I grew up using a Commodore 64. I ran dialup BBS out of my room. This early form of internet inspired my obsession with computers today.
Slow Wireless Internet Browsing and Intermittent Connections
There are many factors that can affect wireless network performance and can make using wireless seem slow. Correcting these issues can improve the performance of your wireless connection and make it faster. We will first take a look at what can negatively affect the wireless speed. In each section below, I'll offer ways to fix the performance issues.
These factors can negatively affect the performance:
- Interference or Network Congestion (Radio Frequency Interference)
- Environmental Issues (Construction materials and objects within the house)
- Distance (Actual distance between the router and the wireless device)
- Encryption (If and what type of encryption is selected)
- Wireless Operating Mode
Interference or Network Congestion
When it comes to interference, it can come from a number of different consumer electronic devices. One of the most common culprits are the older 2.4 gigahertz cordless phones. In some severe cases, the Internet won't work while you're on the home phone using an older cordless phone. Wireless speakers, wireless cameras, baby monitors, microwave ovens, and even other wireless networks, such as a neighbor's, can compete for the same airwaves causing interference or wireless network congestion.
Interference can also be caused by simply having another electronic device too close to the wireless router itself. If the wireless router is sitting on or very close to a TV or sub-woofer speaker, or other electronic device, it can cause interference. In fact, in some cases, if the router is too close to the wall and power is running inside the wall, that can cause issues. This is especially true if that power line is feeding fluorescent light bulbs.
Interference and congestion cause Interruptions in the wireless broadcast causing the router and network adapters to constant have to repeat the same Information over and over. This is what makes the wireless network seem slow.
What can I do about Interference or Network Congestion?
Well, the obvious answer is that you can increase the distance between the offending device and the router or power down the offending device and no longer use it. That might be a little extreme in some situations. The other thing you can do to compensate for the interference is change the wireless channel that the router operates on. You would need to login to your wireless router to make changes to the router settings.
When you change the wireless channel on the router, the wireless adapters in all the connected devices automatically tune to the new channel. Technically there are 14 channels, but in North America, we are only permitted to use channels 1 through 11.
Most routers set the default channel to either 1, 6 or 11. Although you are free to use any wireless channel in that range, the reason why is 1, 6, and 11 are most popular is that it is the most number of channels, in that range, that do not overlap each other.
To select the best channel, you can randomly choose one and then see if the performance improves. If you determined earlier that you think it was from an old 2.4GHz phone, see if the phone works properly now without static on the line while using the wireless at the same time. You can also check for an improvement by running a speed test to see if your data transfer rates increased.
I want to check to see what channel other wireless networks in the area are using so that I can avoid wireless congestion, how can I find out?
One of my favorite (and free) tools is a smart phone app for both the Android and iPhone. It is called Wi-Fi Analyzer. It will show you a constantly updating chart of the competing wireless networks in your area, the strength of the network and what channel it is tuned into through your phone. Sliding the screen enough to the left or right will bring you to a screen full of "star graphs" where it will recommend the best channel based off of other wireless networks in the area are using. It shows the network names, the channel that they are using and the strength of that network.
If you do not have a smart phone, there is also an excellent Wi-Fi scanner that does the pretty much the same thing as well, called Meraki Wi-Fi Stumbler. It runs within most computer Internet web browsers.
Environmental factors can effect the wireless transmission, including the construction of the house and objects within the house. Wireless signals do not transmit well through concrete, metal or water. If the house or an object within the house made of one of these materials and is in line of sight from your wireless router to your wireless device, it will impact the performance.
If the walls are made of concrete block (maybe in a garage converted to a bedroom) you will most likely have a signal degradation issue trying to use a wireless device with the router in another area of the house. Some newer construction uses metal studs in place of wood studs within the walls and some older homes with plaster walls may have chicken wire in them. Neither situation would be ideal for wireless.
What can I do to improve the wireless environment?
As a rule of thumb, usually having the wireless router centrally located in the house is ideal. Also the higher up your wireless router usually the better. If it's on the floor or under a bed with metal box springs, under a pull out couch, things like that it will not transmit as well is that was on the table or preferably on top of a bookcase.
Often times, the modem was installed in a corner of the house and it is not practical to run an Ethernet cable through the house or the wireless router is built into the modem. You could check with your ISP (Internet Service Provider) to see if they can relocate it for you. Often there will be a charge for this to be done.
If your wireless router has an external antenna or antennas and if they are the removable kind, make sure they are screwed on finger tight. Some wireless routers that have removable antennas also offer higher gain performance antennas to connect instead of the stock antennas.
