Browsing at a snail’s pace, the inability to stream, dropped Wi-Fi signals, and wireless dead zones—all of these issues are aggravating in a world where getting online has become as important as breathing for some. (Well, so it’s not that critical…but it’s still significant.)
There are a variety of programmes available to test the speed of your internet if you believe it has become sluggish. You can also attempt a few ways to troubleshoot your network issues. If standing next to your wireless router is the only way you can get acceptable reception, these easy tips can help you optimise your network.
1. Check Your Wired Internet Connection
Before you blame the Wi-Fi, double-check that the internet coming into your home is working properly. If your laptop doesn’t have an Ethernet port, use an Ethernet cable to connect it to your modem. If your laptop doesn’t have an Ethernet port, you’ll need a USB to Ethernet adapter.
To find out how fast your internet is, take a speed test. You may need to contact your ISP or change your modem if it does not match the speed on your internet bill. If your speed test and internet bill match, but your internet still seem slow, it may be time to upgrade to a better plan. (When I told my grandma that her Wi-Fi was broken, she thought it was because she was on a 3Mbps connection.)
If the modem appears to be in good working order, repeat the test wirelessly while standing right near the router. If you obtain identical speeds near the router but not elsewhere in the house, it’s possible that your Wi-Fi coverage is to blame. If your internet is still slow when you’re standing directly close to the router, you may need to improve your equipment.
2. Update the Firmware on Your Router
It’s a good idea to update your router before you start tinkering. Software is always being improved by router manufacturers in order to gain a little more speed. The ease with which you can upgrade your firmware is entirely dependent on the manufacturer and model of your device.
Most modern routers have the firmware upgrade process incorporated right into the management interface, so it’s as simple as pressing a button. Some older models still require you to go to the manufacturer’s website, download a firmware file from your router’s support page, and upload it to the administrator interface. It’s tedious, but it’s still a good idea because it’s such a simple fix.
Even if your wireless network is in good shape, you should upgrade your firmware on a regular basis for speed enhancements, new features, and security updates. We offer a guide on how to access your router’s settings if you need it.
The adventurous should check at a third-party firmware like the open-source DD-WRT if they really want to get the most out of their present router. This can improve performance and provide access to more complex networking functions, such as the ability to set up a virtual private network (VPN) directly on your router. It’s a little more difficult to set up, but it might be worth it for tech-savvy individuals.
3. Obtain Optimal Router Positioning
The Wi-Fi signal will not be distributed evenly throughout all homes. The truth is that the location of your router has a significant impact on your wireless coverage. Although it may appear logical to place the router inside a cabinet and out of the way, or near the window where the cable enters, this is not always the case. Rather than being placed at the far end of your house, the router should be placed in the middle, if possible, so that its signal can easily reach all four corners.
Furthermore, wireless routers require open locations free of walls and barriers. While it may be tempting to hide that unsightly black box under a stack of books, you’ll receive a better signal if it’s in the open (which should prevent the router from overheating, too). It’s also a good idea to keep it away from any heavy-duty appliances or electronics, as doing so can affect Wi-Fi performance. You can boost performance significantly by removing even one wall between your workspace and the router.
If your router has external antennae, make sure they’re oriented vertically to improve coverage. If possible, elevate the router by mounting it high on the wall or on the top shelf to improve the signal. There are numerous tools available to assist you in visualising your network coverage. We recommend Ekahau’s Heatmapper and MetaGeek’s inSSIDer, which show you your Wi-Fi network’s weak and strong points. Mobile apps, such as Netgear’s WiFi Analytics, are also available.
4. Do You Have a Frequency?
Examine your network’s administrator interface to ensure that it is set up for optimal performance. If you have a dual-band router, switching to the 5GHz band instead of the more popular 2.4GHz band will likely improve throughput.
Because the 5GHz band is not as widely utilised as the 2.4GHz frequency, you’ll likely see less interference from other wireless networks and devices. (It doesn’t handle barriers and distances as well as a 2.4GHz signal, so it won’t necessarily travel as far.)
The majority of new dual-band routers should allow you to use the same network name, or SSID, on both bands. Look for the 5GHz network option in your router’s administration interface, and give it the same SSID and password as your 2.4GHz network. As a result, your devices will automatically select the best signal available whenever possible.
(If your router doesn’t allow you to use the same SSID, give it a different name, such as SmithHouse-5GHz, and try to connect to it manually whenever feasible.)
5. Switch to another channel
Interference is a significant problem, particularly for people who live in densely populated areas. Other wireless networks, as well as some cordless phone systems, microwaves, and other electronic devices can slow down speeds.
Have you ever used walkie-talkies as a kid? You may recall that in order to hear each other, the units had to be on the same “channel.” You could also listen in on someone else’s conversation if you were on the same channel as your neighbours, even if they were using a different set. In a similar vein, when communicating with your devices, all modern routers can switch between different channels.
Most routers will choose the channel for you, but if other wireless networks use the same channel as you, signal congestion will occur. When set to Automatic, a good router will try to select the least congested channel, but older or less expensive routers may simply select a predefined channel, even if it isn’t the best. That might be an issue.
You can view what channels nearby Wi-Fi networks are using on Windows-based PCs. Type netsh WLAN show all from the command prompt to get a list of all wireless networks and channels active in your area. The aforementioned network analyzers can also display this information, frequently in a graphical style that is easier to understand.
Most of our networks, as well as those of our neighbours, use channels 6 and 11. In general, adhere to channels 1, 6, and 11 for 2.4GHz because they’re the only ones that don’t overlap with other channels (which can degrade performance). However, because 5GHz employs non-overlapping channels, picking the proper one should be much easier.
If the Auto setting isn’t working for you, log into your router’s administrator interface, go to the basic wireless category, and choose one manually (ideally one that isn’t shared by a lot of other networks in your area). Run another speed test to see if the Manual setting delivers a better signal and faster speeds in your problem locations than the Automatic setting.
Keep in mind that channel congestion can change over time, so if you manually select a channel, you may want to check in every now and then to make sure it’s still the best option.
6. Defend Against Wi-Fi Intruders
It’s likely that the issue has nothing to do with Wi-Fi range or interference. You could have an uninvited guest or two piggybacking on your network if your network is open or has a weak password. Your video chats will suffer if your neighbour is downloading numerous 4K movies on your Wi-Fi.
These tools can help you find a list of devices connected to your Wi-Fi network, which can help you spot uninvited guests. Your router’s admin interface may also include a traffic analyzer that will show you which devices are consuming a lot of data—you might even discover one of your own children is hogging bandwidth without your knowledge. (If that’s the case, here’s how to get rid of them.)
After you’ve found the intruder and fixed the problem, lock down your network with a strong password—preferably WPA2, as WEP is infamously simple to crack—so that no one else may join.
7. Maintain Quality
Like the Netgear menu above, most modern routers come with Quality of Service (QoS) tools to limit the amount of bandwidth that apps use. You could, for example, utilise QoS to prioritise video calls over file downloads, ensuring that your connection with Grandma doesn’t drop merely because someone else is downloading a large file from Dropbox. (Yes, their file will take longer, but Grandma comes first.) You can even prioritise different apps at different times of the day using some QoS settings.
In the network administrator interface, QoS settings are usually found under advanced settings. Some routers may even make it easier by allowing you to prioritise multimedia or gaming applications with a single click. There are steps you can take to make things better if you’re trying to stream games while sharing a network.
If your router has an internal antenna, replacing it with an external one is a good idea because the latter sends a stronger signal. Many router manufacturers sell antennas separately if your router did not come with antennas that you can add on yourself (or if you threw them away long ago).