In recent months, the internet has been a crucial part of our lives, keeping us connected to each other, our places of work, friends and families - and the tools we’ve used are here to stay.
Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet etc. are where we discuss work, network and meet friends for virtual happy hours. People are now accustomed to working remotely and have become masters of live streaming.
However, nearly 70 percent of remote workers face technological challenges when working from home, according to Independence Research. Compounding that is the fact that M-Lab data indicates more than three-fourths of US states have seen slower internet speeds during the pandemic.
So, how can you maximize every ounce of internet you do have? Here are 24 ways to improve your Wi-Fi connectivity.
Alex Gizis is CEO of Connectify
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1. Pick an internet provider with the fastest speeds
If you haven’t shopped around for broadband deals recently, it's worth investigating your options. Competition between providers is fierce and blazing speeds are becoming more widely available, which will only intensify as 5G grows.
The speed you’re able to get varies by region, but some cities in the US and UK have gigabit connections now. Most of us still don’t have access to those hyperfast connections, but shopping around just might uncover an affordable provider offering in excess of 50 Mbps.
2. Test your speeds regularly, even monitoring in real-time
The first step to better Wi-Fi is to understand your speeds. Start by going to TechRadar's very own speed test to run a quick online test. For the highest results, start by using a computer connected to the router via a wired connection.
Then test your speed with another device, such as a smartphone to compare. When testing via Wi-Fi, test near the router, with no walls or objects in-between. After testing, you can then determine whether the speeds you’re getting meet your needs. Move around your house, and try from a distance to see where your Wi-Fi has slow performance.
You can even monitor your internet connections in real-time using widely available tools to more deeply understand each of them.
3. Compare the speeds to your contract
Are the download and upload speeds close to the ISP’s advertised speeds or what’s in your contract? If they are and you’re not happy with them, it’s time to upgrade your plan.
If they’re not, reach out to your provider to discuss your issues. Try some of the following options in conjunction with the troubleshooting advice they share with you. If your Wi-Fi isn’t fixed, then you may need to seek out another ISP.
4. Check if your provider is experiencing issues
If you’ve noticed a sudden drop in speed but you haven’t experienced any previous slowness, the culprit can be your internet provider itself. The reasons are numerous, from unintentional network configuration, provisioning issues or technical difficulties to more nefarious activities like throttling and peering agreements.
If it’s the former set of circumstances, then check your status page for any known outages. If there are none, a quick call may fix the problem.
5. Determine if you're being throttled or experiencing congestion
With throttling, an ISP is intentionally slowing down high-bandwidth traffic, such as Netflix or YouTube, if they notice certain activities are consuming a lot of bandwidth. A peering agreement, on the other hand, is an understanding between major providers not to fix congestion issues by making basic upgrades to the interconnection points between networks. Less fiendish congestion can happen as well if traffic increases faster than an ISP’s capacity to scale, but the only way a user can overcome it is to not rely on just one provider.
A VPN is a tool that can help you get around throttling by making it harder for ISPs to detect what you’re doing, and when you sign up for one, you can run a test to see if you’re getting faster speeds for streaming media. If your download speed shoots up, then you know you’re being throttled.
6. Make sure your devices are connected to the right networks
If you’ve connected to several networks within range of your location, you should quickly check that each device is set to the correct networks. You may have a public Wi-Fi network nearby, or you could be connected to a slower network by your provider instead of your faster private connection.
7. Reset your connection to avoid "sticky Wi-Fi"
Once a device connects to a Wi-Fi hotspot, it will stick to it. Your smartphone, for example, won’t constantly search for and connect to a better hotspot, even though you may come into range of one. Devices cling to the network they are connected to until they are out of range.
At the edge of a Wi-Fi’s coverage area, speeds drop and latency increases dramatically. That’s when issues with file transfers or downloads, video calls etc. can happen. That means you will miss out on the full performance you could be getting by automatically changing from one to another. One workaround is to just reset your connection.
8. Close apps that consume bandwidth
Those apps ISPs are throttling? Even if they’re not being throttled, they may be slowing you down. If you’re downloading a large file in the background, someone left Netflix on or if all of your apps are updating at the same time, closing apps you aren’t using will free up bandwidth for the ones that are more important to you.
