Wi-Fi and router tips to improve your internet connection

Quick takeaway suggestions from this article: 

  1. Test your home Internet speed at: http://www.speedtest.net/ 
  2. Consider using a wired connection 
  3. Make sure your router location is central and open to minimize signal interference or dampening 
  4. Configure the router using a less congested channel, the most appropriate frequency, and optimally aligned antennas 
  5. Ensure your router is built to the latest standards, or consider upgrading 
  6. Use signal extenders or repeaters to expand the range of the signal 
  7. Ensure the router is protected with a strong password 
  8. Do not connect to VPN unless you need to (web conferencing, emails and other broad services do not usually require VPN) 
  9. Ensure that other users within your household are not competing for your bandwidth  
  10. Ensure you have the right plan from your ISP, or upgrade 

Working from home is a reality that was foisted upon our community and the world very suddenly. And if our home internet connection wasn’t important before, the pandemic quickly brought its criticality to the forefront. This article presents tips and advice on how we can make our internet connections more efficient. When our internet connections don’t work smoothly, we start to experience problems with the technology, and we may begin to feel lost. During this unprecedented time, most internet providers are managing larger than normal traffic; this is beyond our control. What we can control, however, is the internet traffic in our own homes. To help, we've gathered some brief suggestions (in bold) on ways you can troubleshoot, and hopefully improve, the quality of the internet connection inside your home.  

Test your Download and Upload speed  

Check the speed of your connection with this free tool to determine your download and upload speeds. 

Screenshot of results from speedtest.net, showing ping, download and upload speed and ISP informationFig. 1 My results from Speedtest.net

If you are going to be instructing classes online, a minimum download speed of 25 Mbps is suggested. Even with higher bandwidth speeds of 25 Mbps, if you live in a household with many people using your internet simultaneously on laptops, smartphones and other devices, your 25 Mbps might be spread a little thin. Before upgrading to a faster internet speed, try these tips to make the most of your current bandwidth. 

Direct (Wired) vs Wi-Fi (Wireless) Connections 

Wired connections are still the fastest, most reliable connection.  

Your router will have a handful of Ethernet ports to spare, so all you need is an ethernet cable. If you want the convenience of Wi-Fi, however, router location is the key. 

Router location/placement/mapping 

Location 

Move your router to the center of your home, in an open space, a few feet from the ground and away from any other electronics or physical obstructions.  

Simply put, the further away you are from your router, and the more obstacles in the path, the weaker the signal.  

Signal strength and mapping 

NetSpot is a free utility that lets users see all the networks in their area and map out their strength by location. It provides additional info which can guide your router placement and configuration. (see below) 

Network topology map generated by NetSpotFig. 2 My local scan using NetSpot

Wi-Fi Channels/Antenna alignment/configuration 2.4GHz – 5GHz 

Channels 

Switch to a different channel.  

Wi-Fi signal is divided into channels and if others are using the same channel, traffic can get congested. NetSpot can identify other in range Wi-Fi signals along with the channels being used (see Fig. 2 above) so you can manually switch to a less crowded network. Check your router’s documentation or look up the instructions online to find out how to change your device settings.  

Configuration 

Switch to the 5GHz band. 

Most current routers use dual band technology, broadcasting at the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequencies. Most devices use the 2.4GHz band (see the Band column in Fig. 2), so if your router settings permit, choose the 5 GHz band to get a faster connection to the internet. It has a shorter range than 2.4 GHz so you will need to be closer to the router. You can always opt to manually select the preferred frequency as both options will be available to select from the available Wi-Fi signals in your device’s settings. 

Antenna positions 

Position your router’s antennas so that one is vertical and one is horizontal. 

The antennas on the router define the axis of the signal, and your device’s antenna needs to be oriented along the same axis to best receive the signal. Orienting the axis of each antenna perpendicular to each other increases the likelihood that at least one of them will align with your particular device’s antenna.  

If you have a newer router with internal antennas, be sure the router is mounted upright, not on its side. 

Upgrading your Router 

If your router’s wireless standards are the latest 802.11ac, you’re fine.  

Older routers adhere to older Wi-Fi standards and are not as well-equipped to handle multiple devices, greater distances or other sources of interference. If yours is not 802.11ac compliant, then you should upgrade. Routers vary significantly in functionality and price, but a key consideration right now might be the range of the signals broadcast and the ability to extend the signal. In a large house, you're better off with a router that can pair with "signal repeaters" which can extend the range. Smaller homes and apartments can generally get by with a basic router. 

Extend your Wi-Fi Signal 

Pick up a Wi-Fi extender or repeater.  

If you have a new router that’s perfectly positioned, on 5 GHz, set to the clearest channel, and you’re still having issues in certain parts of the house, the problem may just be your home is too large for your router to cover. This is an easy fix by purchasing a repeater: a device that can boost the Wi-Fi signal. The extended or repeated wireless signals won't be as strong as the ones coming straight from your router, though, so positioning is important. 

Security 

You need a strong password on your Wi-Fi.  

Make sure you use AES encryption, which is the most secure and most speed-friendly option. Use McGill’s virtual private network (VPN) if you are working with systems requiring it, but avoid using it otherwise, especially if you are web conferencing or presenting online.  

Efficient Use: Too many devices or too many apps running on your device; etc. 

Even if every indication is that your speeds and range are good, you may want to reduce the number of devices you currently have connected.  

If the internet on your PC or laptop is consistently slow, but other devices (tablet, mobile phone, etc) seem fine, open your Task Manager or Activity Monitor and see what programs are running in the background. Check it out and adjust your settings. Having dozens of things tapping into the Wi-Fi at once can be problematic. Plug anything you can into Ethernet and unplug anything you have connected but don't need. 

Restart your Router 

Before restarting your router, run a speed test (as outlined earlier) and write down your upload and download speeds.  

If there is no improvement after the restart, consider calling your Internet Service Provider (ISP). 

Internet Service Provider (ISP) 

If you've tried all these suggestions, and still have problems, you can always reach out to your ISP. They might be able to pinpoint an overlooked issue.  

 

 

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