The physics of where to put a Wi-Fi router


Deciding where to place a Wi-Fi router at home to minimise signal blackspots is a fine art.
But a physicist has attempted to tackle the problem by mathematically working out the optimum position for a router.
He studied how walls and reflections affected signal strength and concluded that, as common sense might suggest, there’s just no beating the centre of a house for router location.
The ‘complex’ research was carried out by Jason Cole, a PhD physics student at the John Adams Institute at Imperial College London.
Frustrated at finding numerous Wi-Fi blackspots around his flat, Mr Cole turned to mathematics to find out how he could improve his internet connection.
The detailed research can be seen in his initial study and a more in-depth follow-up.
Using something known as the Helmholtz equation, which can resolve physical problems in both space and time, Mr Cole simulated his flat in a program called Matlab.
In the simulation he mapped out his flat and then created a virtual router and computer.
He then tested out what happened to the router’s signal when it was placed in different locations around his flat.
He found that, when confined to one side of the flat, the waves were hindered not only by walls and closed doors but also when they went around corners.
This, he says, is because the signal loses strength when it bounces off objects.
‘I suspected that the thick Victorian walls were absorbing the radiation or scattering it away from my computer,’ Mr Cole tells MailOnline.
‘I found an equation which approximates the behaviour of high-frequency electromagnetic waves such as Wi-Fi, and tried to solve it by placing a virtual router in the floor plan of my flat.
‘After crunching numbers for a few minutes I was able to generate maps of Wi-Fi signal strength inside the flat, showing poor signal near my computer. ‘I can now test putting the router in different positions to improve the situation.’
By showing how weakened the signal can be when it moves across the flat, Mr Cole found that no matter where his router was placed at one side of the flat, there would always be blackspots elsewhere. Instead, he suggests that the only solution to ensure as few blackspots as possible is to place the router in the middle of the flat.
‘It turned out that the model I developed was very sensitive to every little detail, so it was difficult to say other than the common sense advice: direct line-of-sight to the router is best,’ he explains.

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