The allure of fast WiFi is one of the selling points of wireless networks. One can very quickly get addicted to the effortless manner in which you can access the Internet to listen to music, stream videos or engage in online gaming.
We expect our WiFi to work at all times, just like turning on the lights. When it doesn’t work the way it should it can be challenging to figure out the reason for the degraded performance. Obviously, the only thing on your mind will be how to make WiFi faster. And, more importantly, is it possible to make it all happen without spending a single dollar?
Before you embark on the quest for faster WiFi, you should first figure out how fast your WiFi is supposed to be. You might find out that the speeds you’re currently getting are actually the maximum speeds you can reasonably expect to get.
To start with, you should find out how fast your home internet is. If you’re not sure, contact your internet provider and ask. Let’s say you have a 100 Mbps connection going into your house — that’s 100 megaBITS per second. Since nobody except for ISPs thinks in megabits, it’s useful to convert the number to megabytes per second, which gives us 12.5 megaBYTES per second.
In other words, it should take you approximately 1 second to download a 12.5 megabytes-large file from the internet. Under ideal conditions, of course.
WiFi routers broadcast on two main frequencies — 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz — and each of these frequencies is divided into several channels. What’s more, WiFi routers use several different IEEE 802.11 protocols, which provide the basis for wireless network products using the WiFi brand.
The oldest still commonly used WiFi protocol is 802.11g, and it supports transmission speeds of only 54 Mbps, or roughly 6.75 megabytes per second. If you have an older wireless router that only supports the 802.11g WiFi protocol, and you pay for a 100 Mbps internet connection, it’s impossible for you to utilize your connection to its maximum capacity. In that case, your only option is to upgrade to a newer router, which, of course, isn’t free.
But what if you have a newer router, let’s say one that supports the 802.11ac WiFi protocol, which has a multi-station throughput of at least 1 Gbps and single-link throughput of at least 500 Mbps? If that’s the case, consider yourself lucky because you should be able to utilize your internet connection to its maximum capacity even over WiFi.
A great story shared by a great friend of ours. His natural curiosity and determination (and our wonderful brainchild NetSpot) assisted him in figuring out how to get his WiFi working as it was meant to. So here it goes:
After enjoying years of trouble-free WiFi I began to have issues with the system in late December. First a little background on the system. I do not live in a huge house and there are not many devices that are connected at one time. We do use the Internet to stream YouTube TV as well as our other online activities. For the most part, there are only two people using WiFi. We might have four connections going simultaneously if we are both watching TV and on a computer or iPad at the same time.
All was fine until late one Sunday afternoon in December. I am a bit of a sports fan and was watching an NFL game when I was assaulted by the spinning circle in the middle of the YouTube TV picture. This indicates that the app is trying to connect to the Internet, or is experiencing such slow performance that it cannot keep up with the video stream. This would occur sporadically throughout the game, rendering it almost unwatchable.
Since we had not faced any issues like this previously, I was at a loss as to what to do to resolve the problem. I definitely wanted to see the end of the game and tried rebooting the router several times, to no avail. I even considered digging up an old Ethernet cable and plugging it into the back of my cable modem but then that’s not WiFi anymore. Oh, and my iPad doesn’t have an Ethernet port. Does yours? Exactly.
So I was forced to actually take the time to track down the culprit in the hope of returning the capability to enjoy my WiFI connected devices to its previous lofty state. I have a feeling that I am not alone in facing this dilemma and that others are afflicted with the scourge of slow WiFi in their home or office.
Therefore, in an attempt to pass on some hard-earned knowledge I am going to describe the steps I took to resolve my issue. I’m going to talk about how to make WiFi faster and we will discuss a number of possible remedies that you can try without spending a dime.
These are the no-cost methods that I used to try to improve my Internet speed.
The results showed that my download speed was well over 45Mbps which should be more than enough for the way we use it. I also tried testing during an occurrence of the connectivity issue, but could not connect to the Internet at all at that time. So when it was up, the speed of the connection was fine. On to the next step.
To test how fast your WiFi is, NetSpot pops up in many recommendations — it is an industry-leading macOS and Windows software for WiFi analysis and surveys.
Unlike online speed tests, which typically measure only latency, download speed, and upload speed, NetSpot can provide you with the deep insights into the state of your wireless network and help you understand how it fluctuates throughout the day and how it changes from room to room.
NetSpot has two distinct WiFi analysis modes: Survey and Discover.
