If you’re working from home, odds are that you’ve experienced challenges with slow internet speeds and weak Wi-Fi, especially if you’re sharing bandwidth with others. Our recent survey found that 53% of remote workers are facing challenges with internet speeds and connectivity. Weak Wi-Fi signals and slow internet speeds hamper productivity and make working from home less enjoyable.
In this article, we’ll explain how to make your internet faster so you can stop asking yourself “Why is my Wi-Fi so slow?”
To better understand the factors that affect your internet speed, we need to talk about bandwidth, throughput, and latency.
Bandwidth measures an internet connection’s theoretical capacity, while throughput concerns the amount of data that is actually transferred. Latency is the delay (often referred to as lag) in how long it takes data to arrive at its destination and is impacted by the type of internet service you use (satellite internet has inherently higher latency than cable or fiber internet).
Think about these terms like highway traffic. Throughput is the number of cars on the road, while bandwidth is the number of lanes available. The more lanes available, the more cars that can be accommodated. Latency, then, is the delay you experience in getting to your destination.
To make your internet faster, you need to avoid traffic jams by ensuring enough bandwidth is available to allow the throughput required for your needs.
Improving throughput is especially important for homes with multiple internet-connected devices and appliances, each of which eats up a slice of your internet bandwidth. The more devices you have connected to the internet, the thinner each slice of bandwidth becomes (which can slow down every connected device). Some newer routers let you prioritize connections, meaning you can set your work laptop to take precedence over less important devices.
First things first, you need to check your internet speed to make sure you're getting what you’re paying for from your internet service provider (ISP). You can find dependable internet speed tests here, here, and here. Be sure to disconnect your VPN and avoid bandwidth-heavy activities, such as streaming video, while performing the test.
Try checking your speed regularly and at different times of the day to check for consistency. If your internet speed fluctuates throughout the day, it could mean your ISP is throttling speeds during peak hours. Generally, your download speed (the time it takes to transfer information from the internet to your computer) will be much faster than your upload speed (the time it takes to transfer information from your computer to the internet).
It’s important to recognize that your ISP advertises maximum theoretical bandwidth with speeds that are rarely achieved in reality. To hit anywhere close to the advertised speed, everything needs to be up-to-date, secure, and running smoothly on your end.
Visit our extensive catalog of network monitoring software to get started.
We don’t know who needs to hear this, but your Wi-Fi connection should have a password—and it should be a strong one. A strong Wi-Fi password staves off hackers and ensures that your neighbors don’t hijack your precious bandwidth.
Never rely on the default username or password that comes with your router (or any other device for that matter). These are usually well known and leave your network wide open to others. If you don’t know your router’s default username and password (spoiler: they’re probably admin and password), you can search for them here.
Recommended reading: Password Policy Best Practices You Should Be Following
You should also review your router’s settings to ensure they’re set appropriately. Finding your router's settings depends on brand. Most routers—including those made by ASUS, TP-Link, and Linksys—use IP address 192.168.1.1. Some such as Belkin use 192.168.2.1, while others including NETGEAR use 192.168.0.1.
First, check to see if a firmware update is available for your router. Next, make sure your laptop is using your router’s 5 GHz band, which provides faster speed at a shorter range. The alternative 2.4 GHz band provides slower speed at longer range and is the same band that many household devices use (which may cause interference). If you find that the 2.4 GHz band actually works better for your needs, set the Wi-Fi channel to 1, 6, or 11 for the best performance and least interference.
Follow these additional tips to make sure your system runs smoothly:
Ensure your operating system is up-to-date and that automatic updates are enabled for your software applications.
Try different web browsers and disable add-ons to see if one runs faster on your machine than another.
Uninstall unused applications and remove unwanted bloatware that came preinstalled on your computer.
Use dependable antivirus software to prevent system slowdowns caused by malware.
We recommend using a secure VPN when connecting to Wi-Fi, particularly when accessing sensitive data. It's worth noting that VPN services sometimes cause slower internet speeds because your traffic is being routed through the provider’s network. You can read real reviews from actual users in our VPN software catalog to find your best fit.
