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It’s safe to say that we’re always looking for ways to make our WiFi faster and more stable throughout our homes. And there are a few methods you can try, from moving your router out of the corner to buying a better one altogether.
But a relatively cheap and simple trick that you may not have considered yet is to connect a WiFi antenna to your laptop or desktop. Your computer most likely already has one built in, but depending on your current setup, an external antenna can mean a more stable and faster connection over a longer distance.
WiFi antennas aren’t an upgrade for everyone, but they can be very effective for some. To decide if it’s right for you, it helps to know how these devices work and what they can offer.
How WiFi antennas work
If you can remember a time before the internet, you may also remember when personal computers didn’t come with built-in WiFi, strange as that sounds now. As wireless connections became more ubiquitous, laptops and desktops had to catch up, and people often used WiFi dongles to get older devices online.
Nowadays, you’d be hard-pressed to find a computer that didn’t have everything you need to be online: manufacturers integrate one or more WiFi antennas somewhere on the motherboard or inside the chassis (sometimes outside the case a desktop PC). But external WiFi antennas can still be useful in some scenarios. If you buy a stronger antenna than the one built into your computer (especially one that supports a newer WiFi standard), your machine will be better at picking up signals from your router, so you should see a stronger, more stable connection .
[Related: The best WiFi 6 routers of 2023]
Just having an external WiFi antenna connected via a USB cable can make all the difference, as you’ll be able to relocate it on a shelf or across a desk where the WiFi signal might be stronger.
If you think you could benefit from a WiFi antenna, make sure it supports WiFi 6 and WiFi 6E — the fastest, highest-capacity WiFi standards out there right now. As long as your router supports these protocols, a WiFi 6 or WiFi6E compatible antenna should give you a substantial boost in terms of latency, stability, and download and upload speeds.
There are several factors that determine the speed and stability of your network, including your router, your computer, and the layout of your home. This is why a WiFi antenna isn’t guaranteed to make a difference to your setup, but with some careful detective work you should be able to make a good guess. Start by checking WiFi antenna reviews online, for example, to see if you can find feedback from users with a similar set of hardware as yours.
Installing a Wi-Fi antenna
You won’t find a huge range of antennas for sale, because they’re still a pretty niche upgrade. Two devices worth checking out are the TP-Link AX1800 WiFi 6 Adapter ($70 at Amazon) and the Netgear A8000 Nighthawk WiFi 6E Adapter ($80 at Amazon). Both connect via USB 3.0 for the fastest possible transfer speeds, so your computer will also need to support USB 3.0.
The specifics of installing an antenna vary by model, but all these devices require software, which will come in the box or be available for download on the manufacturer’s website. For example, for the Netgear antenna, the driver comes on a USB stick with the device, but you can also download it from the Netgear site.
It is usually necessary to connect the antenna before installing the software. Both Netgear and TP-Link models come with a wired dock, so you can plug the antenna directly into your computer (which is probably easier on a laptop that you’ll be moving around) or use the dock to better position the antenna (which may work better on a desktop).
[Related: How to boost your WiFi speed]
Your new antenna will automatically take over WiFi duties and you should be able to start enjoying improved connectivity right away. It is not necessary to reconnect to the Wi-Fi network – the login information will still be saved on the device.
If you need to troubleshoot, make changes, or revert to the built-in Wi-Fi antenna, you can do so in your operating system settings. On Windows, go to Settings, Network and internetThen Wifi to see your options. If you’re on macOS, open System settings and then go to Net AND Wifi.
Finally, there is also a way to combine the power of your antennas. The Speedify app ($15/month) can sum signals from multiple WiFi antennas on both Windows and macOS. In other words, your new external and existing internal antennas will work as one device, theoretically increasing WiFi speed and stability. You can cancel at any time, so it might be worth giving it a try to see if it can boost your computer’s connection even further.
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