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How to Get Better Wi-Fi

by on March 31, 2016
in Internet & Networking, Computers and Software, Tips & How-Tos :: 27 comments

9 Tips for Faster Wi-Fi Streaming

The cable plan you signed up for promised up to 300Mbps of blistering Internet speed, but reality has proven to be somewhat different. You're barely topping 25Mbps, Netflix doesn't work upstairs and by 7p.m., no one seems to be able to stream anything at all.

It’s quite possible to boost your Wi-Fi speed yourself, although the solution could be as simple as moving your router or as persnickety as switching Wi-Fi frequencies.

“The distance between the router and connecting devices, as well as the number of walls and floors in between, make a big difference,” says Spencer Behroozi, vice president of product management at modem manufacturer Actiontec. While a Wi-Fi signal can travel hundreds of feet in an unobstructed space, walls and floors can cut that distance by half or more.

Your connection speed can also be influenced by your router—how old it is, how good its processor and antenna are, how good it is at picking up wireless signals and how many devices are using it.

In some cases, your connection speed may even come down to your service provider's preference for certain kinds of traffic. Behroozi says service providers prioritize voice traffic first, then their own video services. 

What actions can you take to increase your Wi-Fi performance and get your streaming speed back up to par?

1. Check the router

The Old Faithful of personal technology issues is often your best bet. According to Behroozi, the IP connection between your device and the router or between the router and Internet can get hung up. “A restart of the router reboots all its systems, including the network processor and wireless radios,” he says.

If your router has a reset button, hold it down for a few seconds. If not, restart it by removing the cable from the power socket, waiting half a minute and then plugging it in again.

If that doesn't work, check to make sure the router firmware is up to date. Look for the update option under "System" in router software you have installed on your computer. Only download router firmware updates from the manufacturer's website.

You may also find  the resetting and reinstalling your router may do the trick. For most routers this is accomplished by holding down the reset button and then reinstalling the software. 

2. Move the router

“Most good routers have antennas that try to provide a symmetrical ‘donut‘ of Wi-Fi coverage, so when possible, place the router in an open space centrally located in your house, equidistant from its farthest locations,” Behroozi says.

The materials surrounding the router matter as well. Metal interferes with Wi-Fi signals, while wood does not. According to HowToGeek , positioning the router's antenna vertically rather than horizontally also increases signal strength.

3. Check to see if other family members are streaming or torrenting

Intensive activities like streaming HD video or file sharing can take its toll on Internet speed. “Routers can support hundreds of devices connecting, but it's more about what each device is doing online,” Behroozi says. “For example, if someone is using BitTorrent or if everyone is watching Netflix at the same time, this can cause an overall lag in speed.”

Distance from the router is important as well. If four people are streaming video but they're all close to the router, you may not experience any slowdowns, Behroozi says. So if everyone simply must watch Netflix or play Halo separately and simultaneously, try to move the devices closer to the router with as little wall or floor obstructing the path as possible.

4. Check if your ISP is having a hard time keeping up

One bottleneck is how good the service from your service provider is. “A lot of ISPs oversubscribe, so you can feel the lag in the afternoon when everyone gets home,” Behroozi says.

Test your connection by running a speed test from a site such as SpeedTest.net at different times during the day. “You don't want it fluctuate too much over the course of a day. The speed should always be at least 80 to 90 percent of what your service provider promises,” Behroozi says. If that’s the case but you're still not satisfied ...

5. Run a ping test

While a speed test gauges the speed possible based on available bandwidth from the service provider, a ping test gauges latency, which is the delay in communication between your computer and a particular website on the Internet. It can tell you how good the quality of your Internet connection is.

Head to PingTest.net, where you'll receive a ping figure measured in milliseconds. In general, lower numbers are better, but the site also gives you a grade from A to F to show how suitable your connection is for streaming and online gaming.

6. Check to see if you’re on an overcrowded channel

Slow Wi-Fi speeds may be the result of interference from your neighbors' Wi-Fi networks as all the devices compete to use the same channel.

All routers support the 2.4Ghz frequency, which distributes traffic among a handful of channels. Dual-band routers also support the newer 5GHz frequency, which contains even more channels. That frequency tends to be less congested and therefore usually allows faster connections.

You may be able to increase your speed by switching to a less busy channel, not matter which frequency you’re on. Download a wireless channel analyzer app such as Wifi Analyzer for Android (no equivalent for non-jailbroken iPhones) or a desktop program such as NirSoft's Wi-FiInfoView for Windows. Macs have the tool built in; hit Option and tap the wireless icon in your top toolbar, then click Open Network Diagnostics.These programs show each channel on each Wi-Fi frequency and which ones nearby networks are using.

7. Switch to a different channel

If you discover you're on an especially crowded channel, you can manually change it. Type your router's IP address into your web browser. (The IP address is usually on the back of the router, or you can google your router's model.) You'll be prompted to enter your username and password, after which you can click through to Wi-Fi settings and select the channel recommended by your Wi-Fi analyzer program.

