We've all seen this happen one way or another - we're tucked cozily on our favorite 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 is not loading, Alexa is dead, the whole network is down. We've experienced this more than we ought to - the sudden network hiccups caused by spotty home Wi-Fi.
There are plenty of reasons your Wi-Fi keeps slowing down (at the most inopportune times too, it seems) - 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 to stop constant video buffering or slow webpage loading, here are 10 ways you can try to help speed things up:
1. Update your router’s software
This should be your first order of business - checking for your router's latest firmware.
Checking for updates is a critical step to your computer, gadgets and installed software and applications.
The reason for this is two-fold. First, you can take advantage of all the new features and improvements of the new version of the firmware. Second, your system is updated for security.
Usually, you will have the option to check, review, download, and install your router's new firmware on its administration page. It depends on your router model, so check your user manual for detailed directions on how to do this.
Keep in mind, though, that router firmware updates require a restart so make sure you don't have ongoing activities that require a network connection when you apply the update.
And lastly, for peace of mind, it is recommended that you check for router firmware updates at least once every three months.
Tip within a tip: Not sure how to access your router's administrator settings? Click here for the easiest way to find your router's password and IP address.
2. Look for interferences
Did you know that common appliances like cordless phones, Bluetooth speakers, microwave ovens and baby monitors can impact your Wi-Fi network's speeds?
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.
Also, as much as possible, avoid placing your Wi-Fi router near 2.4GHz appliances like the ones I mentioned above.
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
The next tweak you could do is select the channel of your router, especially if you're on the 2.4GHz frequency.
As I mentioned earlier, the 2.4GHz frequency is particularly congested because, aside from other Wi-Fi routers in your vicinity, other appliances occupy this band. Moving from one channel to a less crowded one may help speed things up.
To check the optimum 2.4GHz 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 to 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 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. 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.
4. Put the kids and guests on their own network and enable QoS
Aside from setting up parental settings to protect your kids from trouble on the web, you can put them on a separate network with its own set of rules and settings.
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 to your home 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 Internet-Of-Things attacks.
Another setting you can turn on to speed things up for specific tasks is QoS (Quality of Service).
QoS is a feature on routers that will let you prioritize traffic according to the type of data getting 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.
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 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
If you're in the market for a new router and you want improved Wi-Fi speeds and reach across your home or office, then aim for at least an 802.11 N or AC router with dual or triple band capabilities.
Newer Wi-Fi standards mean better features. "AC" routers are a step up from the older "B" and "G" models and even "N" models. They have more features and offer better performance.
AC routers have a maximum spectral bandwidth of around 8 x 160 MHz, compared to the 4 x 40 MHz standard of N routers. In other words, the increased bandwidth 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 that support the latest Wi-Fi standards on the higher bands. This is essentially like having multiple routers in one and it can solve the interference and congestion issues I 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.
Some top-of-the-line routers are even starting to roll out support for the newer AD protocol, also known as Wi-Gig.
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.
For now, a mesh Wi-Fi network setup may be a more expensive system but for its reliability, seamlessness, expandability and easy management, it's well worth the admission price.
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 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 new 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.
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 that 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.
Aside from choosing the optimum channel I mentioned earlier, it is also a good idea to keep your router at least a meter (3 feet) away from other 2.4GHz appliances like cordless phones, microwaves and baby monitors.
However, your house may just be too big for your router. If this is the case, 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.
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 N or AC routers typically support this band. Unlike B/G routers that only transmit on the crowded 2.4GHz spectrum, N and AC routers could transmit on 5GHz as well.
Newer 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 devices on the beefier and speedier 5GHz band. This is essentially like having two routers in one.
Why separate G and N/AC devices, you may ask? Because mixed-mode routers usually are slower and there is evidence that an N or AC router will slow down to G/B speeds when a G/B only device connects to it.
Right now, if your device supports N or AC, you will get substantial speed improvements if you connect them 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 gone.
Bonus: Boost your Wi-Fi using a common household item
It might surprise you to learn that the direction a router's antenna is pointing does make a difference. If your router has one external antenna, you can try pointing it up or to the side and check what gives everyone a better connection.
Another well-known DIY hack to boost a Wi-Fi router's signal is by adding a reflector around its antennas. Crazy as it may sound, you can use an empty beer can or a sheet of aluminum foil to extend your Wi-Fi coverage a little bit farther than usual.