the 5GHz band gives you faster upload and download speeds but cannot penetrate solid objects such as walls and floors.

Some routers will hop between different frequencies in order to provide connected devices with the best possible signal. They will do this automatically, without you even noticing.

How to set up wifi at home

The key device you'll need to get a wifi network up and running in your home is a wireless router. Thankfully these are not difficult bits of tech to get hold of – in fact, you'll get one for free with almost any broadband deal you sign up to. Your provider will also tell you how to get set up, but the basic steps are below.

If you'd rather use your own router than the one given to you by your provider, you can. There's more information on this in our guide to using your own router for home broadband.

  • Plug in your router – This is as simple as it sounds. Plug your router into the mains
  • Connect your router to the internet – Next you need to hook your router up to the little box where your broadband connection enters your home. This will likely be via an ADSL cable or a coaxial cable, depending on what router you have and who your broadband provider is
  • Wait for your wifi network to come online – This should only take a few minutes. There'll be a little light on the router to tell you when everything's working. Check your router's manual to see what colour it should be
  • Connect devices to your wifi network – Use your phone, laptop, tablet etc to scan for nearby wifi networks. Click on your wifi network (the default name will be in the router manual or on a sticker) and enter the password

Wifi security

When you have wifi up and running, it's important to make sure your network is nice and secure. There will be a number of security features built-in to your router already, so the first step is to log into your router settings and make sure they are enabled.

There are quite a few things you can do to make your home wifi network as secure as possible. Here are a few easy ones.

Change your network name

Once you've logged into your router settings, this is very simple to do. To be as safe as possible and not make it easy for hackers, don't choose a network name that identifies you or your address.

Change your wifi password

As with your network name, you can change your wifi password by logging into your router settings. The default password might look like a random jumble of letters and number that'd be pretty hard to guess, but the same one might be assigned to lots of routers of the same model as yours. Pretty much anything you come with yourself is going to be better.

Set up a guest network

This sounds complicated but the chances are there'll be a set up wizard in your router settings (those things again) that will help you set up a guest network easily. The benefit of doing this is that you can let visitors use your wifi without giving away your main wifi password. For added wifi security, you can connect smart devices such as lightbulbs and smart speakers to your guest network. This prevents hackers exploiting security weaknesses in your smart devices to access your router.

There is more information and practical security tips in our guide to router security.

Frequently asked questions

How can you get free wifi?

There are plenty of shops, cafes and public buildings such as train stations and libraries that offer free wifi. You'll usually have to hand over a few personal details and use your email address to sign in. Public wifi isn't the safest way of getting online so don't use it for online banking and consider using a VPN.

How do I improve my wifi signal?

Make sure your router is positioned optimally. These means having it out in the open, not hidden behind the TV or stuck in a cupboard. Ideally, it should be placed as close to the centre of your home as possible, but this isn't always practical. There are also a number of devices you can get to boost your broadband signal.

What's the cheapest way to get wifi at home?

Use a comparison site such as Cable.co.uk to compare the latest broadband deals. Providers such as TalkTalk, Plusnet and NOW Broadband regularly offer very competitive deals that allow you to get online as cost effectively as possible.

Is wifi as fast as a wired connection?

No, wifi is rarely as fast as a wired connection. As long as you have a good broadband service, connecting a device via wifi is usually good enough for you to carry out most tasks online, but if you're uploading large files or playing games online and require minimal lag then you may want to consider using an ethernet cable to connect your computer or games console directly to your router.

Is wifi faster than 4G?

This depends on a number of things, including the speed of the wifi connection and how strong your 4G signal is. At home, there's a good chance you're better off connecting your phone to the wifi. When you're out and about, you're probably going to be better off relying on mobile data unless you're in a bit of a blackspot.

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