An exciting scene is about to happen, you can feel it. The protagonist is about to take a huge stride forward, mustering enough courage to say the words he has never uttered before. Then… buffering…
How many times has this happened to you? Probably one too many. No one likes the dreaded loading wheel, or interruptions while binge-watching Netflix or YouTube videos.
You can verify that your bandwidth is fast enough and your speed is as advertised by using an online speed test. Click here to learn about Fast.com, which is one of the easiest ways to do this. If everything is as it should be with your internet speed, then your Wi-Fi router signal may be the culprit. So, here are three tweaks you can try to speed up your network.
Before you begin:
To do these tweaks, make sure you can get into your router's administration console. The administration console is where you manage your router's settings and all that good stuff. From password management to firmware updates, this is where the magic happens. It may look intimidating at first but don't worry, as long as you stay within the scope of these tweaks, you'll be fine. Also, it's a good idea to backup your router settings first and save them, just in case.
Getting to this console is relatively easy. First, make sure your computer is connected (either wired or wirelessly) to your router, then just open a web browser and type in the router's IP address. The IP address is a set of numbers and the default depends on your router's manufacturer. The common ones are 192.168.1.1, 192.168.0.1 or 192.168.2.1.
If you're not sure what your IP address is, there's an easy way to check. Just use the Wi-Fi feature on your phone to search for your home Wi-Fi network. Then, tap on the network to see the specific details. (See screenshot below.)
When you type your IP address into the browser, it will prompt you for a username and password. If you have not changed the default credentials (which you should), there is an easy way to change it. Click here to see how it's done.
Once logged in, look for a section called "Wireless Settings" or "Advanced Wireless Settings." Make sure you are not in the middle of an important activity that requires an Internet connection, though, since these tweaks may interrupt your network connections.
1. Check your bands
Wi-Fi routers and signals are not created equal. If you have a newer router, check to see if it at least supports 802.11n. These are commonly known simply as N routers. The N specification is a step up from the older and slower B and G protocols and could achieve theoretical wireless speeds of up to 600 Mbps. Also, unlike B/G routers that only transmit on the crowded 2.4GHz spectrum, N routers could transmit on 5GHz as well.
N routers usually have dual band capability. By enabling dual bands, you could keep older devices that only support the slower G specification on the 2.4GHz band and newer N devices on the beefier and speedier 5GHz band. This is essentially like having two routers in one.
Note: There's an even newer protocol now, 801.11ac, which is even faster. Click here to check out our list of the best routers around.
Why separate G and N devices, you may ask? Because mixed mode routers usually are slower and there is evidence that an N router will slow down to G/B speeds when a G/B only device connects to it.
Right now, if your device supports 802.11n, you will get substantial speed improvements if you connect them to an N-only 5GHz router band.
2. Select a new channel for your router
The next tweak you could do is select the channel of your router, especially if you're on the 2.4GHz frequency. The 2.4GHz frequency is particularly congested because, aside from other Wi-Fi routers in your vicinity, other devices like cordless phones, Bluetooth speakers, microwave ovens and baby monitors occupy this band. This causes interference, slowdowns and unpredictable connectivity. Moving from one channel to a less crowded one may help speed things up.
To check the optimum channel for your area, or the least used channel, try using a Wi-Fi scanner.
For Macs, Apple provides a free tool called "Wireless Diagnostics." To get to it, 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." To access the Scan tool, ignore the actual Wireless Diagnostics window then immediately go the Window tab on the top left side of the menu bar then choose Scan. This will open a list of all the Wi-Fi signals in your vicinity and the channel they occupy, among other useful information.
For Windows, try downloading the free Wi-Fi utility, Acrylic Wi-Fi Home. Similar to the Mac's Scan tool, this application will instantly give you information about the Wi-Fi signals around your area including the channels they utilize. The software will even give you ratings based on Channel Quality, Signal Quality, Signal to Noise, Security and Speed. Another Windows tool is Vistumbler. Check this link for download instructions.
For Android users, there's a bunch of Wi-Fi scanning tools available, but the most popular one is Network Analyzer. Click here for more details and download information.
Once you have the channel info you need, to prevent trampling on other channels, the recommended channels for 2.4GHz are 1, 6 and 11, since they don't overlap with each other. Just choose the one among these that is least crowded then evaluate your improvements.
3. Check your router's security settings
Aside from protecting your network from unauthorized bandwidth usage, which could slow down your network without your knowledge, did you know that the type of wireless security you use could impact your overall speeds too?
First off, if your network is Open (no security) or is using WEP, please 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.
This leaves you with WPA, WPA2 with TKIP or WPA2 with AES.
WPA and TKIP are older protocols and are now considered insecure. Even worse, these security protocols will actually slow down your network to 54Mbps even though you have a newer N device.
The way to go, then, is WPA2 with AES. AES is a newer and more secure tweak you could employ and it will let you achieve the speeds you bought your N router for in the first place.
But what if you have older B or G devices that will not connect with AES enabled? Then this is where having a dual band router will be vital again. Though not recommended (just ditch those antiquated devices), you could set the slower 2.4GHz network to WPA or TKIP temporarily without affecting your 5GHz devices.
BONUS: Enable WMM/ QoS
WMM (Wi-Fi Multimedia) and QoS (Quality of Service) are features on routers that will let you prioritize traffic according to the type of data getting transmitted.
If you are streaming videos through your wireless network a lot, enabling WMM will provide a smoother multimedia experience. WMM will make sure that those essential video and audio data packets will reach your device in a timely manner, since latency is such a critical factor in these types of activities. This will, hopefully, lessen the video buffering issues. WMM only works on wireless devices though. For specific data prioritization that includes your wired devices, you could tweak your QoS rules.
Quality of Service (QoS) lets you set priority levels for specific applications and tasks. You could set latency sensitive applications like Skype, IP telephony, streaming media and online gaming to have higher priority over other types of activity. Hypothetically, 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 cede 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. For some, though, especially those with faster Internet connections, just enabling WMM is enough.
Band and channel selection, security settings and WMM/QoS are just a few tweaks you could do to improve your Wi-Fi around the house. Keep in mind, though, physical factors like router location, obstructions, obstacles and the size of your home are as important. And don't fret when your speeds fluctuate during the course of the day, that's normal. As long as your speeds are within the ballpark that your provider advertised, then it is still good.
Before we wrap this up, we also want to mention that if your network is running unusually slow, one real quick tweak is to restart your modem and router by unplugging them, then plugging them back in. It's surprising how this works most of the time. Happy Wi-Fi, happy life!