How far can WiFi signals travel?

We answer the question of how far can WiFi signals travel, and consider the factors reducing wireless router range in the home and garden.

Monday, 24 June, 2024

Our reliance on the internet has become coupled with a growing intolerance for anything which restricts our ability to use it.

In many households, wireless signal range generated by broadband routers is one of the issues likely to generate irritation and dissatisfaction in equal measure.

It’s commonplace to find your smartphone can’t distribute WiFi coverage throughout your home, especially if you’re in the garden, attic or shed.

That’s not a problem on mobile devices, which can instantly switch onto mobile networks.

It’s a bigger issue for portable devices with no cellular connectivity (such as laptops and tablets) when they drop out and lose their connection.

How far can WiFi signals travel without interruption?

The answer to this question is ‘very far indeed’ – at least in theory.

Earlier this year, an Australian technology firm developed a new chipset which enabled them to distribute WiFi signals 1.8 miles from their source during a live video call.

Before you start to fulminate about your wireless router’s inability to reach the bottom of your garden, it’s worth noting a few things about this experiment.

Firstly, it involved a long-range WiFi standard known as 802.11ah, which hasn’t been widely adopted because of the wireless radio frequencies it operates across.

Secondly, it took place outside in San Francisco’s Ocean Beach neighbourhood, with the sea on one side minimising interference from other networks or signals.

Thirdly, by the time the signal reached the 1.8-mile mark, it was down to speeds of just 1Mbps – below even the most generous definition of broadband speeds.

Fourthly, the company undertaking this feat made no mention of upload speeds, though we can probably conclude line speeds weren’t symmetrical.

However, the test still indicates that WiFi routers should be able to distribute wireless signals as far as most domestic households would need them to.

How far can WiFi signals travel in reality?

When you sign up to a broadband deal, a wireless router is usually posted out to you free of charge.

This generic device won’t have the adjustable external aerials of a more powerful privately sourced third party router.

ISP routers are mass produced and built to strict budgets, limiting both their range and the number of devices they can support.

The typical maximum range provided by a 2.4GHz router is around 150 feet indoors, which is diminished further by signal-muffling factors like metal panels or solid stone walls.

(Switching to 5GHz or 6GHz bandwidths increases connection speeds, albeit at the cost of range.)

Routers also emit signals in a spherical radius, so a large percentage of that radius will be wasted if it’s originating from a corner of your home.

A berth beside the front door is one of the worst places to position your broadband router.

What else can I do to boost signal strength?

We’ve previously discussed how to maximise router efficiency to compensate for these known failings in many modern WiFi routers.

It’s vital to reduce wireless interference around your home by ensuring signals aren’t being blocked by mirrors, fish tanks or even other 2.4GHz wireless devices.

Finally, the ongoing rollout of WiFi 6 means modern routers are increasingly able to reach far-flung corners of the home in ways their predecessors couldn’t hope to.

In the meantime, ongoing black spots and daily dropouts may be tackled through range extenders or Powerline adaptors.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!