Since you can not see the wireless signals you have to imagine how the are flowing off and back to the antenna. They transmit and receive from the sides of the antenna. In most cases it's best to have the antenna pointing straight up and down. If you are having trouble with a room on another floor in the house, it might help to put the antenna at a 45 degree or 90 degree angle.
If your router has an internal antenna (common in modem/router combo units) you might get better performance of the modem with the device standing up tall vs. laying down or turning it slightly one way or the other. By changing the direction of a router with internal antennas, you are changing the positions/directions of those internal antennas. Unfortunately, the only way to tell the optimum placement, no matter the design, is to adjust the placement, check the results and repeat.
Wireless Internet Distance
As you move farther away from your wireless router, the signal gets weaker and weaker until there is no longer a connection. The weaker the signal, the more the transmission gets lost and the devices have to constantly re-communicate. It makes your wireless slow. Obviously, the closer you are to your router, the more performance you will notice.
If you are in a weak signal environment, make sure that you are truly connected to your wireless and not a neighbors. It may seem obvious but it is often overlooked. Sometimes I have seen where there are two wireless networks in range both with the same name, such as "Netgear" for example. The person I was assisting was complaining about a slow or weak wireless connection and they were connected to their neighbors open wireless network.
Wireless Internet Encryption and Performance
Why is encryption really needed if it is going to negatively effect the wireless performance?
Leaving your wireless with no encryption (called an open network) allows unknown people within range of the wireless to connect and use the bandwidth you are paying for. As they are using a portion of your bandwidth or speed, this will result in a slower browsing experience for you and is very risky. Even worse, you do not know what they are doing when connected to your Internet connection. Keep in mind that they are feeling anonymous. If they are searching for or conducting illegal activities, it shows that it is associated with your Internet account, your address and your name.
Don't put yourself in a situation that you have to prove yourself innocent. It could be a very bad situation that you can easily avoid.
Also, even if unintentional, the unauthorized person connected may have a virus or malware on their system that they are unaware of. That virus can spread through the network of computers in your house and out through your Internet account. This can cause slower Wi-Fi performance as well.
It can also result in generating a lot of spam mail through your Internet account. As you can see, it is not a good idea to go unprotected to save the small performance hit. Encryption is a necessary evil for wireless networks.
So we need the security of encryption, but what encryption settings are the fastest?
Stay away from WEP if at all possible. The WEP encryption method is older, slower and easily cracked within seconds. For the best performance and encryption, ideally you would want to use WPA2-PSK with AES. Not all devices support WPA2-PSK with AES. In this case WPA-PSK and TKIP may be the next best option. Both are very secure and fast, but WPA2-PSK with AES is the fastest available encryption currently offered.
Most routers will support WPA and WPA2 along with TKIP and AES all concurrently.
Wireless Operating Mode and Performance
Are you operating at Wireless G or Wireless N or Wireless AC?
The older, and slower, wireless G routers and wireless adapters are rated at 54 megabits per second by the manufacture's. This is a little misleading in my opinion because you will never achieve that performance. How can they get away with it? To explain why, I will use an analogy.
It's kind of like trying to figure if you and 53 of your friends can all ride together on a specific city bus. The manufacturer of the bus states it can seat 54 people. So you and 53 of your friends wait at the stop. The bus arrives. It has the driver and is half full of people. Yes the bus holds and transfers 54 people (including the driver) as the manufacturer stated, but less than half is available to you. There are at most about 23 seats left.
So saying that it transfers 54 is technically correct. You realize a transfer rate at best of 23 but you were expecting 54 because of the manufacturer rating.
What is using up half of that bandwidth?
Over half of the 54Mbps is eaten up by routine data communications that are necessary to maintain the connection, by retransmissions, by encryption, the environment, etc. Basically you will rarely ever see performance higher than 23Mbps at best in perfect conditions on wireless G. It is simply a limitation of that technology.
Should I upgrade to Wireless N or Wireless AC?
Wireless G is older, slower, and does not broadcast as far.
Wireless N routers and devices will usually notice transmit rate speeds up to 100Mbps. So most residential Internet accounts could achieve the Internet speed subscribed to by upgrading. Wireless N also has twice the broadcasting range of Wireless G as well. Wireless G is rated at approximately 150 feet in broadcast distance whereas Wireless N is rated at approximately 300 feet in broadcast distance. Both in speed and distance, wireless N is just better.
Make sure to have a wireless router capable of wireless N and the mobile device capable of N as well.