It also should go without saying that if you haven’t secured your Wi-Fi network with password protection, you should do that to avoid your neighbors and passersby leeching off your network and using your bandwidth for apps you aren’t using.
9. Restart your modem and router
How can any list of Wi-Fi fixes be complete without mentioning unplugging your modem or router? It may be one of the simplest fixes, but it works for a reason.
You may not know it but your router is actually a mini-computer that has a CPU, memory, local storage and even its own operating system. Just like any other computer, it can run into any number of issues, such as the CPU getting too hot, its memory or OS failing etc. Just like you would reboot a computer when it’s acting up, you can and should do the same with your router.
Unplug, count to 10, take a deep breath, reconnect and then wait for about a minute for your equipment to come back online.
10. Check the cables
This is something you probably associate with your provider’s technicians coming into your house to do. The good news is that you can do it too.
If you have loose connectors or punched wires going in and out of your modem or router, your internet can slow down. Poor quality coaxial splitters can also have an impact on your Internet speed.
So check out your Ethernet cable that’s plugged into your router, and then the connectors plugged into both your router and modem. See if they’re all in good shape and plugged in firmly. If you have coaxial splitters, disconnect them and test your internet speed to see if you notice a change.
11. Find a central place for your router
Remember those walls mentioned during the testing phase? The reason we wanted to eliminate them as a variable is because they can block a signal. Other obstructions can degrade a signal as well, and particularly ones made of certain materials, such as anything made of metal and to a lesser extent wood, glass, plastic and more.
Wi-Fi signals travel in all directions vertically and horizontally, so you will want to find a central location within your environment to place your router and preferably with the least amount of obstruction possible. If that requires rearranging furniture or appliances, then that’s what we’ll have to do, because we’re out to get the best Wi-Fi speeds possible.
12. Upgrade to a newer, better router
If you’re using your ISP's default router or a router that features older standards such as IEEE 802.11n, b, g etc. then you’re likely not getting the most out of your internet connection.
Upgrading to a router with IEEE 802.11ac (or “Wi-Fi 5” can improve both the speed and range of your Wi-Fi. Virtually any device you’ve purchased within the past few years should be able to take advantage of its faster speeds. Other useful features to look for include Quality of Service, MU-MIMO, guest networks and gigabit Ethernet ports.
13. Use a better frequency: 5GHz
The wireless standards in routers use different radio frequencies and some get crowded. For example, 802.11b and g use the 2.4GHz band where your Wi-Fi signal competes not just with other computers but with baby monitors, phones and other types of wireless devices. 802.11ac uses the 5GHz band instead, which improves performance by operating on a less crowded frequency.
Higher frequencies like 5GHz are especially beneficial in areas where there are lots of other wireless networks like residential communities or office buildings, although they don't have quite as much range.
14. Find an open channel
Along with having different frequencies, routers have different channels they can operate on, and like using a faster frequency, you will see a performance boost if you use a less congested channel. Routers operate on a single channel, although the reality is that data overlaps five separate channels that surround it.
To analyze whether your router’s channel happens to be crowded or not, you can use a network analysis tool like InSSIDer or Wi-Fi Explorer to hunt for networks within your local area. It will show you a graph of where the networks fall along the 11 main wireless channels of the 2.4GHz band or 45 on the 5GHz band (which is another reason why it is an improvement). Once you’ve found a channel that appears open, head to your router’s settings to change it. It may require manually setting it, but you will be glad you did.
15. Update your firmware
Firmware is what a router uses to operate, and with older routers, you may miss important updates that improve security or performance if you don’t regularly download the latest versions.
Most routers can be easily brought up to date by going into your admin console and finding the option to update it. Make sure the update downloads and installs fully, so avoid the temptation to unplug the router prematurely.
You can even explore third-party firmware if what your router provides isn’t cutting it.
16. Scan for malware
If you’ve secured your network and updated your firmware, you’ll also want to check that your devices aren’t secretly siphoning bandwidth because of malware.
If a device is infected, it can be part of a botnet or open multiple browser windows in the background to perform various tasks that enrich cybercriminals at the expense of your performance. Scanning your devices with a reputable malware removal tool will ensure that the bandwidth your devices consume is yours alone.
