Inviting friends and family to stay with you at the holidays means sharing your precious internet with them. It also means enduring slowdowns, potential security holes, and sharing the Wi-Fi password (again). Here are some tips to get your network ready for guests, so you can focus less on troubleshooting and more on entertaining.
Improve Your Wi-Fi Coverage
If your house is full of dead zones and slowdown spots, your guests are going to have a bad time. If you’ve ignored that spotty Wi-Fi coverage because it only really affected the guest room, there’s no better time than now to fix it up.
You might be able to simply move the router to a new spot for better coverage. Try to keep it high on a shelf, without books and other objects blocking the signal. If you can, you’ll also want it in a room that’s central to the house, so it can easily reach all the rooms.
If that doesn’t work, you may have to invest in a good Wi-Fi extender or mesh system, which will rebroadcast your router’s signal to the furthest rooms, ensuring you always get full bars. Check out our guide to boosting your Wi-Fi signal for more tips and tricks in this area.
Enable Your Guest Network
Many routers support a feature called guest networking, which creates a separate Wi-Fi network for friends and family to use when they visit. From the guest network, they can access the internet, but they can’t access network resources like shared folders, printers, or NAS devices. That means you can keep using your “Smith” network, while everyone else uses the more limited “Smith_Guest” network (or whatever you choose to name it).
To enable guest networking, you will need to connect to your router’s management interface. This is typically done via a mobile app, but if your router doesn’t have an app you’ll have to use the web console. To get there, open a browser and type the IP address of your router into the address box, usually something like 192.168.1.1. (If you aren’t sure what your router’s IP address is, our guide to managing your router’s settings can help you find it.)
Your router will prompt you for a username and password to access the administrative tools. If you aren’t sure what they are, check the user guide or the manufacturer’s support website. Quite often this information can be found on the base of the router itself. You should probably change these default credentials once you log in, lest shady characters also try to access your router.
From there, look for the Guest Network settings. These settings can vary in location from router to router, but typically, you’ll find them under the Wireless Settings or in a dedicated Guest Network section.
Give your network a name, make sure access to your local network is turned off (if you have the option), and add a WPA2/WPA3 password to the network. Ideally, you want a strong password, but it’s a good idea to make it somewhat easy to remember—you don’t want to have to hunt for the sticky note with the Wi-Fi password on it every time a guest comes over.
Share the Password Easily
Giving your guests a password that is easy to remember works well enough, but for bonus points, you can share the Wi-Fi in a more streamlined fashion. For example, I like to generate a QR code for my network with QiFi—so when my friends come over, they can just scan the code on the fridge using their phone’s camera, instead of remembering and typing the password.
If you have Android 10, you can actually do this right from your phone. Open the phone’s Settings menu, find the network, and click the Share button to generate a QR code.
If you (and your friends) are Apple users, you can share saved Wi-Fi networks with them by joining the network and standing nearby when they attempt to connect. If they’re in your contacts list and have Bluetooth turned on, a prompt will appear on your iPhone or Mac, asking if you want to share the Wi-Fi network with them.
Update Your Router Firmware
In anticipation of extra devices and users on your home network, it’s a good idea to make sure your router’s firmware is up to date, with all the most recent security patches. On some routers, this is done automatically whenever a new update is released. For others, you’ll find this option in the device’s web interface or mobile app.
You may also need to go directly to the vendor’s website, download a firmware file, and then upload it via the web console to apply the update. Thankfully, this process is outdated and not necessary with many routers manufactured in the last few years.
While you’re thinking about updates, it’s not a bad idea to check with your ISP to see if you have the latest firmware for your cable, DSL, or fiber modem. Usually, the ISPs push these updates out automatically, but it never hurts to double-check.
Protect Network Resources With Passwords
If you don’t have a guest networking option, or you’ve already given out your normal network to some family members in the past, it’s a good idea to password protect any shared folders, printers, or servers on your network.
In Windows, you can add a password to a shared folder by opening the Start menu, searching for “sharing,” and choosing the Manage Advanced Sharing Settings option. Expand the All Network option and click the radio button next to “Turn on password protected sharing.”
Enabling this setting will require that anyone without a username and password for file and folder access will be denied access. (This was enabled by default on my machine, but it’s a good idea to double-check anyway.)
Do a Malware Sweep
Similar to shared resource passwords, this step shouldn’t strictly be necessary as long as everyone’s on the guest network—but things don’t always work out that way. Before you let anyone on your home network, you should also make sure you might not be infecting them with malware.
Some routers come with anti-malware tools that will automatically scan new devices when they first log in and perform regularly scheduled network-wide scans. If your router lacks these tools, grab one of our favorite anti-malware tools and run a scan on all your PCs just to be safe—and make sure you’re keeping the software up to date, too.
Enable QoS on Your Router
Quality of Service (QoS) is a feature on many routers that allows you to prioritize different types of traffic. That way, your kids’ online gaming doesn’t interfere with your guests watching Netflix with you in the living room. To access this feature, visit your router’s web interface as described above, and look for the QoS or bandwidth prioritization settings.
Plenty of modern routers make this easy by providing a list of pre-configured services and applications to which you can give high, medium, or low traffic priority. For example, my Asus router allows me to arrange Video and Audio Streaming, Gaming, Web Surfing, File Transfers, and Messaging by importance. In other routers, you can set bandwidth limits and create QoS rules manually port by port. Check with the manual or your router’s manufacturer.
Kick Off Unwanted Users
Let’s say you gave your Wi-Fi password to a neighbor the last time they visited, before you knew the best practices in this guide. Now let’s say that neighbor is using your Wi-Fi to watch their own Netflix streams—either intentionally or unintentionally. You don’t want them stealing bandwidth from your actual guests, so it might behoove you to see who’s on your network.
Your router’s administrative interface may provide a list of all the devices on your network, but if it doesn’t, Wireless Network Watcher (Windows) and Who Is On My WiFi (Mac) are great tools that perform the same function. If you see something that doesn’t look right—like, a laptop or streaming device you don’t recognize—it may be time to change your Wi-Fi password, or use your router’s MAC filtering feature to boot them off the network.
If you have a mesh Wi-Fi system, chances are you can use your phone to block any user with the touch of a button.
Enable Parental Controls
Many modern routers bundle parental control software or cloud services into the management interface. If you expect little guys and gals as guests, it may be a good idea to poke around your router settings to see if there are any built-in parental controls.
Parental controls will usually let you block internet content by category (such as adult sites or gambling sites), block specific URLs, or block internet access at certain times of the day. They may not be as advanced as dedicated parental control software, but hopefully there’s something of use in there.
When you’re trying to entertain friends and family at your house, one of the last things on your mind should be helping them connect to your Wi-Fi network. With these tips, your network will be more secure and ready for guests to connect. That leaves you with plenty of time to focus on more important matters, like what you’re going to serve for dinner.