If you’re working from home, going to school online, or otherwise relying on your internet connection, and your WiFi is acting up, you’re not alone.
“We’re getting so much of that,” says Scott DeGirolamo, founder of Philly-based tech support service Computer Guy PC Solutions. “We’ll get calls, and the WiFi signal isn’t strong enough to get work done.”
After all, with more devices and constant usage, your WiFi connection may be experiencing some extra stress. But if it’s underperforming, don’t worry — there are some things you can do to help improve your service. Really.
Here is what you need to know:
First, check what speed you are paying for. Measured in megabits per second, your internet plan indicates how quickly data can travel to your devices. You can verify that info with your internet service provider, or by checking your bill to see if the speed for your plan is listed (100 Mbps, for example).
Then test your internet speed using a speed testing app or website, such as Speedtest.net, to see how your connection is actually performing, according to the Federal Communications Commission. For a household with four users or devices connected to the internet at one time, the FCC says your minimum speed should be about 25 Mbps for “adequate performance.”
If you find that your internet speed is much slower than you are paying for — and there is no internet outage in your area — you may have an equipment problem. Rebooting your router by turning the device off and back on may solve the issue in a pinch, but if not, there are a few other options you can consider.
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Often, the fix is as simple as moving your equipment. DeGirolamo recommends using a WiFi analyzer app on your phone to determine where in a home a wireless signal might drop off.
“Using that data, we try to arrange the router and the computer so that we can avoid interference and obstacles,” he says. Those obstacles include things like your microwave and fridge, and even walls. Physical distance can be an issue, too — like if your computer is on the third floor, and your router is in the basement.
You can solve those problems by placing your router in a central part of your home, away from outside walls and appliances, so that the signal has a better chance of reaching your devices. Putting it up high, such as on a bookshelf, is also a good idea. If your router has antennas, you could also try adjusting them to see if that helps your signal — or purchase and install better antennas.
“We’re always going to be aware of where the router is in the house, and where we are trying to get the signal,” DeGirolamo says. “The most important factor when we are placing a router is where it is located.”
As with other electronic devices, a software update for your router might help. The software that controls a router is known as firmware, and if your router doesn’t automatically update its firmware, it may be underperforming as a result. Updating firmware, DeGirolamo says, can “bring it to the current standards” of operation.
Updates can include bug fixes, performance enhancements, and security updates. If you rent your equipment from their service provider, those tweaks will likely be applied automatically.
However, if you own your own equipment, you may have to update the firmware yourself. Going about that process depends on the equipment, but often it can be done through a website or with an app on your phone. As tech site CNET points out, the process needs to be done without interruption — so make sure your router doesn’t lose power when doing an update.
Should you not have time to mess around with your router and need internet now, or if your wireless signal is consistently unreliable, using a wired connection may be a good option in the interim. Most routers have connections on them so that you can use an Ethernet cable to connect to your device. And if your computer doesn’t have an Ethernet port, you can find a USB Ethernet adapters online.
Computer Guy, for example, will provide customers with an Ethernet cable — sometimes as long as 50 feet — to use in case of emergencies. That way, you can patch into your router and run the cable to your computer.
“It’s a good way of getting a dependable signal,” DeGirolamo says.
But if going wired isn’t doable and you still need a signal boost, DeGirolamo recommends trying out a USB wireless network adapter, a device that can help improve get a better WiFi signal for the computer it’s attached to. These devices add an antenna to your computer to help get your wireless signal, and can be found for as little as $15.
If all else fails, you may have to get some new equipment — especially if your router is particularly old, or if getting your wireless signal to all parts of your home is consistently difficult. If you rent your equipment, you can check with your internet service provider and ask for new equipment.
But if you own your own equipment, you’ll have to buy new tech on your own. Newer routers often are able to automatically switch between using 2.4 GHz (slower, but farther reaching) and 5 GHz (faster, but blocked easier) frequencies, which help to give you the best available wireless signal, DeGirolamo says. Additionally, your new equipment should support the current 802.11ac wireless standard for best results.