8. Check for interference from a nearby cordless device

Baby monitors, older cordless phones, microwave ovens and wireless speakers are just some of the common household gadgets that also use the 2.4Ghz frequency. These can interfere with the wireless signal from your router.

Deal with the conflict by moving the router away from these devices and ensuring that no devices that could potentially interfere lie in a straight line between your router and the gadget you're trying to get online with.

9. Get a wireless signal extender

“When you start looking at homes larger than 3,000 square feet, getting good Wi-Fi signal from one corner to another can be a challenge,” Behroozi says. Multistory houses pose an obstacle as well, if the router isn't plugged into the broadband line somewhere in the middle.

In these cases, you could benefit from using a wireless extender. A signal extender plugs into any mains socket to rebroadcast and boost your Wi-Fi signal to those hard-to-reach places.

We've also found the Eero Home Wi-Fi System ($349 for a two pack, $499 for a three pack) to be a good solution in our testing. It's a router that comes with extenders that piggyback on one another using an internal mesh network to get the best throughput throughout your home. We found speeds equal to those of the router throughout our test home. 

What problems have slowed down your Wi-Fi streaming, and how did you kick things back up to speed? Let’s share more solutions in the comments below.

Updated on 3/31/2016 with new suggestions

[Wi-Fi repair concept via Shutterstock]



Discussion loading

Move

From Alexander Innes on March 24, 2015 :: 11:44 am

You may want to move to Europe or Asia as both have much better internet speeds then the US.

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Thanks!

From Josh Kirschner on March 24, 2015 :: 11:59 am

Tip #10: Move home to South Korea grin

Though the issues we’re addressing here are not about your raw Internet speed, but about the ways your Wi-Fi can get slowed down within your house. I get 50Mbps wired in my bedroom, but have real issues streaming video wirelessly from my living room.

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Don't hold the reset button.

From Steve Gilbert on April 14, 2016 :: 10:13 am

Advising people to press the reset button is not a good idea. The reset button on the router usually returns all settings to factory defaults.  This would change their SSID’s, passwords and possibly their IP network which is not usually what the user wants.  Unplugging the power cord and waiting 5 seconds before plugging it back in is the best method for ‘resetting’ the router.

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Right On!

From David Sharpe on April 23, 2016 :: 9:58 am

You are absolutely right.  I was very surprised to see this suggestion.  A tech-phobic, or even some tech-savvy people could find themselves in a pickle, having to go into the router and set all the custom setups over.

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MOCA and Powerline Network Extenders

From Ernesto Colina on March 24, 2015 :: 12:23 pm

This was the answer for me, as any other alternative was not a solution for me.

Actiontec Dual-Band Wireless Network Extender and Ethernet Over Coax Adapter Kit (WCB3000NK01)
and
Actiontec Single Dual-Band Wireless Network Extender and Ethernet Over Coax Adapter (WCB3000N01)

You can use your own regular coax cable, which is already installed by your cable company, and extend your own network, if you are with Comcast, you can use up to 16 adapters, but, with Verizon, it seems, according to the reviews, you can only use one. Note : This won’t work for the Google super high speed internet, well, people in Kansas City don’t care about this little issue.

There are also the powerline ethernet adapters, but in my apartment the electrical connection is rather weird and I couldn’t use it, but many people say it is a very good alternative.

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Check your links

From BWARD on March 24, 2015 :: 1:33 pm

It’s Speedtest.net, not “.com.”

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Thanks, Fixed!

From Josh Kirschner on March 24, 2015 :: 2:12 pm

Thanks for catching that!

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No major problems

From Greg Williams on March 24, 2015 :: 1:46 pm

I live in a small condo and can usually stream on my smartphone in my bedroom or cast to Chromecast in my living room. The router is in my kitchen. I have the Pro speed dsl from ATT and I get pretty speedy response on most things ( servers you are connecting with vary in quality and response time) I have occasional blips ,so called ATT Internet tech and we changed my channel and both think this may just be my solution for the see able future. Hopefully it will keep my enjoyment level at a high level for a good while!

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Are you streaming movies?

From Josh Kirschner on March 24, 2015 :: 2:23 pm

If you’re getting ok service, that’s a good thing. At around 3Mbps, DSL is right at the border for 720p HD movie streaming bandwidth, even in the best of conditions, and, in real-world conditions, may occasional have trouble with SD. Your Wi-Fi network would rarely be the limiting factor in this scenario, especially in a small condo.

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I do stream movies and

From Greg Williams on March 24, 2015 :: 3:21 pm

I do stream movies and TV shows. Not many problems, usually buffering more than any thing else and Crackle app occassaly balks at downloading movies, but I think it is the app more than anything else. The movies at Google Playstore play very well and have used Netflix with no major snafus. NFL NOW and my Denver Broncos app strap really well. Just wanted to tweet it and the tech said that is about the only thing we can do.

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Directional work-around

From Pete on April 05, 2015 :: 5:38 pm

I use a laptop on my front porch. There are several walls, including a stone wall, in between the laptop and router. On a whim, I placed a stainless steel wok behind the antennae, directed to the porch. It definitely improved the signal. I refer to it as my wokabolic antennae. wink

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Link to NirSoft

From Paul F on April 06, 2015 :: 12:36 pm

In Tip 6: Seems that link to NirSoft results in error 404???  Or is it just me?

