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Tech tips

Fix your Wi-Fi: 10 ways to get faster speeds

We’ve all seen this happen one way or another — we’re tucked cozily on our sofa, popcorn in one hand, remote in the other, hoping to binge-watch a much-hyped show on our favorite streaming service. Intro credits roll. So far, so good. Then it happens … The dreaded buffering circle rears its ugly head — again.

So we check the connection on our other gadgets. Uh-oh. Phone browser isn’t loading, Alexa is dead and the whole network is down. These sudden network hiccups caused by spotty home Wi-Fi have got to go!

There are plenty of reasons your Wi-Fi keeps slowing down (at the most inopportune times, too). It could be signal congestion, physical location, firmware issues, hardware limitations or maybe your space is just too big for your router coverage.

If you want to boost your home Wi-Fi and put a stop to constant video buffering or slow webpage loads, here are 10 helpful tips, starting with a simple router update.

1. Update your router’s software

Checking for your router’s latest firmware should be your first troubleshooting step. Updates are critical for everything from your computer to installed software and applications, so you should update at least once every three months.

The reason for this is two-fold: First, you can take advantage of all the new features and improvements of new versions of firmware. And second, your system is up to date with security patches and preventative programs.

You should have the option to check, review, download and install your router’s new firmware on its administration page. How to get there depends on your router model, so check your user manual for detailed instructions.

If you’re not sure where the manual is, tap or click here to use ManualsOnline. This site has manuals for more than 700,000 products, so it’s extremely likely you’ll find details for your router there.

Keep in mind, router firmware updates require a restart, so make sure you don’t have ongoing activities that require a network connection when you update.

2. Look for interferences

Did you know common appliances like cordless phones, Bluetooth speakers, microwave ovens and baby monitors can impact your Wi-Fi network speed?

This is particularly true with older routers that can only operate on the 2.4GHz frequency, and interference from other appliances can cause slowdowns and unpredictable connectivity — especially if these appliances are near your router.

To make your life easier, you can create an actual Wi-Fi “heat” map of your area using free tools like HeatMapper. Wi-Fi mappers like this help you see where Wi-Fi signals are strongest in your home or office.

3. Change channels

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The next tweak you could do is select the channel of your router — especially if you’re currently using the 2.4GHz frequency. Get away from this congested channel and use helpful apps like Network Analyzer Lite to find the most appropriate channel for your connection.

The app helps you see where your router stands compared to everyone else’s, so if need be, you can manually switch channels if need be. How you change channels depends on the brand and model of your router. Refer to your manual to find it.

Macs

For Macs, Apple provides a free tool called Wireless Diagnostics. Before you open it, quit all open apps, then press and hold the Option key while clicking on the Wi-Fi icon on the right-hand side of the menu bar, then choose “Open Wireless Diagnostics.”

If you don’t see the Wi-Fi icon, go to the Apple menu, then click System Preferences. From here, go to Network and select “Wi-Fi,” then choose “Show Wi-Fi status in menu bar.”

Follow the onscreen instructions and your Mac will analyze your network connection. Once it’s complete, click the Info button that looks like an “i” in the Summary pane to learn about your connection’s channel, as well as other useful information.

Windows

For Windows, try downloading the free Wi-Fi utility, Acrylic Wi-Fi Home. This application will instantly give you information about the Wi-Fi signals in your area, including the channels they utilize.

For Android users, there are a bunch of Wi-Fi scanning tools available, but the most popular one is Network Analyzer. Tap or click here for more details and download information.

Once you have the channel info you need, choose one among the recommended channels for 2.4GHz — 1, 6 and 11, since they don’t overlap with each other. Then evaluate your improvements.

4. Put the kids and guests on their own network and enable QoS

As you now know, too many devices sharing the same network can slow things down. So aside from setting up parental settings to protect your kids from trouble on the web, you can put them on a separate network so their devices don’t negatively affect your connection.

You can do this by setting up a completely different Wi-Fi router or by simply enabling your router’s “Guest Network” option — a popular feature for most routers.

Guest networks are meant for visitors who might need a Wi-Fi internet connection, but you don’t want them gaining access to the shared files and devices within your network. This segregation will also work for your smart appliances and it can shield your main devices from specific IoT attacks.

RELATED: FBI warning: 5 things you must do to protect your home from hackers

Another setting you can turn on to speed things up for specific tasks is QoS (Quality of Service). This is a router feature that lets you prioritize traffic according to the type of data being transmitted.

You could set latency-sensitive applications like Skype, IP telephony, streaming media and online gaming to have higher priority over other types of activity.

Say you are currently downloading a file (non-latency sensitive activity) and you suddenly get a Skype video call (latency sensitive activity). Your router will smartly direct bandwidth resources to the Skype call if needed, potentially slowing down your file download while you are on the call.

Different routers have different ways of handling QoS, and most consumer-level routers have more simplified ways of enabling it by having presets available. Just check your manual for information on what each one does.

5. Get an updated router

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If you’re in the market for a new router and you want improved Wi-Fi speeds to reach across your home or office, then aim for at least an 802.11AC with dual or triple band capabilities. 

