If you now work at home due to the COVID-19 outbreak, you may have a moment when you realize your WiFi just isn’t cutting it anymore – it could be a frozen video feed, a rainbow spinner on your screen, or a cry from your kids when their favorite game doesn’t load. If the tried-and-true reboot of your router and equipment does not help, here are a few things you can do to get the most out of your bandwidth.
Measure Your Speed
Your first step is to understand the nature of your problem and measure the quality of your WiFi. You can do this from your laptop’s browser or you can use your phone by going into airplane mode and turning on the WiFi (you want to be sure you’re not using cellular data for this). Then use your browser to go to highlandsfibernetwork.com/support/check-speed to see how fast your WiFi is running.
Check your speed in several different rooms and take note if there are places that score significantly lower than others. If the speeds seem slow, try connecting directly to the router (if you are using one). This way you can confirm the speed coming into the house.
Move Your Wireless Router
If your bandwidth test shows “dead spots” in your home, try moving your wireless router. It’s not unusual for a WiFi router to be stuck in the corner of a house or apartment, near the wall where service enters your home. But that’s the worst place for it. WiFi is radio and radios have limited range and sometimes have trouble penetrating walls. If it’s practical, try moving your router to a more central location by running a longer coax or ethernet cable from the wall jack.
Try to keep the router away from big pieces of metal, like refrigerators or microwave ovens. WiFi doesn’t do well around lots of water either, so stay away from 100-gallon aquariums.
Then try the speed checks again to see if that helped.
Get a WiFi Extender
It is possible that you cannot move your router or that moving it did not help. In that case, investigate getting a range extender and placing it where the signal is weak.
Check Your Network
It sounds dumb, but it does happen: sometimes (and for no reason) devices will glom onto your lower-speed wireless hotspot rather than your home’s high-speed network. It just takes a second to verify your devices are using the appropriate network.
Change the Channel
This is an especially fruitful thing to try if there are a lot of other WiFi networks near you because you may be experiencing radio interference. Some routers are designed to sense interference and pick uncluttered frequencies. But not all of them are great at doing so, or at finding clearer frequencies when conditions change. Go into your router’s settings and systematically try other channels to see if that helps.
Move to 5 GHz
Modern WiFi works on the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequency band. The latter is faster and is less subject to interference but does not travel as far and cannot penetrate walls as well. The former is more robust but is susceptible to interference from microwave ovens and some older cordless phones.
If you can, opt for 5 GHz if your devices support it. If you have an old router that doesn’t support 5 GHz (that is, 802.11ax, 802.11ac, 802.11n or 802.11a), you should think seriously about getting a new one.
And note: the 5 GHz band has nothing to do with 5G cellular service. The similarity in name is a coincidence. Don’t be confused.
Get a Mesh Network
Replacing your whole WiFi network is the “nuclear option” to improve your bandwidth, but you might want to consider it if your network is more than 5 years old, and certainly if it’s more than 10. Mesh networks like Google Nest, Netgear’s Orbi, Eero, or TP-Link Deco (there are many others) are a big step up from older point-to-point systems both in speed and convenience.
The very latest routers support the newest 802.11ax standard, also known as WiFi 6, but it’s unlikely that any of your devices do. However, if you’re buying for the future, device upgrades for the next several years will increasingly be able to use that standard.
In the end, making sure your home WiFi network runs well (especially when your income or your kids’ education is concerned) is worth the effort and probably the expense.