We may earn revenue from the products available on this page and participate in affiliate programs. Learn more ›
It’s safe to say we’re always looking for ways to make our WiFi faster and more stable everywhere in our homes. And there are a few methods you can try—from moving your router out of a corner to buying a better one altogether.
But one relatively affordable and simple trick you may not have considered yet is plugging a WiFi antenna into your laptop or desktop. Your computer most likely already has one inside, but depending on your current setup, an external antenna can mean a more stable and faster connection across a greater distance.
WiFi antennas are not an upgrade for everyone, but they can be very effective for some. To decide whether 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 might also remember when personal computers didn’t come with WiFi built in, strange though it might seem 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 get online: Manufacturers integrate one or more WiFi antennas somewhere on the motherboard or inside the chassis (sometimes on the outside of a desktop PC case). But external WiFi antennas can still be useful in some scenarios. If you buy an antenna that’s more powerful than the one built into your computer (particularly one that supports a newer WiFi standard), your machine will be better at picking up your router’s signals, so you should see a stronger and more stable connection.
[Related: The best WiFi 6 routers of 2023]
Just having an external WiFi antenna connected through a USB cable can make a difference, as you’ll be able to relocate it up on a shelf or on the other side of a desk, where the WiFi signal might be stronger.
If you think you might benefit from a WiFi antenna, make sure they support WiFi 6 and WiFi 6E: the fastest, highest capacity WiFi standards around 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 multiple factors that determine your network’s speed and stability, including your router, your computer, and the layout of your home. This is why it’s not guaranteed a WiFi antenna will make a difference with your setup, but with some careful detective work you should be able to make a good guess. Start by checking reviews of WiFi antennas online, for example, to see if you can find feedback from users with a similar set of hardware as you.
Setting up a WiFi antenna
You won’t find a wealth of antennas for sale, because they’re still quite a niche upgrade. Two devices that are worth a look are the TP-Link AX1800 WiFi 6 adapter ($70 on Amazon) and the Netgear A8000 Nighthawk WiFi 6E adapter ($80 on Amazon). They both connect via USB 3.0 for the fastest possible transfer speeds, so your computer will need to support USB 3.0 too.
The specifics of installing an antenna will vary between models, but all these devices need software, which will either come in the box or be available to download on the manufacturer’s website. For the Netgear antenna, for example, the driver comes on a USB stick with the device, but you can also download it from the Netgear site.
You’ll usually need to connect the antenna before you install the software. Both the Netgear and TP-Link models come with a wired dock, so you can either 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 might 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 straight away. There’s no need to reconnect to your WiFi network—the login information will still be saved to your device.
If you need to troubleshoot any problems, make any changes, or switch back to the built-in WiFi antenna, you can do this in the operating system settings. On Windows, go to Settings, Network & internet, and then WiFi to see your options. If you’re on macOS, open System Settings and then go to Network and Wi-Fi.
Finally, there’s also a way to combine the power of your antennas. The app Speedify ($15 a month) can add up the signals from multiple WiFi antennas on both Windows and macOS. In other words, your new external antenna and your existing internal one will work as a single device, theoretically boosting WiFi speeds and stability. You can cancel at any time, so it might be worth giving it a try to see if it’s able to boost your computer’s connection even further.