Newer Wi-Fi standards mean better features. “AC” routers are a step up from the older models and have more features, offer better performance and if you’ve purchased any IoT items, such as a new smartphone, they you own wireless AC devices.

AC routers have a maximum spectral bandwidth of around 8 x 160 MHz. This means there is an increased bandwidth that allows more data to be transmitted without slowing down.

Additionally, by having multi-bands, you could keep older 2.4GHz devices on their own bands, while keeping newer devices on the higher bands. This is essentially like having multiple routers in one, and it can solve the interference and congestion issues mentioned earlier.

Newer AC routers also have advanced features not found in older routers. Look for specifications like beamforming, Multiple-In-Multiple-Out (MIMO), Multiple USB 3.0 connectors and Gigabit Ethernet ports.

Consider the TP-Link AC1750 Smart WiFi Router. This dual band gigabit wireless router includes parental control, a USB port, Gigabit WAN port, four Gigabit LAN ports (great for kids playing games) and more.

6. Mesh is the word

If you have a large house or office space that require consistent network speeds, a mesh Wi-Fi network is worth investing in.

Unlike standard Wi-Fi routers that require extenders for added reach, next-generation mesh routers are designed to spread a Wi-Fi network’s coverage with the use of multiple access points or satellites.

These systems usually come in sets of two or three separate units that work together to envelop your home or office with Wi-Fi coverage. As far as your gadgets are concerned, the Wi-Fi mesh is one big continuous Wi-Fi network.

A mesh Wi-Fi network setup may be a more expensive, but for its reliability, seamlessness, expandability and easy management, it’s well worth the admission price. Kim’s choice for a mesh system is eero, which blankets your whole home with fast, reliable Wi-Fi, eliminating poor coverage, dead spots and buffering.

Ready to upgrade? Get free overnight shipping by visiting eero.com/Kim and use promo code Kim at checkout.

7. Check your security

Aside from protecting your network from unauthorized bandwidth usage, which could slow down your network without your knowledge, did you know the type of wireless security you use could impact your overall speeds, too?

If your network is Open (no security) or is using WEP, change the security setting immediately. Obviously, an open network will make it easy for someone to steal your Wi-Fi, and the older WEP security is easily hacked, so avoid it at all costs.

Go with the WPA2 encryption for your Wi-Fi network. For an extra layer of protection, disable any “remote management” options on your router.

8. Change location

Another important factor that affects your Wi-Fi network’s connectivity is its physical location. If you keep dropping your signal in certain rooms in your home, then relocating your router might solve your connectivity woes.

Try placing your router as close to the center of your home as possible. It’s also a good idea to keep it elevated and free from any physical obstructions like furniture and appliances. Avoid reflective surfaces like glass, mirrors and metal, too, since Wi-Fi signals tend to bounce off these types of materials.

Walls — especially those made of concrete — can also severely degrade your Wi-Fi signal.

You can also try adjusting or repositioning your router’s antennas. It’s important to remember your Wi-Fi antenna is omnidirectional, i.e., the signal goes every direction equally. In other words, if you put your router along an outside wall, you’re sending half your signal outside.

If your house is just too big for your router, no amount of tinkering can solve your connectivity problems — especially in certain areas of your home. For distance issues, try installing Wi-Fi extenders around your house to boost your network’s range.

Consider the TP-Link N300 WiFi Range Extender. This little signal booster is perfect to spread your Wi-Fi further around the house. Tap or click here to learn more about Wi-Fi extenders.

9. Choose the right band

Wi-Fi bands are not created equal. If you have a newer router, check to see if it supports the 5GHz band. Newer routers usually have tri-band capability.

By enabling these bands, you could keep older devices that only support the slower G specification on the 2.4GHz band, and newer devices on the beefier and speedier 5GHz band. This is essentially like having two routers in one.

Why separate G and AC devices? Because mixed-mode routers usually are slower and there is evidence that an AC router will slow down to G/B speeds when a G/B only device connects to it.

Right now, if your device supports AC, you will get substantial speed improvements if you connect to the 5GHz router band.

10. Reboot your router

Sometimes, Wi-Fi problems aren’t about the signal strength or coverage. Maybe someone is having trouble connecting, or the internet connection has slowed down. If that’s the case, rebooting your cable or DSL modem and router can help get your network back on track.

Unplug both gadgets for 15 seconds, then plug in the modem first and wait for it to come fully online, then turn on your router. You might find that problems you were having are now gone.

BONUS: Hide your Wi-Fi

As you know, too many devices on your network slows everything down. If you haven’t updated your router’s password or upped any security settings, it’s possible a neighbor could be piggy-backing on your connection.

Not only is this dangerous — if they do anything illegal online, it’s your name on the internet bill — but it slows your speed down considerably. To learn how to kick your neighbors off your network, tap or click here.

With all of these suggestions, you should have no problems with your internet speeds moving forward. Enjoy binge-watching your favorite shows and don’t worry about the threat of buffering ever again.

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