How to Use Router Settings to Fix Slow Wireless
Why is my wireless network slow?
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 and in each section below 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 and Congestion
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 to 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 manufactures use the default setting in the router to use either channel 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 WiFi 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 WiFi scanner that does the pretty much the same thing as well, called Meraki WiFi Stumbler. It runs within most computer Internet web browsers.
Environmental factors can effect the wireless transmission include 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.
Also in a weak signal environment, make sure that you are truly connected to your wireless and not a neighbors. Seems 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 for 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, 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 3 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?
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.
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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.