There are a lot of reasons why your internet might seem to be running slow. It could be a problem with your modem or router, or there could be too many devices on your network clogging up your bandwidth. It might even be an issue with your internet provider regarding service in your area. Whatever the reason, we’ve got four simple steps to follow to try and get your internet speeds back up and running.
Slow internet could be congestion when customer demand exceeds the capabilities of an internet provider. This is especially common during the evening when the largest proportion of customers are accessing the internet at the same time.
An internet provider’s typical evening speeds are a good indication of how much a connection might slow down.
If you’re experiencing slow internet, running speed tests and recording the results can help you present a compelling case to your internet provider.
Setting up and managing your home Wi-Fi correctly can also greatly help boosting your speed.
Step 1: Confirm you’re actually suffering from internet congestion
Make sure your PC is connected directly to your modem via a cable – not via Wi-Fi or through a router, as this will leave your results open to debate.
Make sure only your PC is active on your home network. Deactivate Wi-Fi devices like your mobile phone or tablet, turn off video game consoles and make sure nothing else is connected while you undertake the following tests.
At regular intervals during the day over the period of a couple of days, perform a speed test. It should take around one minute each time.
When the test has run its course, record the details, preferably via a screenshot.
Compare the recorded ping values, download speeds and upload speeds you’ve recorded to see whether they change dramatically throughout the course of the day. Some measure of slowdown at night is unavoidable (around 15% is reasonable) but if there is a dramatic difference then there’s a good chance you have a congestion issue. A high speed during the day proves your wiring and home infrastructure is not the problem.
Step 2: Make sure the problem isn’t on your end
If your speed test results don’t show a significant decline in internet speed during the evening hours, it’s time to rule out the possibility that the problem is on your end. Here are some quick tests to run.
Check your hardware
If you have multiple devices connected to your home network, perform speed tests on all of them to see whether they all exhibit the same slowdown. If not, your internet woes may be due to a problem with the hardware or software of a specific device.
When testing different devices, ensure that your testing process and environment is consistent. This might mean testing with a phone and a tablet, both on the same wireless network in the same room, for example. If all tests turn out to be equally slow then you might be looking at a problem with your modem or router.
In that case, the first step is to reset your modem and router. These are the “internet boxes” that are most likely connected to a cable in the wall. If they have on/off switches, you can push that. If not, simply unplug them. Always leave the devices off for a minute or so before turning them back on, just to be safe.
If resetting your modem and router doesn’t help the performance of your wired devices, it might be time to call your internet provider. If you’re testing wireless devices, there are a few more steps to take before picking up the phone.
Fix your Wi-Fi signal
Locate your router. Wi-Fi signals have a hard time going through thick walls and travelling longer distances. To make sure the problem isn’t the location of your wireless router, try moving it to different locations around your house. If things don’t improve, consider the age of your router, as it might lack the capacity to deliver consistently high speeds or may simply be malfunctioning. If moving the router does fix your speed woes but permanent relocation isn’t a viable solution, you might want to consider purchasing a Wi-Fi range extender or a wireless repeater to strengthen the signal around your house.
Does your router need an upgrade? If you’ve had the same router for more than a couple of years, it’s possible that the router isn’t compatible with the latest network technologies or that it simply lacks the power to deliver the speeds you’re after. In this case, upgrading to a new router could result in a substantial speed boost.
Try switching Wi-Fi channels. Wi-Fi routers communicate over wireless channels so as to avoid interference with other wireless devices. Most routers support quite a few different channels, but depending on your local network environment some may be more crowded than others and can even overlap each other. You’ll need to dive into the settings of your router to change your Wi-Fi channel, but it’s worth testing performance across a few different ones to see if that makes a difference. Note that this is more likely to work with older 2.4GHz routers than newer 5GHz ones.
Step 3: Call your internet provider
If you’ve thoroughly tested your home network across multiple devices and they all exhibit the same performance issues, it’s time to call your internet provider. Its technical support team may be able to offer further advice about identifying and resolving the issue. They’ll probably ask you to turn the modem off and on again, so humour them. It can’t hurt.
Step 4: Find a new internet provider
You’ve tested, documented and discussed the issue with your internet provider to no avail. It might be time to bite the bullet and think about switching to a new internet provider.
Thankfully, it’s a lot easier to see how well different providers handle peak evening times these days since most advertise the typical evening speeds their customers experience during the hours of 7pm to 11pm. By comparing plans based on these speeds, you can choose one that delivers a level of peak-hour performance sufficient to meet your needs.
Before you make the switch, however, be sure to check whether you’re on a fixed-term contract with your current internet provider. If so, you may have to pay hefty termination charges to end your contract early. In this case, it might be worth presenting the results of your speed tests to your provider since it could help you get your termination fees waived, or perhaps a free or cheaper upgrade to a faster connection.
Tips for a better connection: how to make your internet faster
Above we’ve given you an overview of the reasons why your internet is so slow. Unfortunately, the reason could be out of your immediate control. If your area is suffering from internet congestion, then most of your options will take some time to execute and may not fix the problem. You can switch ISPs (internet service providers), improve your plan or campaign with local government to force your ISP to act.
However, there are some things you can do that are within your control. Changes you can make within your home that can help alleviate issues you’re having with congestion may fix your problem outright without needing to change providers at all. Especially when you are working from home, it’s smart to make sure you’ve setup your home Wi-Fi network and your equipment to be efficient.
