In recent months, we’re all using our home Internet a lot more. This is especially true during business/school hours and peak evening times, when everyone is home streaming video, playing games or just messing around on the Web. Consequently, our elevated use of services like Skype, Zoom and Netflix requires more technical firepower than we may have needed before.
It’s crucial that our Internet connections are up to the task. Nothing kills productivity faster than slow Wi-Fi (wireless) service. Here are a few tech tips to help optimize your home network performance.
Check your plan
While we’re all sheltering in place at home, we’re all working, conferencing, studying and entertaining ourselves at home, too. With everyone in the house trying to get online (along with millions more doing the same), you need a data plan that can handle the load.
Check your current Internet service provider (ISP) plan. Your current package might not cover your needs. The Federal Communications Commission has consumer guides on household broadband use and broadband speeds that may be helpful for you to determine your home Internet usage requirements.
If you think you may need more bandwidth to work from home, put in a call to your ISP’s customer service and ask if they can work with you. Ask if they’re running any specials, or if they can work to boost your network speed.
Test your speed
If your Internet seems slower than usual, run an Internet speed test. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), you can download broadband speed test apps, or visit speed test websites, to check your current broadband download and upload speeds, measured in Mbps (megabits per second).
If your speeds are slower than expected, you should contact your ISP to find out if they offer troubleshooting tips, or if there is an outage or service disruption in your area that may be affecting your speeds. Sometimes a simple router reboot—by powering it off and then back on again—can resolve a problem.
If these tips don’t work, you may have an equipment issue, such as an outdated router. Search the model number on your router to see if it’s capable of providing your subscribed speeds. It might need updating to take advantage of higher speeds. If updates aren’t available, you may need to purchase a new router or rent an upgraded router from your service provider.
More router issues: The majority of households with home Internet use the Wi-Fi service on their home router. Some issues that could bring your Internet to a crawl include:
- Using the default router you’ve rented from your ISP—it could be subpar.
- Unable to get the proper connection to reach your home office, patio, deck or other corner of your home that’s distanced from your router.
- Unable to reach a device such as a front door home doorbell or surveillance camera in your backyard.
Newer, multi-band routers can segment your wireless network into multiple networks. According to Cable News Network, “A dual-band router offers two bands for devices to join: a 2.4 GHz and a 5 GHz band. The 2.4 GHz band is older and could run into interference from other household appliances that might be on the same wavelength, while 5 GHz is newer and is used in most modern devices. And, as you probably guessed, a tri-band router packs an additional band for devices to connect. It gives you two 5 GHz bands and one 2.4 GHz band.”
Too many smart devices: Many homeowners now use smart devices (thermostats, smart speakers— even refrigerators and washing machines) that are web-enabled. They all take up bandwidth.
What to do if you don’t have ample data available on your plan to run the things you need? Try logging into your router’s settings and ease the load by switching some devices to another router channel. Or, maybe this is a good reason that a 5 GHz band router upgrade may be in order.
You need a boost: If you notice a weak connection or dead zones in certain corners, a range extender or mesh network can improve the Wi-Fi signal strength throughout your home.
Wi-Fi range extenders are the best cheap option for smaller spaces. You just plug-in these small devices where you need coverage. They simply repeat the signals up to your router.
For whole-home coverage for larger homes (about 2,700 square feet or more, or multilevel spaces with three or more floors) mesh routers are best. They’re made to blanket your home in Wi-Fi, extending way beyond what a single router can do by sharing that network across multiple devices.
Your connection could be better: A direct ethernet cable connection between your router and a device that accesses the Internet—such as a cord connecting your laptop and router—will provide the highest speeds and alleviate Wi-Fi congestion issues. Consider relocating your router to the room where you do most of your online activity so you can plug your device directly into the router. If your laptop (or other Internet device such as a streaming TV or a gaming system) does not have an ethernet port, consider using a USB ethernet adaptor.
Create an Internet schedule
Even the latest Wi-Fi routers with fast service speeds can get bogged down by a family of users trying to do things simultaneously like stream video, play graphics-intensive games, use virtual private networks (VPNs) for work and video conference. Set guidelines with your family members and discuss daily schedules to avoid performance issues and prioritize usage.
If your job offers flexible hours, you may be able to work around high-traffic times on your home network.
Many ISPs offer a dashboard so you can monitor Internet access to every connected device in your home, including computers, smartphones, tablets, gaming consoles and TVs. That could be especially helpful now when you want to limit your kids’ screen time.
Explore your options
If you get a good cellular signal in your home, another way to alleviate home Wi-Fi network congestion is to disconnect your cellular devices from your Wi-Fi network. You may also be able to use your cellular device as a mobile hotspot, through which you can connect non-cellular devices like a laptop to your cellular service. However, before switching any of your devices to cellular-only service, check your cellular data plan to make sure you won’t go over any data caps and incur overage charges. You can also explore options for fixed wireless service or other cellular alternatives in your area.
If you’re not seeing congestion on your in-home Wi-Fi network, turning on Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi calling from your smartphone can conserve data and reduce potential congestion on mobile networks. It can also help prevent data overage charges on your mobile phone plan.
Many service providers have committed to providing free Wi-Fi hotspots during the national coronavirus emergency. Some are offering discounts or temporary upgrades at low or no cost during the crisis, or eliminating caps on data plans. Learn more about what carriers are doing to support their customers.
Resources: Federal Communications Commission, HighSpeedInternet.com, USA TODAY, ABC News Internet Ventures, The New York Times Company, MattsDailyDeals.com, iDrop News, ZIFF DAVIS, LLC.