Changing Your Wi-Fi Channel for Improved Speed

If your home Wi-Fi has slowed to a crawl, there are all kinds of possible reasons why. Maybe your router has hardware problems or is misconfigured. Maybe your service provider is in the middle of an outage. Or maybe you live in a densely populated area, and your neighbors’ networks are fighting with your own.

That’s…less than ideal.

The thing to find out, though, is whether you and your neighbors happen to be using the same wireless channel. Think of it like radio—if you drive through an area with a ton of competing stations, you won’t be able to hear any of them clearly, right? It’s the same with Wi-Fi.

If you think that’s what’s going on with your network, then, all you may have to do is unplug your wireless router and plug it back in. By default, most devices choose the best channel for the current conditions, so you’ll be set. But if you need to investigate further, I’m going to walk you through finding out how many of your neighbors are on the same channel as you are and some suggestions for what to do if your router doesn’t seem to want to adjust its settings with a reboot. 

So to get started, first hold down the Option key, and then click on the Wi-Fi icon in your menu bar.

As I’ve done above, choose “Open Wireless Diagnostics” from the menu. Once the app opens, click on the Window menu and select “Scan.” (You don’t have to do anything with the “Introduction” dialog box that’ll appear.)

Click “Scan Now” on the new window you’ll get, and there’ll be so much information about the networks around you that you just won’t know what to do, my friends. First of all, the column on the left will give you suggestions for the best channel to use, whether your router is providing a network on the 2.4GHz band or the 5GHz one.

Then you can look at the list of the networks near you to see what’s what. Scroll to the right to find the “Channel” column, and click its header to sort by it.

Luckily, our home network (in bold) is on 5GHz, so we don’t have a ton of competition in our area yet—but I feel sorry for my sad neighbors who are on channel 11 on the 2.4GHz band. 

As I noted, if you see that your router is on a channel that’s crowded, just unplugging it and plugging it back in will usually do the trick. It’ll probably grab a better channel if one’s available, and you can go on your merry way. But if a reboot doesn’t work and you’ve gotta switch yours manually to the recommended one shown, you’ll need to do some sleuthing on the best way to do that for your device. With non-Apple equipment, you’ll often just need to find your router’s IP address, shown in System Preferences> Network> Advanced> TCP/IP when you’re on Wi-Fi:

If you type that number into a browser and log in with the correct username and password, you should be able to make changes to your router’s settings. What would the username and password be, you ask? Well, many devices have that info printed out on a label on the hardware; for others, you may need to find the instruction manual online. If that sounds scary or if you can’t figure things out, contact your internet service provider for help.

Finally, if you’re using an Apple router like a Time Capsule or AirPort Extreme, it’s pretty simple to change the wireless channel. Open the AirPort Utility program (it’s within your Applications> Utilities folder), select the base station that’s providing your network, and enter its password.

Click the “Edit” button to make changes, then go to the “Wireless” tab.

At the bottom of that window, you’ll see a “Wireless Options” button, under which is the channel selection.

If the Wireless Diagnostics app suggested channel 1, 6, or 11 as a possible option for 2.4GHz, go with that—I won’t get into the technical details as to why lest you die of boredom. If the app suggests something else it means things are congested. Still choose from 1, 6 or 11, just pick the one closest to the one it suggests.

Save your changes, update the device, and that’s all there is to it! However, if switching to the recommended channel doesn’t help your network speed, then you may have to do some more troubleshooting, including calling your internet service provider for support. Now, here’s where I’d normally snark at Comcast just as a way to end the article on an upbeat note. But I’m not going to do that. I’m not going to talk about how I’d rather get stung by bees on my eyelids than to have to call their support, no sir. 

I’m above such things. I’ve grown up.