So, what steps can you take to make your internet faster? Let’s go through the checklist.
Dig deeper to uncover any other issues with your router
While we’ve mentioned a couple of things to look out for regarding your router, let’s dive a bit deeper into what else you could consider when it comes to the condition of your current router.
Make sure your router is broadcasting Wi-Fi on the latest 802.11ac standard. Wi-Fi technology has improved over time. Just like USB 2.0 became faster with USB 3.0, the Wi-Fi 802.11a and 802.11b standards we used during the 2000s have long since been upgraded to 802.11n (2009) and then 802.11ac (2013). If your router is out of date, then you could be bottlenecking your speed on an older standard. Check on the back of your router to see what standard it uses, and if it’s old, consider upgrading to make your internet faster.
Even if your router is the latest 802.11ac standard, it may still be lacking in features that can help if you’ve got a large coverage space requirement or want to prioritize certain equipment. This can get quite techy, but here is a top line overview of things to look at.
Routers that offer multiple bands (dual-band or tri-band, for example) provide less interference in homes with multiple connecting devices.
Multiple antennas can provide a more expansive sending and receiving signal.
More powerful hardware inside the router allows it to encrypt and decrypt data faster and provide more control and features.
Some routers can allow you to control signal direction (called beamforming) or prioritize bandwidth to certain devices (like your work computer).
Do you know what devices are using your internet connection?
Back in 2016, the average Canadian home had an average of 7 devices that connected to the internet; a figure that’s definitely been passed in 2020. The trending term for this growth is called the internet of Things (IoT) – perhaps you’ve heard of it? Each device that is that is poking and prodding your internet is adding to the demand on your bandwidth.
Some of it, like your air-conditioner, is negligible. However, if you’ve got a video game console downloading an update in the next room, or a laptop you forgot to power down that still has Netflix running, and things of that nature, it’s bogging down your internet speed for no good reason. It might be worth exploring through your home and powering down devices you’re not using.
Make sure your devices are also using the maximum standard allowed by your router. If you’re using an old laptop that connects via 802.11b Wi-Fi, then it doesn’t matter if your router works on 802.11ac. Your device is bottlenecked to speeds offered by the limitations of 802.11b. Outside of buying a whole new laptop, you may just need to connect it directly to your modem via an Ethernet cable.
Understand what consumes bandwidth and mitigate the impact
Different actions demand more of your internet. Sending a text message, for example, is but a blip on the radar. Video chats, Netflix streams, multiplayer video games and big file uploads/downloads, however, take up a lot of space in your pipe to the outside world. It’s important to understand this so that you can act at important times. For example, if you have an important meeting to undertake over Zoom, tell the kids to turn off Netflix.
It’s worth noting that many TV streaming services have an offline mode where you can download the content and watch it later. Also, video games that are offline – such as single player adventures or local co-op experiences – don’t require any internet bandwidth. With this in mind, you can prepare in advance with movies, or ask the kids to switch to offline play, during peak usage times.
Do you need a Wi-Fi extender?
If you have a large home or one with a complicated layout where it’s hard to avoid weakening your signal with metal or appliances, you may want to consider a Wi-Fi extender. These devices pick-up your existing Wi-Fi and give it a kick in the pants, amplifying it so the strength of the signal is maintained over a larger distance. Particularly handy in multi-story homes.
Alternatives to fixed-line internet: Mobile internet
If all else fails and you really need a hit of fast internet, you should consider mobile internet. Mobile internet uses mobile networks to get you connected to the internet, which could mean bypassing all that congestion that’s slowed down your regular internet connection.
These days, there are two options for mobile internet: data SIM cards that you can use in a smaller SIM-enabled device (like a Wi-Fi dongle), or home wireless internet which uses the same technology, but offers larger data allowances with a bigger, less transportable modem. Ideally, you wouldn’t want to run your whole home off 4G or 5G for a couple of months as your costs may start to rack up, but it’s still a viable alternative that can get you out of a sticky situation.
Alternatively, if you don’t already have a device that’s compatible with mobile internet, or don’t want to buy a new home wireless modem, you could even consider grabbing a SIM only mobile plan with a high data allowance. You can then use your new high-data plan and tether your phone to your laptop to get some work done.
It should be noted that while there are mobile plans with unlimited data available, your connection speed will drastically slow down once you hit the specific data allowance. The last thing you need when trying to fix slow internet problems is being faced with… more slow internet.
Mobile internet doesn’t suffer the same terrestrial cabling concerns as fixed-line internet and you’re not as impacted by your neighbours’ activities. By utilizing mobile internet, or even hotspotting your mobile to your laptop, TV or other device you can effectively turn your phone into a router. This can allow you to get that job done regardless of home internet issues.
Chris Stead is the innovations editor at Finder. He is a gaming, tech and sports journalist with more than 24 years of writing and editing experience. He has previously worked at Game Informer, GamePro, Maxim, MCV Pacific, Gameplayer, Grab It, the University of New South Wales, Krash, It Girl and Fortnite Magazine. He has contributed to IGN, GameSport, NBN, Rooster Teeth, Fandom, Sydney Morning Herald, FilmINK, Brag, Popular Science, Foxtel, PC World, Hyper and Red Bull. Chris has a Bachelor of Advanced Science in Biology from the University of Sydney. A father of three, Chris has a passion for travel, photography and surfing.
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