Nearly all new tablets, laptops and newer smart phones are wireless N compatible and downgrade to G when N is not available. Same is true with wireless N routers. If your device (laptop, tablet, smart phone, etc.) is wireless N and your router is only capable of wireless G, then it may be time to upgrade your router.
At the same time if you already have a wireless N capable router and you have an older laptop only capable of wireless G, then it may be time to upgrade the wireless G adapter in that computer.
Your cheating yourself every single month by paying more money for a faster Internet connection than your slower Wireless G equipment can handle!
Upgrading to Wireless N or AC just makes sense and can be a very small one time cost to insure that you get the speed you are paying for.
What About the New Wireless AC routers?
Wireless AC equipment became available at the end of 2012 and it has started appearing more recently on store shelves in the beginning of 2013. The Wireless AC mode is extremely fast as it is rated at 1 Gigabit.
If you are routinely streaming multimedia or transferring large amounts through your home network, you can benefit from the blazing fast transfer rates. Running a AC router connected to a device with an AC compatible adapter creates a connection three times faster than Wireless N! Many Wireless AC routers also have new technical enhancements such as Beam Forming to help eliminate wireless dead spots areas.
Don't worry, another part of the AC specification states that it has to be backwards compatible.Wireless N and Wireless AC can coexist on the wireless network due to dual band functionality.
Wireless Still Slow?
Here are some things you can investigate if your internet is still slow.
Old USB port?
Are you using a USB wireless adapter on a very old computer? USB 2.0 was introduced in April of 2000. Before that, it was USB 1.0 and 1.1, which ran at a maximum throughput rate of 12Mbps. Again that is technical manufacturer rating, not true throughput of your data. Real world, you would be lucky to pull of 8Mbps or higher, if that. So if you are still using an old computer over 12 years or older, the USB port itself could be the bottleneck in with your wireless Internet connection speed on that machine.
Have you tried updating the wireless adapter's driver files?
No matter how old the computer or wireless adapter is, it would be wise to make sure that you are running the latest drivers for that wireless network adapter. Manufacturers release newer drivers to fix bugs and improve overall performance of their products. Simply visit the manufacturers web site and check under the support section to see if there are newer driver files available. Almost always, these are available at no charge.
Have you checked your router to see if there is a newer firmware version available?
Newer versions of firmware can correct speed and operation issues of the wireless router and can often result in added functionality as well.
My router's wireless N radio is set at 2.4 GHz. It has an option for 5 GHz. Will that increase my speed?
It's a toss up as it depends on the situation. They both have their benefits and weaknesses. Here is the facts.
By default, most routers are set at 2.4GHz out of the box. Due to radio physics, lower frequencies travel a greater range or distance. Lower frequencies also have a lower rate of absorption when penetrating obstacles. A lower frequency, such as 2.4GHz, makes me think of a car with the radio's low bass thumping away. That low sound travels through the car, through the air and through the walls of my house without any problem. Often at a great distance. You can not hear any other part of the higher sounds, just the low bass. It's apples to oranges, but helps you remember and visualize this.
The 2.4 GHz is compatible on both wireless G and N modes. The bad part of the 2.4 GHz frequency is that it is unlicensed and free to use for manufacturers, so it is commonly used in consumer devices which could be interfering.
The higher 5 GHz frequency can technically transmit more data when it has an excellent signal, so technically it could be considered faster. This would have to be in an ideal environment.
The 5 GHz signal, being a higher frequency than 2.4GHz, will drop off more dramatically with distance and it will not penetrate walls or other obstacles as well. With that being said, that can impact any speed advantage and actually make this the slower alternative. So ideally you would have to be closer to the wireless router with minimal obstructions, which is often not the case.
The 5GHz frequency works on the newer Wireless N (and very old Wireless A) but does not work on Wireless G. Wireless G is a 2.4 GHz mode only. That means that if you have a Wireless G/N capable router with a mix of G and N computers or devices in the house, choosing 5 GHz will cause any wireless G only connected computers or devices to immediately stop working. On the more positive side, the 5 GHz is less likely to run into interference issues as other electronics in the area are most likely using 2.4GHz.
My final thoughts are I would stick with 2.4 GHz unless I was simply unable to overcome a source of 2.4 GHz interference, then I would give 5GHz a try.
By visiting my profile, you can view all of my other articles relating to wireless.
Test your wireless knowledge.
For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.
- Which wireless mode, of those listed below, is the fastest?
