Three ways to get better WiFi with Verizon FiOS

On my home visits, one problem I frequently encounter are customers who have dead WiFi zones. Verizon FiOS is a proprietary system, meaning you are required to use Verizon’s hardware. In the past one of the only solutions was to add your own good router in addition to the one that Verizon provides. This worked well enough but it’s more difficult to configure and the more things you have the more things that can go wrong. But recently Verizon has begun to offer some pretty appealing products that work very well.

Don’t have FiOS? Soon I’ll be publishing more tips with some of my favorite devices.

Screencapture showing the hidden WiFi connection details

Before you start, get a reading of your current connection strength so that you know if you’re getting an improvement or not. On a Mac, you can hold the Option key while you click the WiFi icon in the top right corner. This will reveal a lot of additional diagnostic information including your current connection speed (Tx Rate). This is not your internet connection speed but your local connection speed just to your router. Which can be much faster or slower than your actual internet connection. As a rule of thumb, you’ll see the best performance when this is at least twice as high as the speed you are paying for. For example, if you have a 50 megabit plan, I would aim to see a Tx Rate of at least 100 in the places you use the computer the most. Right below that you’ll see PHY Mode, which indicates the Wireless generation technology you are connecting with. A strong Wireless-G (802.11g) should get you a Tx Rate of about 50, Wireless-N should get about 300, and Wireless-AC should get you 800+. These connection rates don’t adjust immediately. Sometimes you have to wait a few minutes for them to update. You can push it along by turning your Mac’s WiFi off and back on.

Solution 1: Move your router (free + elbow grease)

Verizon will often install your router in the corner of your house where the phone and power lines come in. Moving it to a more central location can make a huge difference. If your router is connected by coax cable, you can move it anywhere in the house that has a live coax outlet. If you can’t move it, try to at least adjust your positioning or even angle. Just a few inches can sometimes be enough to avoid interference from a hot water heater or air duct.

Solution 2: Upgrade your router ($150

Verizon’s new unmistakeable latest-generation Wireless-AC “Quantum Gateway”. It even looks pretty enough to leave out in the open where you’ll get the best signal.

Every five years or so a new WiFi standard hits the market, offering better speed and range. If you are using an older router there is a good chance that simply getting a more recent model will make a huge difference. And I mean huge. For example, upgrading from Verizon’s early silver routers will bump you from 54 megabits under optimal conditions to 800 with their new Quantum Gateway. And in my experience, you’ll usually push the signal through one or two additional walls assuming your devices are able to take advantage of the newer tech. Just make sure that your current router is connected by ethernet or coax. In some older apartment buildings I’ve seen Verizon use a connection that looks like a standard phone line, and those systems aren’t compatible with the new router. In those cases, you may need to have Verizon come out to install.

One word of caution, when installing the new router the instructions don’t tell you that it can take an hour or two to activate. You can push it along by briefly disconnecting the power and battery at the ONT, which is usually a large beige box mounted on the wall somewhere.

Solution 3: Network extenders ($100 each)

UPDATE: mesh networks have been much more reliable than the FiOS extenders for my clients, particularly when it comes to wireless backups and wireless printing, so I’m now wholeheartedly promoting the use of Eero for just about any situation where a single router can’t reach everywhere.

If your home is simply too big for one WiFi point, Verizon offers a little-advertised solution. It’s essentially a secondary router. This isn’t a WiFi repeater, which requires a strong wireless connection to the home base; it’s an additional WiFi device that can be installed anywhere in your home with live coax outlet. And the beauty of these devices is that they don’t require any software configuration. You simply plug them in and they replicate your WiFi settings from your existing router. Instead of having two separate WiFi names like most repeaters have, you just have one network that covers a larger area.

A WiFi repeater (left) has to be able to communicate wirelessly back home with a strong signal. The FiOS Extender (right), however, can be placed anywhere with a live coax connection, covering a larger area with less overlap.
A WiFi repeater (left) has to be able to communicate wirelessly back home with a strong signal. The FiOS Extender (right), however, can be placed anywhere with a live coax connection, covering a larger area with less overlap.

There are a few requirements though:

  • The extenders can only be installed at coax outlets that are currently live for Verizon (if you have Comcast or satellite on them you’re out of luck).
  • You need to have a router that supports MoCA, and most of Verizon’s routers do.
  • Any coax splitters in between the router and extender will need to be MoCA-compatible. If FiOS installed them and if they connect to an existing FiOS cable box then you should be good to go since your TV program guide comes in over MoCA.