A slow Wi-Fi connection is incredibly frustrating. But here are some easy things that can help get your computer or devices back up to speed.
For many of us, the bandwidth crunch is coming from inside the house. Too many devices online too often overload home Wi-Fi networks that struggle to sustain the tenth Zoom video conference call of the day.
You can replace your entire home wireless with a Wi-Fi mesh network at $240 and up – or go two steps further by upgrading to routers supporting the new and more robust WiFi 6 standard and then replacing your current devices with WiFi 6-compatible versions.
But before you embark on expensive home-network improvement, consider some free steps you can take to tune up your network.
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Steps to speed your home Wi-Fi
To begin, think about moving your router from where it’s always been.
“Make sure your router isn’t buried in a cabinet, or under a piece of furniture,” emailed Tom Bridge, partner at Technolutionary, a Washington-based consultancy that’s built out wireless networks for such venues as The Anthem concert hall near Nationals Park in the Nation’s Capitol. “If you can, place it as centrally as possible within your home.”
You should be able to place a cable gateway next to any coaxial cable outlet. Bear in mind that not all walls welcome Wi-Fi equally: The plaster in older homes often hides wire mesh that can inhibit wireless reception.
Second, look into putting stationary devices like desktop computers and smart TVs on wired Ethernet connections.
“Wi-Fi is great, but wires can be better—and cheaper,” wrote Glenn Fleishman, author of the book “Take Control of Wi-Fi Networking and Security,” in an email. “Networks over Ethernet wire always run at full speed.”
This is easiest to do if the devices in question sit next to the router, but Fleishman noted that longer-range wired networking is possible too: “You can pull Ethernet through crawl spaces, ceilings, or walls.”
Bridge and Fleishman both advised against buying Wi-Fi extenders to stretch an existing network’s reach, saying they often deliver iffy results.
Newer routers should automatically place your devices in one of two frequency bands used by consumer Wi-Fi, 2.4 and 5 GHz. The former offers better range while the latter delivers faster speeds.
On an older router, that frequency choice may be up to you. Fleishman offered a tip: Give the 5 GHz network a separate name, then put your streaming-media devices on that.
The mobile apps offered by most router vendors can also help optimize your network. They can show which devices use the most data and can let you disconnect them if, say, you’re on an important video call.
(Stressed-out parents may also find that using a router app to yank internet access from a kid’s device can be an effective motivational tactic.)
Your phone can also bail out your Wi-Fi by taking its place, if your wireless service is among the many to have temporarily upped the amount of data available for mobile hotspot use. If you need dedicated bandwidth for one computer, turn on your phone’s mobile-hotspot feature and put that device on the phone’s Wi-Fi signal.
If after all of this, your home Wi-Fi still fails to deliver adequate broadband throughout your abode, then it may be time to shop for a new router.
If your existing model doesn’t work as well as you remember it once doing, it may just be time. “Old routers die without entirely dying,” Fleishman said.
But at least you can know you tried the cheaper options first.
Rob Pegoraro is a tech writer based out of Washington, D.C. To submit a tech question, email Rob at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @robpegoraro.
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