- Wireless A
- Wireless AC
- Wireless B
- Wireless G
- Wireless N
- How do you change the channel on your computer or device to match the routers channel?
- Don't even worry about it, it does it automatically
- You need to use the wireless setup disk
- It's under the Wireless Networks Adapter Settings
- Can you use a Wireless G adapter on a Wireless N router?
- Yes, the standards state they all have to be backwards compatible.
- Better check the specs of the router.
- No, you need Wireless N adapters for a Wireless N router
- What is the typical indoor environment broadcast range of a Wireless G Network?
- 150 Feet
- 500 Feet
- 150 Meters
- 1000 Feet
- WEP, although an older encryption type, it is the fastest.
- Can a router do WEP and WPA encryption at the same time?
- Can a routers do WPA and WPA2 encryption at the same time?
- Which Wireless mode can not run at 5 Ghz?
- Wireless AC
- Don't even worry about it, it does it automatically
- Yes, the standards state they all have to be backwards compatible.
- 150 Feet
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
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austinhills on February 18, 2019:
Great hub! I have had a horrible time connecting to the internet when I am using my iPad. Thank you for posting. It couldn't have come at a better time. Voted up!
NATIVECRAFTS on February 06, 2019:
i have wifi router (Motorolla Surfboard SBG6580) capable of 2.4 gz as well as 5gz. When i set in 5 gz in router, i get internet (very fast) in all Apple devices, but not in smart TV and on one laptop (Windows). no internet in Smart TV or in Windows Laptop. How can i make smart TV/lap work for 5 gz? Thanks.
123 HP Printer Setup on December 09, 2018:
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Kevinsmith on September 14, 2018:
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Toddp on March 02, 2018:
I am a 35 year computer tech and personally believe that Spectrum here in Florida has figured out a way to effect some personally wifi routers to limits them to around 20mb.
I have not figured out how they are doing it but I do believe they are doing this just the same. They have been caught doing shady practices and ripping off customers in the past and lost law suites for it.
When Spectrum bought our Brighthouse our prices started going up $10 every two months. Three times over the last 6 months so I decided to go with my own wifo router again to save a few bucks because Spectrum DOES charge a modem fee of $4 and a wifi networking fee if their own wifi is used.
When I connected either of my two wifi routers one is a dual band they are bother getting 20mb speeds now. No matter what settings are used in either router the speed remains constant.
When Brighthouse ran the company you could use a standard wifi router and get at least 50 or so out of just about every router I ever hooked up.
I have Spectrum replace their modem because of other issues and then my routers went up to 30mb for about three days then all of a sudden dropped back to 20mb. It looks like someone went into the modem and set it like the old unit dropping my router wifi speed.
I tested the wired speed and it is giving me what I supposed to have.
Spectrum changes their modem passwords so customers can not go into them to see what setting they have set so we can not make any changes to improve our service. Brighthouse never had the passwords changed so customers could tweak them for better performance.
If Spectrum was not doing anything shady then they would not bother preventing customers from fixing their performance and creating their own passwords for their services when they use Spectrum wifi.
I will continue to research this issue and find out how this is being done to warn Spectrum customers and hopefully someone can get a massive class action law suite going to stop this practice.
Doodah Dame on February 19, 2017:
Thank you so much for this write-up. It was very helpful. I have been trying to troubleshoot an issue with chromebooks disconnecting, displaying sluggish behavior, or are basically stuck in a processing screen when trying to access a graphics-intensive test. I was provided wireshark files but have no idea where to even begin to troubleshoot. Any advice you can give would be greatly appreciated!
Hannah on February 19, 2017:
Such a great article. Thanks so much for keeping it updated. I have an issue with chromebooks disconnecting, are sluggish, or basically stuck in a processing screen when trying to access a graphics-intensive test site. I was provided wireshark files but have no idea what to look for. Any chance you can help me out with what to look for? Thank you in advance for your assistance!
Munti Robin on February 18, 2017:
Fix up the slow wireless
Chaos Entertainment Records on November 29, 2016:
This article saved my ass. I recently moved my router just to access something in my office, and where I moved it was on top of my power conditioner rack. This was dropping my speed from 200mbps to 10mbps. All I did was move it back and it jump back to 200mbps! Thanks!
Daniel on October 21, 2016:
I think its cause i havent payed my bill but my wifi has been acting up started yesterday before that it was fine. So when i play games online it lags or just gives me low connection which i guess is the same thing. But when i run netflix or youtube it runs fine need help
Aliur on March 07, 2015:
I'm looking forward to speeding up my WiFi. Hope it will help.
