If you are struggling to get good Wi-Fi coverage in your home, it may seem counterintuitive to increase the transmission power of your Wi-Fi router. Before you do, read this.
What is the transmission power?
While there is undoubtedly an entire PhD program and then some valuable information on wireless transmission power and all that goes with it to share, in the service of access to useful everyday things, we will keep it brief here.
The transmit power of a Wi-Fi router is similar to the volume key on a stereo. Audio power is largely measured in decibels (dB), and Wi-Fi radio power is similarly measured Milliwatt dB (dB).
If your router allows the transmission power to be adjusted, you can turn the volume up or down, so to speak, in the configuration panel to increase the power output.
The way transmit power is displayed and set varies between manufacturers. Depending on the respective manufacturer and model, it may be called “Transmission Power”, “Transmission Power Control”, “Transmission Power” or some variation thereof.
Adjustment options also vary. Some have a simple low, medium and high option. Others offer a relative strength menu, allowing you to adjust the transmission power anywhere from 0% to 100% power. Others offer an absolute setting corresponding to the radio’s milliwatt output, usually labeled only in megawatts (not dBm) with any device available range, such as 0-200 mW.
Raising the transmit power on your router seems to be a very useful trick, right? However, the relationship between the transmission strength of a given Wi-Fi access point and the corresponding user experience is not a 1:1 relationship. More power does not automatically mean that you get better coverage or speed.
We would like to recommend that unless you are a serious home network enthusiast or a professional fine-tuning network deployment, you leave the settings alone or, in some cases, switch them lowest instead of up.
Why should you avoid raising transmission power
There are certainly marginal cases where changing the power on network equipment to increase transmission power can have positive results.
And if your home is largely separated from your neighbors by acres (or even miles), by all means, feel free to fiddle with the settings because you won’t help or hurt anyone but yourself.
But for the majority of people, there are more than a few very practical reasons to leave router settings as they are.
Your router is powerful; Your devices are not
Wi-Fi is a two-way system. A Wi-Fi router is not limited to sending a signal into space to be picked up passively, like a radio listening to a remote radio station. It sends a signal and expects one to return.
In general, the power level between the Wi-Fi router and the clients to which the router is connected, however, is asymmetric. A router is much more powerful than the device it is paired with unless the other device is another access point of equal power.
This means that there will come a point where the customer will be close enough to the Wi-Fi router to detect the signal but not strong enough to talk effectively. This is no different when you use your mobile phone in an area with poor coverage, and while your phone says you have at least a bar of signal strength, you can’t make a phone call or use the internet. Your phone can “hear” the tower, but it struggles to respond.
Raising the transmission power increases the interference
If your home is close to other homes that also use Wi-Fi, whether it’s tightly packed apartments or just a neighborhood with small spaces, an increase in power may give you a small boost but at the cost of polluting the airspace throughout your home.
Since more transmitter power doesn’t automatically mean a better experience, it’s not worth decreasing the Wi-Fi quality of all your neighbors only, in theory, to get a marginal performance boost in your home.
There are much better ways to tackle your Wi-Fi issues, which we will discuss in the next section.
Increasing the transmission capacity can reduce the performance
Contrary to intuition, raising power can actually decrease performance. To use the volume example again, let’s say you want to direct music throughout your home.
You can do this by setting up a stereo system with large speakers in one room and then turning the volume up enough that you can hear the music in every room. But you soon discovered that the sound was distorted and the listening experience was not uniform. Ideally, you want a whole home audio solution with speakers in every room so you can enjoy your music without distortion.
While streaming music and streaming a Wi-Fi signal aren’t directly the same in every respect, the general idea translates well. You’ll have a superior experience if your home is covered by Wi-Fi from multiple low-power access points instead of running power on one access point all the way up.
Your router is more likely to adjust the power better
Perhaps in the 2000s and into the early 2000s, when consumer routers were a bit stricter around the edges, you needed to get under the hood and tweak things.
But even then, and more so now, the firmware on your router can handle adjusting the transmit power on its own. Not only that, but with each new generation of Wi-Fi standards along with updated routers taking advantage of protocol improvements and additions, your router simply does a better job.
On many new routers, especially networking platforms such as Aero And the Google Nest WiFiYou won’t even find options to tamper with the transmission capacity. The system just automatically balances itself in the background.
Increased transmission power reduces hardware life
If that doesn’t matter to you, we won’t scold you about it because, in the grand scheme of things, it’s a minor point compared to the others we’ve discussed – but it’s something to keep in mind.
Heat is the enemy of all electronic devices, and the cooler devices can run, be it your laptop, phone or router, the happier the internal chips. A Wi-Fi access point operating in a cool, dry basement will last much longer than a Wi-Fi access point stuck at the top of an unconditioned space in a garage, for example.
While you won’t be able to raise the transmit power (at least with stock firmware) past a point that will completely damage the router, you can turn it on to indicate that the router is running hot all the time which results in lower reliability and a shorter lifespan.
What to do instead of increasing the transmission power
If you are considering increasing the transmission power, it is likely because you are frustrated with the Wi-Fi performance.
Instead of messing with the transmission power, we encourage you first to do some basic Wi-Fi troubleshooting and tweaks.
And while tweaking transmission power can lead to better coverage (although it does come with the trade-offs we outlined above), it’s usually some sort of first aid approach.
If you’ve been fiddling with an old router to get more life out of it despite the many ways it’s using it to frustrate you, it’s time to upgrade to new router.
Furthermore, if you have a sprawling home or your home has a hostile Wi-Fi architecture (such as concrete walls), you may want to consider making this new router a mesh router like the affordable but powerful one. TP-Link Deco X20. Remember, we want more coverage at lower power levels rather than a single coverage point operating at maximum transmit power.