Welcome to Product Support, a column devoted to helping you get the most out of the gadgets and software you already use.
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.
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. 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.
Microwaves, wireless doorbells, and baby monitors, can also interfere with the transmission of Wi-Fi around the home. 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.
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. 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.
If you are using the router your cable company gave you, you could probably stand to upgrade. Routers like the Netgear XR1000 Nighthawk Pro and the Linksys MR7350 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 and the Netgear EX3700 can help fill the gaps.
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 the Netgear Orbi Mesh system 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. Your router should 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.
Most routers now offer what’s known as dual-band technology, 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. 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. 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.
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.