Tim Anthony on May 12, 2014:
It surely is very useful hub you have posted here. Generally, wifi owners have a good fast speed broadband connection. But, often, after connecting 3-4 devices, the speed starts to lag. This might be helpful for them.
Muhammad Usman on December 27, 2013:
Speedup my internet
Dbax129 on November 10, 2013:
I have an issue with not being able to watch YouTube or download anything from Google Play on my phone when connected to my network. My laptop, desktop, and cell phone are all affected by not being able to load a YouTube video. All updates are done, and I'm starting to think that maybe a port is closed that should be open? I can also surf Google's play store from my phone, but when I try to download an app, it won't even start. The progress bar just spins. If I disable WiFi on my pho e, and just use 3g, playstore and youtube work fine. They also work fine on any other WiFi network I have connected too. I also have an Airave from sprint connected to my wireless router with an Ethernet cable. Any ideas?
mybestreviews (author) from Tampa Bay, Florida on July 20, 2013:
The first thing I would check would be your actual Internet connection. Although you state that it happened after you set up wireless, you would want to rule out the Internet connection itself first. It is possible that it could be a.Internet connection issue and the timing of setting up the wireless connection could be a coincidence.
You would want to bypass your router (take it out of the picture) by connecting a computer directly to the modem and running a speed test (preferably your ISP's). I have a hub dedicated to this.
Once you have ruled out your connection, reconnect the router. The next thing I would do is check to see if all wireless connections are affected. Then what about wired connections to the router? If everything, wired or wireless, connected to the router is affected and the Internet connection is good, it is a bad router.
If only wireless is affected, does it affect all connected wireless computers and devices? If it is just one computer affected, your router is good. It could be anything mentioned in this Hub or a bad router as well. It could also be the performance of the computer.
Of course try the suggestions in this Hub and you can also try turning off any firewalls and see if that makes a difference. After all, a firewall examines all data traffic to determines if it can pass through. If it is having performance issues, the perceived speed could be affected as well.
unsure person on July 19, 2013:
I have had problems with my internet speed ever since I got wireless, it runs at 400kbps which downloads at 40kb/s, not one thing is once I was downloading a game and it went to 7mbps which is around 700kb/s. that speed is quite acceptable in my area but ever since that one day it went back to what it was originally, any ideas why???
Elizabeth Parker from Las Vegas, NV on June 07, 2013:
Very helpful. I've seen where people have unknowingly connected to their neighbor's router and were getting a slow connection- if any at all. All points were very helpful. Voted up- useful and interesting!
Joseph Renne from Milton on May 29, 2013:
Nice Hub. Im running G still. Time to upgrade
MountainManJake from Seattle on April 30, 2013:
I work at Geek Squad and I wish the entire world had to read this hub. This would answer 90% of internet questions I get on a daily basis. Good hub, voted up!
swathi180 on April 27, 2013:
Thanks for the article. It has got great information about the wireless internet connections.
jaad24 on April 20, 2013:
My connection is very slow with my mobile. I'll try what you said and see if it improves :)
mybestreviews (author) from Tampa Bay, Florida on April 15, 2013:
Not sure if you moved just the router and ran an Ethernet cable to the other room or moved both the modem and router. If you did end up moving the modem as well, connecting the modem to another cable outlet could cause communication issues between the modem and cable Internet provider. That could cause cause wired and wireless browsing issues.
If you did truly move just the router itself, did the signal strength to the equipment weaken? If so, it could be the wall construction (concrete or chicken wire with plaster) or something like a large metal object, fish tank, etc. I would try moving the router around to different locations in the room to see if it makes a difference.
justin on April 14, 2013:
i have a question,my internet has been fairly fast, but the other day i moved my wireless router to my roomates room so he could plug his xbox360 directly into the router using an ethernet cable, since then its been really slow (like i mean i can let a youtube vid buffer for 5 minutes and it'll only play for about 10 secconds) his room is right beside mine and the router only got about 2 feet farther from my laptop why is it so slow now? and what would be my best option for fixing this? thank you in advance.
Doctore Evile from the Northeast of the U.S.A on October 03, 2012:
I agree. This is an excellent hub. Great attention to detail.
mybestreviews (author) from Tampa Bay, Florida on August 16, 2012:
I am glad I could help you with your wireless issue. Thank you so much for visiting and being my first commenter.
T4an from Toronto, Ontario on August 15, 2012:
Great hub! I have had a horrible time connecting to the internet when I am using my iPad. Thank you for posting. It couldn't have come at a better time. Voted up!