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A little problem here

From Jose Antonio Nunez on April 06, 2015 :: 1:07 pm

The one thing the writer might want to change is the fact that none of these actually make your wifi faster. Yes if other users are logged on and streaming services there should be slightly more congestion on the network. And of course, the more users, the more the network should be effected, but you typically should not experience this in a home network which achieves high bandwidth speed. I would rename this article ” Troubleshooting Tips for In-home Wifi Networks”.

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What about public wifi tips?

From Zeke Krahlin on April 06, 2015 :: 9:14 pm

I am a low income person living on a disability stipend, who cannot afford broadband. Whenever I see links to articles that offer tips on increasing one’s wifi speed, it always turns out to be targeted towards those with homebound ISP services.

What I’m wondering: are there any tips you can offer for increasing wifi speed via public connections? For that is the only way I can get on to the Internet. TYI.

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Not much to help you there

From Josh Kirschner on April 08, 2015 :: 2:52 am

The speed you get with a public WiFi connection will be based on the speed of the connection itself, along with how many other people are on it and what they are doing. There’s not much you can do to speed it up beyond trying to use it when few other people are on it.

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Thanks, Josh!

From Zeke Krahlin on April 08, 2015 :: 1:18 pm

That’s what I figured, though I thought maybe I missed some little factoid. The quality and restrictions vary wildly from one public spot to another. But I have found several locations that are mostly excellent most of the time. Adieu!

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Link to Wifi Info View

From C Dunbar on April 20, 2015 :: 8:09 pm

Found the correct link for the NirSoft Wifi Info View app.
http://www.nirsoft.net/utils/wifi_information_view.html

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Thanks!

From Josh Kirschner on April 22, 2015 :: 9:40 am

Fixed in article.

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My Wifi is insane

From CyborgWhoop on September 05, 2015 :: 3:37 pm

Thanks for the information that you provide in the article above. Hope after performing such tasks it will increase the speed of the Wifi network and I can work easily on my projects.

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Whoops ,,,,,,, forgot one.

From Ben Leverett on September 05, 2015 :: 9:49 pm

Also, as long as your carrier, service plan, and phone support it, you could use a variant (wifi/usb/bluetooth) of tethering.

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Comment on tip #9

From Bret on September 28, 2015 :: 12:19 am

Wifi signal extenders are the absolute worst, sure they make you have full bars, but they also disconnect you randomly and generally just all suck. Spend the money on another access point that’s closer to your device. Signal extenders are all crap.

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WIFI STREAMING FIX

From Tony Allen on October 04, 2015 :: 9:37 am

I use top-spec Macbook 15” latest model and was becoming increasingly frustrated as I couldn’t watch sports events or Netflix without constant buffering.

I upped my ISP subscription to 30Mbps amd validated, using Speedtest, that that’s what I’m getting.  Still same problem.

Used the OSX Safari > Develop > Empty cachaces. Still same problem.

Used the OSX wireless diagnostics > Scan and could see a lot of traffic congestion. Changed my Airport Extreme to operate on 5 Ghz channel 149 - only me using that one. better picture quality but still same buffering problem.

Solution:  I use the Cocktail app to clear the caches (User, Internet and Applications), then a restart to apply the changes and ..... Bingo !  Works great now. Cocktail also gas defence stand cross-cut shredding of deleted files.

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Excellent artcile

From Bradley in Boulder on March 31, 2016 :: 11:20 am

I have a 300 Mbps service in my home.
Most everything is hard wired.
But when I do use wireless I get frustrated.
A lot of what you say in this article I experience when using wifi.
I plan to read this and try everything out as you suggest.
I just replaced my apple router with a real router which improved things dramatically. But the router has so many bells and whistles it’s hard to understand what’s really important.
If I don’t succeed in improving my wifi experience, could you make a recommendation on the type of ad I would run on upwork.com to find someone to help me troubleshoot?

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Extended my Wifi with an old Linksys Router

From Michele M on April 01, 2016 :: 9:06 pm

I extended my router down into a basement with concrete walls by re-purposing and old Linksys Router I had laying around. Saved tons of money instead of buying new equipment and the speed is great.

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Tweet for Cash

From ToluMar16 on April 06, 2016 :: 12:40 pm

This really worked for me. Thanks for the information.

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WiFi Disconnect..

From Nick Zamparello on April 17, 2016 :: 8:10 am

I found that a handy thing to do with wifi if you have alot of traffic in your area but can’t afford the 5ghz route is to set your antenna from 40khz to 20 khz..  It seems 20 is a lot more resiliant to disconnects..

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Wow Great

From Syed Zada on August 27, 2016 :: 11:01 am

I’ve read all your tips. I’ve found this amazing article. I’ve tried wifi speed booster software. and when i installed it on my pc. It start hanging and giving unknown error. so I removed it. I was sad that i couldn’t increase my wifi speed. but your tips give me hope. I will try for sure smile

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