Pages that take forever to load can test your patience. Sluggish WiFi speeds can become even more frustrating when you’re trying to do time-sensitive work. It may be tempting to call your internet service provider and vent to a representative about the issue. Before you do that, you should check your connections for possible culprits behind your connectivity lag. Below are some possible reasons why your WiFi is slow.
Why Is My WiFi So Slow?
Slow WiFi can be caused by many factors. The common culprits behind a lagging WiFi connection include too many devices connecting to one channel, users doing bandwidth-heavy activities, the way your router is positioned, and outdated hardware and drivers. Here’s how these factors impact your WiFi speed, and what you can do to get a faster connection.
You’re On the Wrong Channel
Wireless networks have two frequency bands: 2.4 GHz (gigahertz) and 5 GHz. These frequency bands affect how far and fast your data can travel. With a 2.4-GHz network, you get better range at slower speeds, while a 5-GHz network gives you faster speeds at the cost of signal range.
A 5GHz connection is not as good at going through walls. A 2.4 GHz connection is also better for city dwellers since it has less “noise” or interference as a 5 GHz network.
These bands are also separated into different channels. Devices in North America using 2.4 GHz usually have 11 channels. Channels 1, 6, and 11 tend to be the most used because they don’t overlap with each other.
The problem is that cordless phones, microwaves, and other devices also transmit signals at 2.4 GHz. If these devices are near your router, it can cause your WiFi signal to slow down. The same is true if your neighbors have lots of devices that run on the same frequency.
Think of the channels as roads, and the devices are cars on those roads. If everyone uses the same roads to get to a certain destination, it will cause a traffic jam. But if there are several roads to get to the same destination, traffic will be less congested. Channels 1, 6, and 11 are like highways; they are the fastest channels, but you should pick the one with the least traffic.
Then you can change the channel you are using by accessing your router’s settings.
Too Many Bandwidth-Heavy Activities
Bandwidth refers to the maximum amount of data that can be sent over a network at any given time. If you share your WiFi network with other people, every time they make video calls, stream videos, or download large files, it could be taking up your precious bandwidth. Simply pausing or stopping these activities can increase your WiFi speed dramatically.
Some bandwidth-heavy activities are less obvious, like when your computer automatically syncs files or updates software. You can monitor the bandwidth of your router with third-party router firmware programs like DD-WRT or Garygole or a network monitoring tool like Glasswire.
These apps will help you figure out what is taking up all your bandwidth, and allow you to block or kill bandwidth-heavy apps and programs. Some of these apps can also detect malware (malicious software) that could be slowing down your WiFi connection.
Your Router is Out of Date
Your devices and router can also impact your WiFi speed. In general, newer devices and routers will provide better connectivity than older ones.
Computers, phones, and tablets released before 2006, for instance, have an expected WiFi speed of around 25 Mbps (megabits per second). While computers that came out after 2011 can handle speeds of 150 to 500 Mpbs. Phones and tablets released in the same period can handle speeds of 75 to 300 Mbps.
Routers support different WiFi standards, which are updated every few years. So you can’t expect blazing-fast speed if you’re using an old router. The most popular WiFi standards for routers on the market today are Wireless B, G, N, and AC.
One of the most basic differences between them is their transfer rate. First approved in 1999, Wireless B has a theoretical maximum transfer rate of 11 Mbps. Wireless G has a maximum speed of 54 Mbps, and Wireless N tops out at around 300 Mbps. Wireless AC, released in 2013, has a theoretical maximum transfer rate of up to 1.3 gigabits per second.
If your router is acting up, you might be able to speed things up by rebooting it. Simply unplug your router from the power source and wait for at least one minute before plugging it back in. If this doesn’t fix the issue, you might want to look into upgrading to a new device.
You Router is in the Wrong Pace
If you have a new device, but you’re still experiencing WiFi “dead zones,” the issue might be with your router location. The signals from your router travel in an outward radius, so you will have better coverage if you place your router in a central location rather than in a corner of your home.
WiFi signals travel vertically and horizontally. This means it’s a good idea to have your router in an elevated position, like the top of a bookshelf or mounted on a wall.
When trying to find the best position for your router, be mindful of obstacles. Water and metal objects block WiFi signals, so make sure to place your router away from steel desks, refrigerators, and fish tanks. Finding the ideal router positioning takes trial and error, so check signal strength in different areas before picking your router’s final location.
Your Network Drivers are Outdated
In order to connect to the internet, your computer uses a network adapter, which is supported by network drivers. These network drivers allow your computer’s hardware and software programs to interact with one another.
Windows Update automatically pushes the latest version of network drivers to your system. However, there may be times when these network adapter drivers go missing, go out of date, or become incompatible with your current system. This can lead to WiFi connectivity issues.
If you’re a Windows 10 user, you can manually update your network driver by typing “Device Manager” into the Windows search bar (the magnifying glass icon in the bottom-left corner of your screen). Then, in the Device Manager menu, right-click on the network adapter you want to update and choose Update Driver.
If you have a Mac, Apple will handle all the system and driver updates for you. To make sure your drivers are up to date, click the Apple icon in the upper left corner of your screen and select System Preferences. Then select Software Update.
Finally, click Update Now if the option is available. If you don’t see this option, your computer is up to date.
How to Test WiFi Speed
Running a speed test is a great way to see what’s slowing down your WiFi. First, you need to set up ideal testing conditions, then connect to your router with a wired connection, and do basic troubleshooting. Here’s how to test your WiFi speed:
- Set up an ideal test environment. Keep your router clear from signal-interfering devices and other obstacles. Then disconnect all the other devices connected to your network, such as other computers, laptops, phones, and smart devices. You should also close other open tabs in your browser and check that automatic updates aren’t running in the background.
- Connect your computer to your router with an Ethernet cable. To get the best results, you want to test WiFi speed using a wired connection near your router.
- Run the speed test. There are many free browser-based tests on the internet. One of the most popular ones is offered by Xfinity. Simply go to speedtest.xfinity.com and click on Start Test. Then wait for the results to load. Speed test results may vary depending on site traffic, device limitations, physical obstructions, and other WiFi networks in your area.
- Then repeat the speed test in different conditions. Try to run the same test from your mobile phone, tablet, or any other device that you use to connect to WiFi. Try to do the tests from different locations and various times of the day. And try to run the test with different devices turned on.
- Troubleshoot accordingly. If your WiFi is slower when a certain device is connected, it might be the culprit.
Once you know what’s causing your slow WiFi connection, check out our previous article to find out how to boost your WiFi signal.