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Six Things That Slow Down Wi-Fi and What You Can Do To Fix Them

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Slow Wi-Fi speeds can be a problem due to the extent to which people rely on it for work and entertainment. These are the most common reasons for Wi-Fi problems and how to fix them.

Assess Your General Network First

Before we dive into the common reasons your Wi-Fi performance is less than expected, let’s get a few things out of the way so you can better troubleshoot your Wi-Fi speed issues.

First, don’t rely on a smartphone (or a laptop using Wi-Fi) for your speed test. A smartphone can’t be used to speed test your internet connection.

Before you blame Wi-Fi for your troubles, make sure that your connection is running at optimum speed. This will help to identify any other issues such as a slow internet modem or ISP.

Second, Wi-Fi speeds are deceptive. The Wi-Fi speeds your hardware claims it can perform, in terms of advertising and labeling, are not the same as what it is capable of doing under actual-world conditions.

Even with a fiber connection that meets or exceeds the advertised speeds of your Wi-Fi router, you won’t get the advertised speed to your phone or laptop.

Instead of approaching your Wi-Fi problem from the standpoint 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 standpoint of “Am I getting expected performance based on my internet connection and the hardware I have?” and “Has my Wi-Fi experience recently degraded in quality?”

You can’t make a 5Mbps DSL connection faster with cutting-edge Wi-Fi hardware, and even with cutting-edge Wi-Fi hardware and a fiber connection, you’re not going to exceed the inherent limits of the Wi-Fi standard.

However, there are things you can do if you don’t get the desired performance.

Old Wi-Fi routers can impact performance

Everybody hates spending money, and it’s frustrating to replace functional, albeit underperforming, hardware. The reality is that Wi-Fi hardware has improved steadily over time.

If you’re still using an old router you picked up at Best Buy ten years ago or the lackluster Wi-Fi router built into the router/cable modem combo unit your ISP gave you, you’re not going to have a great time. Further, while some of the tips below might help you if you have an old Wi-Fi router, there’s really no replacement for biting the bullet and buying a new router.

Especially for folks with otherwise new hardware—newer smartphones, a new smart TV, etc.—it makes sense to upgrade as pairing newer devices with old hardware is hobbling their performance.

Significance of strength is weakened by poor routing

The only thing worse than having an old Wi-Fi router is parking your Wi-Fi router in a terrible location—and if you have both an old and poorly placed outer, you’re going to have a really bad time.

If you need bright task lighting in your living room, you don’t put your high-power LED work light down in the corner of the basement.

And by that same measure, 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 the Wi-Fi router down in the basement with the washing machine.

You can easily move your Wi Fi router. You just need to ensure that the router is placed in a location where it will be most useful for your day.

Too many devices slow down hardware that is underpowered

One of the biggest advantages of newer Wi-Fi hardware isn’t just the improved speeds that come with each new Wi-Fi generation but an overall increase in power and the number of devices the 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 and not the number of users that you want to focus on. Increasingly devices, even when they aren’t in use, have a fairly high bandwidth overhead and place demands on your network you might not expect.

Cloud-based security cameras use a lot of bandwidth, as do a variety of other smart home devices—you’d be surprised how many bandwidth vampires there are around your home. Many people think that heavy bandwidth consumption is a sign of a problem. However, many devices that are using bandwidth will also be using Wi-Fi.

Add up all the computers, tablets, smartphones, consoles, streaming devices, smart TVs, smart home accessories, and more found in a modern home, and you’re looking at a list that easily brushes up to or exceeds the capacity of older routers.

While we’re talking about too many devices on your Wi-Fi network, we’d encourage you think about taking devices off your Wi-Fi network. No, we don’t mean living a life with an Xbox or smart TV fully disconnected from the internet—we mean switching any devices you can over to Ethernet to free You can free up space for Wi-Fi devices that are still active.

Speed of cables and hardware that is older reduces

This one is really easy to overlook if you’re not much of a networking nerd. While the Wi-Fi router itself and the Wi-Fi capabilities of the endpoint devices like your smartphone or smart TV are a huge part of the Wi-Fi performance puzzle, you don’t want to neglect the simple physical bits that tie your network together.

If you have outdated Cat5 cables or an outdated 10/100 network switch mixed in with your network hardware you’re unwittingly hobbling your network speeds.

People with sub-100Mbps broadband may not be able to notice an old switch affecting their performance. But if they have better broadband than you, the cables and hardware could slow down their speed.

You can avoid this by making sure that the cables connecting different components of your network are at least Cat5E. Or better, Cat6. And if you’re using network switches upgrade them from 10/100 switches to gigabit switches. Unmanaged gigabit switches Cat6 patch cables These days, they are extremely cheap.

Channel Congestion Dings Wi-Fi Performance

Wi-Fi channel congest is caused by multiple Wi-Fi device using the same frequency (or channel) in the same area.

It can adversely affect your network if another person has a Wi-Fi router that is similar to yours, and you are close enough so their router broadcasts directly into your living area.

It is more common for devices in the 2.4Ghz spectrum than it is on the 5Ghz, however you need to be aware of this regardless of whether you live in an apartment building or densely populated neighborhood. You’ll need to identify which channels are the most congested and refer to the documentation for your particular router to change to less congested channels.

The Wi-Fi extenders increase reach, but decrease speed

If you’ve struggled with Wi-Fi issues like slow speeds or lackluster covered, there’s a good chance you’ve considered using a Wi-Fi extender and possibly have one in your home right now.

Wi-Fi extenders are popular, but they have an unfortunate reputation for poor network performance.

If properly used, they will increase your network’s reach, but they also can cause congestion and latency in the network, as well as reduced speed.

Temporarily unplug your Wi-Fi extension to rule out it being a cause of Wi-Fi network problems. If the extender has been disabled, you can check the performance of your Wi-Fi network with devices that are connected to it directly. Performance improvements may indicate that there is a problem, or possibly two, with your network.

First, your Wi-Fi extender may be poorly configured and deployed—use these tips and tricks to get better performance. The extender’s additional coverage and the added devices that you have connected to your network may cause more problems than the main router can handle.

In that case, it’s probably a good idea to just abandon the router + extender configuration and replace it with a more robust mesh network. You can upgrade to a mesh network by simultaneously updating your router and mating it to wireless extenders that are supercharged.

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