A VPN can add to your security by keeping your information safe while you’re accessing data online, but you will want to ensure your devices themselves aren’t compromised to be fully secure.
17. Add Wi-Fi repeaters to larger spaces
If you live in a house and there is a lot of obstruction between your router and device, then a Wi-Fi extender, booster or repeater can give you extra speed when you’re far from your router.
They work by taking the signal from the router and rebroadcasting it as a new network that communicates with your device and then sends the signal back to the router. Individual extenders can be relatively inexpensive. However, the downside of having a large space is that you may need to invest in several to achieve the speeds you desire across your entire home or office.
18. Use a laptop as a Wi-Fi repeater
To reduce extra costs spreading your Wi-Fi signal to every nook and cranny, you don’t necessarily need to buy a new Wi-Fi repeater. You may already have what you need. You can download software that turns a laptop or PC into a repeater.
Repeaters are essentially just small computers, so why not use what you already have to add to the reach of your Wi-Fi?
19. Combine your internet connections for an extra boost of speed
Between home internet, mobile data and public Wi-Fi hotspots, you typically have access to multiple internet connections at any given time, but you’re not using them.
Instead of letting all that extra speed go to waste, you can use all of your internet connections at once using a tool like Speedify (a process called bonding). Your Wi-Fi and mobile connections can work together to produce a speed that is almost as fast as both of them added together.
Another advantage of doing that is redundancy. Wi-Fi is great when it works, but if your internet provider experiences an outage, you could drop off an important Zoom call and spend several agonizing minutes trying to reconnect. By using multiple connections from multiple ISPs, that problem is a thing of the past.
20. Use software that prioritizes the more important data streams
Quality of Service is a feature that newer routers and VPNs now have, which automatically prioritizes certain apps over others. A good QoS feature should understand the apps that are most important to you and allow real-time traffic like video calling, streaming, VoIP etc. to be prioritized over less important traffic like app updates.
That means you can keep your Zoom call or gaming session running smoothly while other apps are deprioritized and in slow mode while waiting for your important stream to finish.
21. Adopt Powerline Ethernet
Why rely on wireless alone? If you're stretching a wireless signal from one end of the house to another, speeds are guaranteed to suffer. Powerline Ethernet means network data travels between computers over the electricity circuit in your home, offering potentially faster speeds than even the best wireless technology – and this complements, rather than replaces, your wireless network.
Modern Powerline Ethernet adaptors offer close to 1Gbit/sec speeds (500Mbit/sec each way). You'll see excellent latency times, and streaming video from a NAS will be beautifully quick.
Ultimately, there is a lot that can go wrong with Wi-Fi, from provider issues to router problems and not optimizing your connections, but if you follow these tips, you will have the best internet experience possible.
22. Use a bridge
A bridge is a repeater that extends the range of your wireless network. It copies all the settings, uses the same network name and password and dishes out IP addresses to clients from the same DHCP server.
For devices connecting to your wireless network, the bridge will be effectively invisible – all they will see is a single SSID. And you can use multiple bridges to extend the wireless network further. They're used extensively in hotels, large campuses or anywhere offering a single wireless network to users over a large area, and they work just as well in homes.
You can have both wired or wireless bridges. A wired bridge will be faster but is yet another device to rely on your wireless network. Consider combining a bridge with Powerline Ethernet to bring a solid wireless connection to another room.
23. Move devices off wireless where you can
Not every device in your home needs to run off wireless. The fewer devices that compete for wireless bandwidth, the better. For example you might have a games console and a TV streaming gadget like an Apple TV in the living room.
A long cable or a Powerline Ethernet adaptor and a network switch will mean both are guaranteed good network speeds and no longer compete for the same precious wireless bandwidth as the tablet, laptop or smartphone.
24. Limit file sharing programs
File-sharing applications (particularly torrents) rely on both downloading and uploading to share files. If a computer is sharing and uploading torrents at full speed it is probably gobbling up all the available bandwidth. This will make it impossible to request web pages or do much else.
If you or another user does run one of these programs, then set the upload bandwidth to 1KB/sec, create an application rule for it in your router's QoS settings, and whenever possible, shut the application down rather than let it run in the background.