Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Speed Up Your Internet for the Long, Slow Pandemic

Posted By on Wed, Jun 10, 2020 at 10:26 AM

I recently flagged down a technician from my local internet provider about why the service seems so darn slow all the time. He confirmed one problem I’d always suspected. Upgrading infrastructure is expensive so a company tends to put far too many customers onto the bandwidth than can ever hope to achieve the promised upload and download speeds.

So, the first uncomfortable reality of your slow home internet is that it’s likely there’s an infrastructure problem that will not be addressed until the customer complaints reach the intolerable level.

Even after local economies return to whatever passes for normal in the near future, expect that many who went home to work during the pandemic will not return to the office, thus creating even more demand for the finite resource of internet bandwidth.

The good news is that there’s a solid chance that a few tweaks to your router and applying other tricks of the trade can speed things up considerably while you wait for your provider to crack open the wallet and undertake a full-scale upgrade.

Test Your Speed First

There’s not much point in changing anything until you know what you’re working with. That means you should test upload and download speeds to see if they happen to be anywhere near what was promised in the package you signed up for.

Once you have numbers for both your upload and download speed (the latter is typically much faster), compare them against what area providers say they deliver. Maybe you’ll be pleasantly surprised, but there’s a good chance you won’t. If your real world numbers are too far removed from your plan numbers, a phone call to the home office might be in order.

Advertised speed is usually calculated as a “best case” scenario and intended to be used as the top end of a range.

Turn Off Unused Devices

Every single internet device in your house is sipping (maybe even gulping) data at all times unless it’s turned off or the wifi capability is switched off. Wait! Don’t just speed through this suggestion as too Mickey Mouse to try. It really can help.

Run the speed test again but this time turn on a smart tv, laptop, and mobile device, if they weren’t on before. If they were on for your first test, turn them off and run it again. There can be a significant speed difference just from having multiple connected devices on the network. Train everyone in the house to turn off what they aren’t using.

Router Location Strategy

Since you can’t see the signal flying out of your router, it’s easy to just put the device on a shelf somewhere and assume that’s good enough. Not so fast. While it’s true that a router broadcasts in all directions, the waves are high frequency, meaning they deteriorate rapidly and are easily deflected or blocked by household objects or materials (like concrete and metal or that over-sized Buddha statue you brought back from China).

A typical router is located in a far corner of the house, maybe behind a tv or in a corner. If you’re on the other end of the house with several closed doors in between, expect your speed might show as much as a 5 Mbps difference than if you were in the same room.

While it’s not always feasible to plant the router dead center in the house, put your thinking cap on and see if there is a way to get it out of the corner and remove any barriers that might slow the signal down. As a final resort, elbow the rest of the family aside and grab the primo spot as near the router as possible for the best speed.

Router Reboot

For the same reason you would reboot your computer regularly - to kill processes you aren’t using any more and clear cached memory - pay the same courtesy to your router. It’s a small computer with memory and background processes that can cause the unit to grow sluggish over time. A weekly reboot would be a good habit to get into. I tested the before and after a reboot speed and came up with an 8 Mbps gain.

If every tip here can bump your speed by 5-10 Mbps, you’re looking at a substantial overall improvement by the time you’ve implemented them all.

1, 6, and 11 are the Magic Channel Numbers

This applies especially if you live in an urban area where there is lots of wifi network signal overlap from neighbors or nearby businesses. Most people tend to leave their router set to the factory default, which creates a traffic jam on that frequency and slower speed for everyone trying to use it.

Routers have 14 channels. Your best bet to avoid the crowd is channels 1, 6, or 11, though if you figure out a channel is jammed you’re better off to go to a higher number. For example if channels 1 and 2 are being used in close proximity, channel 1 will suffer the most.

Routers didn’t used to allow channel changing but now they do, and you should take advantage of it.

Router Location Revisited

To be honest, a bad router location is likely to be at the heart of your problems. If this is the case and you absolutely can’t relocate it to a more central location, there are a number of devices that allow you to boost its capabilities. For a primer on signal boosters, repeaters, and extenders, check out this excellent article.

It also might be worth it to buy a faster router or even replace the firmware in the one you have in order to boost its power and send the signal out farther. DD-WRT and Tomato are a couple of quality brands that serve this purpose well.

Final Thoughts

Obviously, the tips here aren’t intended to be an all-inclusive solution to slow home internet. There are literally hundreds of other strategies out there but this is a good start that should yield some easy, significant gains. If you want to learn more, there are plenty of excellent forums and Facebook groups that can serve as an almost endless source of tips and tricks related to improving your home internet speed. Good luck out there!

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