The internet is free; getting on it, generally, is not. Although it doesn’t cost as much for bandwidth today, compared to 10 years ago, getting the most for your hard-earned money is always preferable. If you’re just getting subscribed now, you’ll probably be signing up to the faster fiber optic driven services. These are largely less troublesome than the other modes—DSL, cable, satellite, or wireless—but you could still benefit from some optimization.
Assuming your internet service provider (ISP) is not a fly-by-night operation, you should be getting, on the average, better than 80 percent of your subscribed package speed. If you’re consistently getting far lower connection speeds, there are a few things you can do before going John Wick on your ISP.
Make sure that all physical connections before and after your modem-router or optical networking unit are tightly fastened and free from dust, corrosion, and other grime. Poor connections translate to slower speeds (lag) and frequent disconnection (dropouts).
Measure your speed. There are several online services you can use (speedtest.net being the de facto standard). Disconnect all other devices, except the one you’re testing with. Unload all running applications except for the browser or app you’re using to run the test. Run the test several times to average out the results and compare these to your service terms. Repeat the test on different hours and days. Sometimes, the internet itself is just slow.
If you’re consistently getting poor results, try rebooting or power-cycling your modem; keeping it unplugged for at least a minute. Do the same with the devices connected to it. There is a finite number of devices that modems/routers can serve at a given time. Sometimes, routers choke when several inactive devices are still on its list of clients. Rebooting clears this list.
Update your router’s firmware. Firmware upgrades often bring performance tweaks as well as better security protocols.
Wireless routers operate on radio frequencies and as such are susceptible to interference (RFI). Small household appliances (cordless phones, for instance) operate within the same band as most routers; thus, causing interference. If your router is capable, switch to the higher 5GHz band, which is less utilized. Or simply move your cordless phone’s base station to another location. Consider also, changing your Wi-Fi channel. Download and run a Wi-Fi analyzer app to see if your router is using the same channel as your neighbors. Pick an empty channel or let the app decide which channel is best. If you’re on DSL, install line filters on all your telephone sets.
Connection that is problematic only on specific devices—PCs and laptops, for instance—usually means the issue is with those devices. Run virus or malware scans and uninstall apps that you no longer need. Several applications run in the background even when not in use.
Consider using a third-party DNS server. A DNS server is a directory or database which translates hostnames (e.g. google.com) to its public IP address (e.g. 126.96.36.199). Sometimes your ISPs’ DNS server isn’t up to the task. There are dozens of free DNS servers to choose from. The Google DNS service is popular.
Whenever possible, connect your devices by wire. Wi-Fi is convenient, but it is significantly slower and less secure than wired ethernet. Don’t even consider getting that UHD 4K upgrade from Netflix if your smart TV runs on Wi-Fi. The cost and difficulty of wiring a few rooms isn’t significant; just make sure it is performed by a competent person. If you consider this option, make your cable runs as short as possible. Leave no more than one meter of extra cable between connections.
The router your ISP provides is, often, a very basic unit which offers limited functions, if at all. Getting a second router in lieu of, or in addition to, the provided one is always a good option. Best to get one that utilizes the latest wireless standard, 802.11 ac, and offers the most user-configurable features.
Router coverage is limited. The theoretical 30-meter radius specified by most manufacturers is predicated on an open environment. Walls, especially steel reinforced ones, attenuate radio signals, limiting Wi-Fi signals further.
For sizable homes, range extenders are an attractive option. A range extender captures signal from the main router and rebroadcasts it within its vicinity. Ideally, a range extender is positioned midway between the main router and the farthest point where signal is unavailable. For larger and multi-level houses, several extenders might be needed. Since you cannot link a range extender to another extender without degrading signal quality, the total coverage of this system is limited to the maximum distance between the router and each extender.
If you have a larger area to cover, and a deeper pocket, newer Mesh Network Wireless Systems are preferable. Mesh systems consists of at least three devices—one acting as a hub, the others as satellites. The hub captures signal from the router and, much like an extender, rebroadcasts it around its vicinity. Unlike a range extender, a mesh hub can forward the signal to a satellite which rebroadcasts the same. Mesh satellites, in turn, can send signals to other satellites; greatly improving range and coverage compared to router-extender setups.
If you’ve tried all the above and are still left wanting, maybe it is time for an upgrade. The leap from DSL, for instance, to fiber isn’t that costly—especially if you’re upgrading with your existing ISP. However, depending on your location, a switch to another provider might provide a better outcome. Ask around the neighborhood. Nothing beats information culled from firsthand experience. With more smart appliances and internet-based entertainment options appearing on the market daily, a hefty connection might just be the answer to all your current woes.