The degree to which we rely on the internet for everything from work to entertainment means that slow Wi-Fi speeds are unbearable. Here are some common causes of Wi-Fi problems and what to do about them.
First, assess your general network
Before we dive into the common reasons why your Wi-Fi performance is lower than expected, let’s get a few things out of the way so you can better troubleshoot Wi-Fi speed issues.
First, don’t rely on your smartphone (or Wi-Fi-enabled laptop) for a speed test. Speed testing with a smartphone is not an accurate way to test the speed of your internet connection.
So before you point the finger at Wi-Fi as the source of your problems, be sure to do a proper internet speed test first to rule out any major issues with your ISP or broadband modem.
Second, Wi-Fi speeds are deceptive. What your Wi-Fi hardware says it can do in terms of advertising and tagging and what it can do in real-world conditions are different.
Even with a fiber connection that meets or exceeds your Wi-Fi router’s advertised speeds, you won’t get the advertised speed to your phone or laptop.
Instead of approaching the Wi-Fi problem from the point of view of “Am I getting the full capacity of my internet connection to every device?” which is not how Wi-Fi works, approach it instead from the point of view of “Am I getting the expected performance based on my connection to the internet and the hardware I have?” and “Has the quality of my Wi-Fi deteriorated recently?”
You can’t make a 5Mbps DSL connection any faster with top-of-the-line Wi-Fi hardware, and even with top-of-the-line Wi-Fi hardware and an optical connection, you won’t exceed the natural limits of the Wi-Fi standard. .
However, what you can do if the performance isn’t what you’d expect is to go through the list below and rule out the artificial bottlenecks that lead to a poor Wi-Fi experience.
Outdated Wi-Fi routers affect performance
Everyone hates spending money, and it’s frustrating to replace functional, albeit underpowered, hardware. But the reality is that Wi-Fi hardware has evolved fairly consistently over the years.
If you’re still using an old router you bought at Best Buy ten years ago, or a lackluster Wi-Fi router built into the router/cable modem combo your ISP gave you, you’re not going to have a great time. Furthermore, while some of the tips below may help you if you have an old Wi-Fi router, there’s really no substitute for biting the bullet and buying a new router.
Especially for people with otherwise new hardware – newer smartphones, new smart TVs, etc. – it makes sense to upgrade, as pairing newer devices with older hardware degrades their performance.
Poor placement of the router dampens the signal strength
The only thing worse than having an old Wi-Fi router is parking your Wi-Fi router in a terrible place – and if you have an old and misplaced external one, you’re going to have a really bad time.
If you need bright task lighting in your living room, don’t put your high-powered LED task light in the corner of the basement.
And by the same token, if you want really strong Wi-Fi where you actually use your Wi-Fi devices—like your living room and bedroom—you don’t put a Wi-Fi router in the basement with the washing machine.
Relocating your Wi-Fi router is an easy solution. Make sure you place it where the signal is most important for your daily activities, and don’t place it near devices that block Wi-Fi.
Too many devices will lock up underpowered hardware
One of the biggest benefits of newer Wi-Fi hardware isn’t just the improved speeds that come with each new generation of Wi-Fi, but also the overall increase in performance and the number of devices a Wi-Fi router can handle.
Even if you’re not chasing performance benchmarks to show off your new 2Gbps fiber line, you’ll benefit from a newer Wi-Fi router if you have a plethora of devices in your home.
We want to emphasize that it’s the number of devices, not the number of users, that you want to target. Devices, even when not in use, are increasingly overhead with quite a lot of bandwidth and put demands on your network that you might not expect.
Cloud security cameras use a lot of bandwidth, as do many other smart home devices – you’d be surprised how many bandwidth vampires there are around your home. People think about using a lot of bandwidth when they’re worried about breaking their data limit, but all the devices that use bandwidth are also usually using Wi-Fi.
Add up all the computers, tablets, smartphones, consoles, streaming devices, smart TVs, smart home accessories and more found in the modern home, and you’re looking at a list that easily matches or exceeds the capacity of older routers. .
Although we are talking about too many devices on your Wi-Fi network, we recommend that you think about removing the device from the Wi-Fi network. No, we don’t mean living with an Xbox or smart TV completely disconnected from the Internet—we mean switching out all the devices you can connect to your Ethernet network to make room for your remaining Wi-Fi devices.
Old hardware and cables reduce speed
This is really easy to miss unless you’re a network nerd. While the Wi-Fi router itself and the Wi-Fi capabilities of end devices like your smartphone or smart TV are a big part of the Wi-Fi performance puzzle, you don’t want to neglect the simple physical elements that tie your network together. together.
If you have outdated Cat5 cables or an outdated 10/100 network switch mixed in with your network hardware, you are unknowingly slowing down your network speed.
For people with slower broadband connections below 100Mbps, you may never notice the old switch hurting your performance, but if you have a faster broadband connection, those old cables and hardware will reduce your maximum potential speed.
To avoid this, check the physical network cables connecting the various components in your network to make sure they are at least Cat5E, or even better Cat6. And if you use network switches, upgrade them from 10/100 switches to gigabit switches. Unmanaged Gigabit switches and Cat6 patch cables are very cheap these days.
Channel congestion reduces Wi-Fi performance
Wi-Fi channel congestion occurs when multiple Wi-Fi devices use the same frequency or channel in the same airspace.
If your neighbor has their Wi-Fi router configured similarly to your Wi-Fi router and you live close enough that your router broadcasts to their living space and vice versa, it can negatively affect your network.
This is more of a problem for 2.4 GHz devices than 5 GHz devices, but you should pay attention to it regardless of whether you live in an apartment or a densely populated neighborhood. You will need to determine which channels are most congested and switch to less congested channels according to the documentation for your particular router.
Wi-Fi Extender increases range but decreases speed
If you’ve been dealing with Wi-Fi issues like slow speeds or lackluster coverage, there’s a good chance you’ve considered using a Wi-Fi extender, and you might have one at home right now.
Despite their popularity, in terms of sales, Wi-Fi extenders have a bit of a bad rap when it comes to actual network performance.
While they can certainly extend your network’s reach when deployed correctly, they can also cause a lot of network congestion, latency, and reduced speed.
To rule out your Wi-Fi extender as the source of your Wi-Fi problems, temporarily disconnect it. With the extender disabled, check the overall network performance with devices connected directly to the main Wi-Fi router. If performance improves significantly, there are probably two issues at play, possibly in tandem.
First, your Wi-Fi extender may be misconfigured and deployed – use these tips and tricks to get better performance. Second, the additional coverage provided by the extender and all the other devices you’ve added to the network with that extended coverage may be too much for your main router to handle, even with the extender.
In that case, it’s probably a good idea to simply abandon the router + extender configuration and replace it with a more robust mesh network. Upgrading to a mesh network is like simultaneously upgrading your router and simultaneously connecting it to supercharged Wi-Fi extenders.