Rob Pegoraro, Special for the USA TODAY
Published 6:00 am ET May 25, 2020
A slow Wi-Fi connection is incredibly frustrating. But here are some easy things that can help to speed up your computer or devices.
For many of us, the bandwidth crisis comes from within the home. Many online devices often overwhelm home Wi-Fi networks that struggle to sustain the tenth Zoom video conference call of the day.
You can replace your entire home wireless system with a Wi-Fi network starting at $ 240 or more – or follow two steps by upgrading to routers compatible with the new and more robust WiFi 6 standard and replacing your current devices with compatible versions with WiFi 6.
But before embarking on expensive home network improvements, consider some free steps you can take to adjust your network.
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Steps to speed up home Wi-Fi
To start, consider moving your router from where it has always been.
"Make sure your router isn't buried in a closet or furniture," emailed Tom Bridge, a partner at Technolutionary, a Washington-based consultancy that built wireless networks for venues like The Anthem concert hall near the Nationals Park on the nation's Capitol. "If you can, place it as centrally as possible in your home."
You should be able to place a cable gateway next to any coaxial cable outlet. Keep in mind that not all walls accept Wi-Fi in the same way: plaster in old homes often hides a wire mesh that can inhibit wireless reception.
Second, try to place stationary devices, such as desktop computers and smart TVs, over wired Ethernet connections.
"Wi-Fi is great, but wires can be better – and cheaper," wrote Glenn Fleishman, author of the book "Take control of the network and Wi-Fi security", in an email. "Wired Ethernet networks always work at full speed."
This is easier if the devices in question are close to the router, but Fleishman noted that a longer-range wired network is also possible: "You can pull Ethernet through tracking spaces, ceilings or walls."
Bridge and Fleishman advised against buying Wi-Fi extenders to extend the reach of an existing network, saying they tend to produce dubious results.
The latest routers should automatically place their devices in one of the two frequency bands used by the Wi-Fi consumer, 2.4 and 5 GHz. The former offers better range, while the latter offers faster speeds.
On an older router, this choice of frequency may depend on you. Fleishman offered a tip: give the 5 GHz network a name and place your streaming media devices on it.
The mobile apps offered by most router providers can also help to optimize your network. They can show you which devices use the most data and allow you to disconnect them if, for example, you are on an important video call.
(Stressed parents may also find that using a router app to gain access to the Internet from a child's device can be an effective motivational tactic.)
Your phone can also save your Wi-Fi, replacing it, if the wireless service is among the many that have temporarily increased the amount of data available for the use of mobile access points. If you need dedicated bandwidth for a computer, activate the phone's mobile hotspot feature and place that device on the phone's Wi-Fi signal.
If, after all, your home Wi-Fi does not yet provide adequate broadband throughout your home, it may be time to buy a new router.
If your existing model doesn't work as well as you remember it once, it may just be the time. "Old routers die without dying entirely," said Fleishman.
But at least you can know that you tried the cheapest options first.
Rob Pegoraro is a technology writer based in Washington, D.C. To submit a technology question, email Rob at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @robpegoraro.
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