Slow Wi-Fi network driving you crazy?

In All by Mike Abbott

It’s a common complaint and for good reason. Many homes and businesses suffer from limited range and internet speeds that move at a snail’s pace limiting the productivity and stymying entertainment facilitated by the internet and or your local network. Let’s take a moment to discuss the reasons why Wi-Fi speeds are sometimes slower than users would expect or like them to be and then move on to methods to overcome these obstacles.
Reasons why your Wi-Fi network is slow as molasses:

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1) Building materials.

Certain building materials, metal as well as sand lime brick (magnetite) in particular, act as barriers for the radio signals that allow Wi-Fi networks to function. Some older buildings, believe it or not, have chicken wire built into the wall – is this is the case with your home or business, it may render your router or wireless access point practically useless.

2) Noise floor:

Did you know that the number of Wi-Fi Networks in a given area can have a significant impact on the speed of your network? Remember, your Wi-Fi Network is broadcasted via radio signals on a limited number of frequencies. Essentially, a high density of Wi-Fi networks creates what can be likened to background noise, drowning out the signal, so to speak, of your network. In fact, many other devices like microwaves and baby monitors can exacerbate this problem.

3) Location, Location, Location:

Many people collocate their wireless router with their desktop computer, which may be in a remote corner of the house. Others stick in the cabinet that houses the DVD/ Blue Ray Player, receiver, cable box and various other electronic odds and ends. Not only does the signal have to penetrate the cabinet in which it is housed, those electronic devices can interfere with the signal it puts out as well (remember noise floor). Wifi Signals have a harder time moving vertically than horizontal, so make sure your Wireless access point is placed as close to the ceiling as possible in the most central location available.

4) Old equipment:

All routers and wireless access points are about the same, right? Wrong!!! As is true for many other network technologies, Wi-Fi speeds have increased tremendously in the few years since this technology became ubiquitous. 802.11 is the name of the Wi-Fi protocol; when it came out in the late 90’s it moved at an agonizingly slow 2 Mbit/s. Then came 802.11 b in 1999, bringing with it a significant bump to theoretical Wi-Fi speeds, all the way up to 11 Mbp/s. Then came 802.11g which brought speeds up to 54 Mbp/s. In 2009, 802.11n was released and it raised the bar to 300 Mbp/s. In 2012, 802.11ac was released, bringing with it lightning fast speeds of 1.3 Gbp/s. All that to say, if you are using a 10 year old wireless access point it would definitely behoove you to upgrade.

5) Settings on your router/ wireless access point:

Remember a minute ago when we discussed noise floor? Sometimes the airwaves get so clogged that your router or Wireless Access Point (WAP), if it is set to automatically switch to less congested channels, will do so. In some areas Wi-Fi networks are so dense that every channel in the 2.4 Ghz range (where Wi-Fi networks broadcast their signal) is very noisy. In such a circumstance, your WAP will switch from channel to channel indefinitely. Each time it makes this transition it is as if the network is briefly disconnected, slowing Wi-Fi speeds to a crawl. The power settings on your router/WAP can have a significant impact on Wi-Fi speeds as well.

6) Low quality equipment:

Even though Wi-Fi speeds are standardized, some manufacturers produce routers and WAP’s that come closer to hitting the top speeds that they are allegedly able to achieve.

Of course there are other reasons why your network may be running more slowly than you would like, size of the building in which the network is in for example (routers and wireless access points have limited range and when you approach the limits of that range you begin to run into problems).
Ok, so we know what the problem is – slow Wi-Fi – and we have addressed some of the major reasons why a network might be running slowly. Now let’s talk solutions and see if we can find a remedy for your slow-moving Wi-Fi.

Now we know what the problem is – slow Wi-Fi – and we have addressed some of the major reasons why a network might be running slowly. Now let’s talk solutions and see if we can find a remedy for your slow-moving Wi-Fi.

Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn via / CC BY

1) If there are a ton of nearby networks, try using a WAP or router that is compatible with the 5 GHz band. Unlike its counterpart, the 2.4GHz band, it doesn’t do a very good job of penetrating walls or other natural barriers, but that is one of the reasons it may actually work better for you because other routers that are on the 5 Ghz band will have limited ability to compete with your network for airwaves. Moreover, data can move more quickly on this particular band, provided it isn’t being blocked by walls, doors or any other sort of physical barrier.

Photo credit: osde8info via / CC BY-SA

2) Purchase a new router from a reputable producer. Look to ensure that it says 802.11 AC on the box to ensure that you will receive the best network speed possible.

3) Purchase more wireless access points. The more the merrier, particularly if you are able to run a network cable to each of the wireless access points you purchase and set up (you are more likely to take full advantage of the throughput you get from your internet service provider (ISP) if you are able to hardwire each of these WAP’s. Even if it is not possible to hardwire all of your wireless access points, it is possible to set up Wi-Fi extenders, though the signal emitted from an extender will be much weaker than that of a hardwired network device.

4) Do you know how much throughput you are paying for? If you are getting close to the bare minimum internet speed and you have 15 devices hooked up to your network, four of which are streaming video, chances are that your network is going to run slowly.

5) People tend to use the internet the way that young children might use the water hose while they play in the backyard on a hot summer day. “This is a free and unlimited resource, right?” User do things like leave streaming video playing in the background of a computer they aren’t using. An even more pernicious culprit are bit Torrent clients, software for peer to peer file sharing (often used to download pirated content). Users that are unfamiliar with the way this software works may unintentionally hog almost every bit of available bandwidth just by downloading a movie or two while they are working. Be sure your family, roommates and or coworkers understand the impact their activity has the network to which they are connected.
If you have any questions, concerns or would like some help improving the speed of your network, don’t hesitate to call First Service of the Carolina’s at 919.832.5553.