The former mode is offered for Home, Pro, and Enterprise users, and makes it possible to outline your WiFi network on a map and visualize its strength and other parameters. The latter — collects every detail about surrounding WiFi networks and presents wireless data as an interactive table.
NetSpot also offers the Active Scanning feature in Pro and Enterprise editions, which allows you to find out exactly how fast your WiFi is across your space. To use NetSpot’s Active Scanning feature to test WiFi speed in an instant, start a new project. Load an existing map of your area or create a new one.
On the Active Scan screen, select your wireless network and click on “Enable active scanning of the selected network(s).” Perform the scan. Once your survey is complete, you will be able to analyze your results and see your upload speed, download speed, wireless transmit rate, as well as other metrics depending on the exact configuration of the scan.
The way my house is laid out made the northwest corner of the house the logical place for the router. This is where the cable from the ISP enters the house and minimizes the amount of internal cabling required. At this time I was using an Arris modem/router combo that had been provided by the cable company when they installed the Internet connection in the house.
In an attempt to eliminate any obstructions or interference resulting from the router’s location, I spent an afternoon experimenting with various other, more centrally located places to house the router. Following best practices, I kept it away from physical objects and tried to minimize the exposure to other devices such as my microwave that might be causing interference. No luck, as the sporadic WiFi degradation continued.
WiFi signal strength reduces with distance. If you stand just a few feet away from your router, you should be able to enjoy fast WiFi and utilize your internet connection to its maximum capacity. But walk to another room, and your WiFi speeds are most likely going to drop. Depending on the materials used to build your home, the drop could be fairly sharp.
That’s why you should always place your router as close to the center of your house as possible. With NetSpot, you can check for signal weak spots and find the most optimum location for your router. As a rule of thumb, avoid placing your router close to large appliances that are likely to emit a lot of electromagnetic interference.
Next, I went out to the router’s administration panel and updated the firmware.
While I was there I also set it to update automatically so I would not have to think about this again. There was no noticeable difference in WiFi performance after updating the firmware.
I wanted to see if I was being impacted by neighboring WiFi installations, so I used the NetSpot WiFi analyzer to discover other nearby networks. There were other networks detected, and they all were using channel 1 or 11 in the 2.4GHz frequency. I did not see other 5GHz networks that might be affecting my router.
FYI, you can try and make your WiFi faster by switching to the least used WiFi channel. This is especially important if you live in a densely populated urban area and have a lot of other wireless networks in your vicinity. If you were to broadcast on the same channel as everyone else, your speeds would suffer because of a phenomenon known as WiFi congestion.
Using NetSpot’s Discover Mode, you can easily generate a convenient table of all wireless networks around you and see which channels they broadcast on. Simply open the NetSpot app and click Discover. Click either on “Channels 2.4 GHz” or “Channels 5 GHz” to see which WiFi channels are used the least. You should always prefer non-overlapping channels (1, 6, and 11).
Thinking I had finally found the reason for the problem, I updated the router to use channel 6 for the 2.4 GHz frequency in my home. No other network was using this channel, so if that was the bottleneck it should now be resolved. Unfortunately, the issue persisted. I was out of ideas and had to take it to the next level.
After striking out with my own attempts at fixing my WiFi connection I resorted to contacting the cable company and having a tech sent to my home.
He took one look at the Arris equipment, shook his head, and said they did not support that old device any longer. He did hook it up to some testing equipment and ran the router through its paces. The verdict was that the device was on its last legs and was the most likely reason for my WiFi issues.
We ended up purchasing a Netgear cable modem and a Linksys router to replace the antiquated and malfunctioning Arris modem/router. After configuring the equipment and changing the default passwords we fired up the WiFi and have not had any issues since the new router and modem were installed.
As you can see, pinpointing the issue that is degrading your WiFi speed can be a challenge. I would suggest that if you are faced with this problem, you follow the steps discussed above to try and resolve the issue. In most cases, you will see an improvement by changing channels or moving your router.
With these simple tips, you should be able to enjoy a fast WiFi hotspot even with an older wireless router. Of course, there is only so much you can accomplish with outdated technology, especially if you live in a larger home and your WiFi requirements are high.
Unfortunately, not all WiFi issues can be resolved at no cost. When faced with the prospect of continued sporadic Internet problems or spending a few dollars, the choice was easy. We are back to enjoying our WiFi without interruptions. Isn’t that what we all really want?