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Fast, reliable internet is never more important than when you’re working from home. Fast, reliable internet isn’t always what you get though, even if you’re paying for a nice speedy broadband connection. Here are a few of the most common reasons that can be, and what you can do about it.
Your router is in a bad spot
It may sound overly simple to put your Wi-Fi woes down to a badly positioned router, but where you place your router can make all the difference in the world. Walls, windows, and floors between you and the router will all degrade the quality of a Wi-Fi signal, with denser materials making more of a dent. It’s not always possible, but ideally, you want your Wi-Fi router as close as possible to the devices you want the fastest speeds for, and with the smallest amount of physical barriers in between.
Household appliances that make use of electromagnetic waves, like microwaves, wireless doorbells, and baby monitors, can also interfere with the transmission of Wi-Fi around the home, so you may have to rejig the configuration of your rooms a little. Use a laptop and a speed test website like this one to test out various spots for your router, and see which one gives you the fastest speeds.
In short: don’t stick your router in the corner of a room just for the sake of neatness if your video game console and computer are over on the other side of the house or apartment. You’re going to be limited to some extent by where your internet gets piped into wherever you live, but placing your router optimally will ensure you’re getting the best out of what you’re working with.
If you’re prepared to put in a little time and effort to the cause, there’s always the option of using some Ethernet cable to route the internet feed coming into your home to a more central location where your router will be placed. If you’re in a multi-floor dwelling, you could also think about mounting the router on a wall or placing it on a shelf, so it’s not that the lowest point.
You need to invest in some new network hardware
There are now a wealth of options for upgrading the Wi-Fi signal being beamed around your home and the first place to start is upgrading your router, especially if you’re just using one that your internet service provider is renting you. Routers like the Netgear XR500 Nighthawk Pro ($300) and the Linksys Tri-Band AC2200 ($157) are a significant investment but with support for the latest wireless protocols, a collection of antennas, and the computing horsepower to juggle a number of simultaneous connections, they are far more capable than cheaper kit.
Wi-Fi extenders or repeaters, meanwhile, take the signal from your router and pass it on further, like a relay runner. The advantage of these extenders is that they’re easy to set up and inexpensive; the disadvantage is that you won’t get the very top speeds as the Wi-Fi gets boosted from the original source. Devices like the TP-Link N300 ($20) and the Netgear EX3700 ($35) will do the job.
Powerline networking is another option — using the electrical wiring in your home to route internet to rooms some distance from your router; you’ll get faster speeds than with a Wi-Fi extender, but you’ll need to pay more. This should work on most modern homes and apartments, but we’d recommend buying from a retailer that offers a simple returns policy just in case. Take a look at devices like the Zyxel AV2000 Powerline Kit ($70) or the TP-Link AV2000 Powerline Adapter ($81).
Finally, there is an increasing number of mesh networking kits around: sets of routers that communicate with each other to blanket your home in high-speed Wi-Fi, eliminating dead zones and slow spots. They’re very effective, but at the pricier end of the scale – kits like Google Wi-Fi ($240) and Eero Pro ($400) will replace your single router with several that cooperate to blanket your entire abode in connectivity.
You’re using too many devices at once
Everything that connects to the internet uses up bandwidth — and if you think about how many devices in your home you’ve got online, it’s likely to be a lot. If you want to know for sure, your router will be able to tell you how many devices are connected, if you delve into its settings. Besides simply cutting down the number of gadgets and computers you use simultaneously, there are a few other tricks to try.
Every router uses a particular channel or frequency range, and if you’re in an apartment block where everyone’s router is using the same channel, congestion can impact your performance. A potential solution is to adjust your router’s settings a few steps away from the default, where there might be less interference. Instructions on how to do this should come but in your router’s manual, which you can find online if you don’t still have it hanging around the house.
Most routers now offer what’s known as dual-band technology as well, essentially frequency channels that are more distinct: 2.4GHz (lower speed, greater range Wi-Fi) and 5GHz (higher speed, shorter-range Wi-Fi). Some routers let you switch devices between these two on a device by device basis, or put out two separate networks. Anything that needs higher speeds should be as close to the router as possible and using the 5GHz band. The 5GHz band is also better at dealing with multiple devices at once and doesn’t get as congested as easily, so it’s really the one to go for unless your gadgets are a long way away from the router. Some routers will handle all this configuring automatically, but it’s worth checking to see what your router is doing by default.
Your gadgets are getting too old to make good use of the network you have
If the internet sluggishness is only affecting one of the phones or computers that you’re using at home and not the others, then the problem is more likely to be with that device rather than your network as a whole. While browsing the web isn’t as demanding in terms of system resources as, say, video editing or gaming, older hardware and software can struggle to keep up with the demands of the modern web. Most sites nowadays run more like apps inside your browser rather than static pages, and that can put pressure on memory and processor speed. Older devices, particularly ones that came out during or before 2014, may not even have the hardware necessary to support the latest and greatest (and fastest) Wi-Fi standards.
There’s also the possibility of malware or general cruft. If you are finding the internet is slow on one particular phone or laptop, we’d recommend running a thorough security scan and maybe uninstalling some of the apps, programs, and browser extensions that you’re not regularly using. They could be slowing down your device’s onboard processing, but they could also be beaming information back out into the internet, invading your privacy and clogging your airwaves in the process.
As a last resort, a complete reset of your Windows, macOS, Android or iOS device might help — both in removing unnecessary clutter on the device and clearing out any unwanted malware that’s taken root. If you’re still not getting satisfactory speeds after that, maybe it’s time to think about investing in some new gear.
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