Consumer routers are notoriously problematic devices, and yours could definitely be slowing you down. Restarting your router might improve your Wi-Fi signal if it has been interfered with by a nearby device, but that's only a temporary solution at best. Here are some more effective options to solve your Wi-Fi woes.
Router placement is key to your Wi-Fi signal’s reach. Think of your Wi-Fi signal as an umbrella that can’t open properly if it’s surrounded by objects and is only effective if held high. Place your router in a central location in your home, and in an elevated position if possible.
While Wi-Fi signals can penetrate most walls and household items, they can be blocked by heavy materials such as metal objects and concrete walls; place your router accordingly.
A slow Wi-Fi connection might mean it’s time for a new router. Wi-Fi standards have steadily evolved over the years with each new generation offering faster speeds, lower latency, and higher throughput. Routers and devices supporting Wi-Fi 6 (i.e., 802.11ax) have recently become the standard, but routers using Wi-Fi 5 (i.e., 802.11ac) and even Wi-Fi 4 (i.e., 802.11n) continue to offer plenty of speed for most people.
Remember, though, that speed isn’t necessarily as important as throughput. Wi-Fi 6 allows maximum throughput of 9.6 Gbps compared to Wi-Fi 5’s 3.5 Gbps. That means Wi-Fi 6 is capable of about two and half times as much total bandwidth as its predecessor. This is important for homes with multiple people and numerous smart devices all using one internet connection.
Just because you have a new router capable of blazing Wi-Fi speeds doesn’t mean your device can take full advantage of it. If you’re using an older laptop, a Wi-Fi card upgrade is an inexpensive way to get the most out of a new router’s wireless connection speed.
This isn’t always a straightforward task. Wi-Fi cards come in different sizes and with different numbers of antennas, so be sure to select one that fits your machine. Also, be aware that some computer manufacturers use a BIOS whitelist that only supports selected cards, while others prevent upgrading your Wi-Fi altogether by soldering the components directly to the circuit board.
Before attempting a Wi-Fi card replacement, take a picture of your existing card so you know what everything looked like just in case the new Wi-Fi card installation doesn’t work out and you need to revert.
If you’re pretty happy with your Wi-Fi network overall but find signal drops out in one area of your home, a Wi-Fi range extender might do the trick. Range extenders simply plug into a wall outlet, connect to your router, and boost signal in the immediate area. And best of all, they’re relatively inexpensive compared to buying a new router.
While they do offer a quick fix, Wi-Fi range extenders are imperfect solutions; you’ll need to swap Wi-Fi networks on your machine from your router to the extender when you want to use it, and your internet connection speed will drop a bit when doing so.
One way to future-proof your Wi-Fi setup is to install a mesh router system. Mesh Wi-Fi networks are best suited for larger homes with several rooms or multiple floors, and are especially useful if you need Wi-Fi in the backyard, the garage, or a guest house. Mesh networks usually comprise several small units placed throughout your home.
The primary disadvantage of a mesh Wi-Fi network is expense; basic systems cost twice as much as a traditional router. If you don’t need a mesh Wi-Fi network quite yet but are planning to upgrade to a new Wi-Fi 6 router, check to see if it offers mesh compatibility in case you want to upgrade at a later date.
Ethernet connections are sometimes overlooked by those who crave wireless freedom, but they are faster, more reliable, and offer far less latency than Wi-Fi. If you have a desk where you do most of your work, consider using a hardwired connection by plugging into one of the ethernet ports on the back of your router. And if your laptop doesn’t have an ethernet port, you can easily find adapters that allow an ethernet connection via USB (ideally USB-C or Thunderbolt).
In the end, there’s no reason to put up with slow Wi-Fi or sluggish internet. Whether your solution is to rebuild your entire wireless network or simply plug back in to ethernet, there are many ways to make your internet faster.
Want more tips to improve your internet experience? Check out our comprehensive guide to removing personal information from internet sources.
Looking to save more time while working from home? Learn about our best practices to set time and communication boundaries.
GetApp’s remote workplace survey was conducted in July 2020 among 384 U.S. employees working remotely due to the pandemic.