Our (over)reliance on the internet has been on full display since the lockdown began. For many of us, this experience has also exposed the woeful inadequacy of our internet connections. There are three main reasons for slow WiFi – your internet service provider (ISP), your hardware, and your setup.

The first step is to identify which of those is the main culprit. To do this, you can download a free WiFi speed test app on your phone. First, test your connection speed near your router. Repeat the process further away or in a different room.

Problem: ISP

A speed of around 40 megabits/second supports high-speed video, gaming, and streaming. A speed of 25 megabits/ second is adequate for general streaming and gaming. A figure closer to 15 megabits/second can be problematic.

If the connection speed is slow but consistent throughout the house, the issue lies with your ISP. Contact your provider with the details and ask for an equipment upgrade. If not, here are other solutions to consider:

Problem: Hardware

On the other hand, speeds that diminish significantly the further you move from your router can be remedied with some simple steps.

  • Upgrade firmware. The first step in solving virtually any hardware-related issue is a software upgrade. Visit the manufacturer’s website and search for patches that apply to your model. Remember to download any programs only from their official website. Run the patch and restart the system. If the problem persists, you may want to consider a new router.
  • Boost signals. External antennae and range extenders are a cheap and simple solution for boosting signal range and speed throughout the home. They cost significantly less than a new router and often manage to achieve similar or better results. The downside is the extra cabling needed to connect them.
  • Eliminate barriers. WiFi signals can pass through solid objects but they seem to have a harder time with metal and even water. A wall, especially one with plumbing, can be a major decelerator as can a large aquarium or refrigerator, and even a microwave. Place your router out in the open at a central location for the best results.

Problem: Setup

Sometimes, speeds can remain unusually slow even after you have rectified the obvious problems.

  • Deter “leeches.” A network without password protection is just asking for it in these data-intensive times. Check that your system has a password (reset it to be safe) and is encrypted. This has the twin benefit of filtering out unwanted piggybacks and also keeping your personal information safe.
  • Prioritize connections. If you are struggling to video conference for work on your old laptop while your child is seamlessly streaming a TV show on their phone, the issue is device hardware. Newer devices use more sophisticated WiFi standards that may overwhelm older ones. However, most routers allow you to set a priority list that bypasses individual device capabilities. Put your work devices at the top of the list.
  • Switch frequency. Most routers come with a dual-band frequency option of 2.4 or 5 GHz. The lower setting comes as default because it overcomes solid barriers more efficiently. However, in an area of many overlapping WiFi signals, that efficiency is reduced. Experiment between the settings at different times of the day and you may see an immediate speed boost.