ImOn Tech Talks
ImOn is starting a new educational series called Tech Talks. Each month we will share helpful information about various tech topics to help our customers better understand the technology and services they have in their lives. If you have a tech topic you would like to learn more about, just email your idea or question to TechTalks@ImOn.net and you may see them featured in an upcoming edition of Tech Talks. Enjoy!
Wi-Fi Reliability and Performance
Today, most people access the Internet through a wireless connection. While a wired Ethernet Internet connection offers a guaranteed level of performance and more security, a Wi-Fi connection is more convenient. However, Wi-Fi is incredibly complex and several things can impact the signal strength and reliability.
But before we go any further, we want to make sure you understand that Internet and Wi-Fi are totally different things. The Internet is the public network that allows you to access various websites, such as Google or Amazon. Wi-Fi, on the other hand, is the way your Internet signal is transmitted to you. It uses a router to let you connect to the Internet without having to use any wires.
Now that we got that out of the way, it is important to know that there are several things that can affect the performance of your wireless connections. In fact, poor Wi-Fi performance is one of the biggest complaints we get from our Internet users. However, they usually just attribute it to an overall Internet issue. So, we wanted to share a few of the things that can negatively impact your Wi-Fi signal and some things you can try at home to help improve your Wi-Fi experience.
Location and Distance: When using your Wi-Fi, you may notice that you get a spotty Wi-Fi signal in certain areas of your home, while in other areas the signal is just fine. One of the limitations of your Wi-Fi signal is how far it can reach. That’s because the signal strength and bandwidth decreases as you get further away from your router. So, it’s important to consider where you put our Wi-Fi router in your home.
To maximize the coverage area of your Wi-Fi signal, we recommend putting your router towards the center of your home’s main floor. That’s because most routers send their Wi-Fi signal out and down like an umbrella. So, if you place your router in the basement, you are not maximizing your signal coverage, and you may be limiting the signal in your upper floors. For the same reason, you should also place your router up high, like on top of a bookshelf or on a desk, instead of on the floor. Something else to consider is to put your router in the room where you use the Wi-Fi the most. That will guarantee a stronger signal where you need it most.
Wherever you decide to place your router, make sure it is in an open space with plenty of airflow. Just like your modem and laptop, there are air vents on your router that help to regulate its temperature. If these vents are blocked due to dust, animal hair, or clutter, your router may overheat, causing it to fail and stop working until it has cooled down.
Interference: When it comes to your Wi-Fi signal, there are two things that can cause interference with the signal, physical obstructions in your home and other electronics in your home. Physical obstructions include things like the number and type of walls your Wi-Fi signal must travel through. The more walls and doors your signal must travel through to reach your devices, the more interference there will be with the signal. Here is a look at some of the common building materials in your home and how much they will degrade your Wi-Fi signal (source: bitsfrombytes.com). If your wi-fi signal must travel through brick, stone, and metal walls, your Wi-Fi signal may be blocked or degraded, so you may want to consider moving your router so the signal does not have to travel through these types of walls.
Some of the other physical things that can affect your Wi-Fi signal strength are large metal objects, like filing cabinets or metal shelves, mirrors, fish tanks, water coolers, and breaker boxes. You should avoid putting your router on or next to these items, and make sure your Wi-Fi signal doesn’t have to pass through these items to reach your laptop, gaming system, or smart TV. Lastly, power lines and power stations near your home may also cause some minor Wi-Fi interference. While there really isn’t anything you can do about them, it is something to keep in mind.
The second type of interference that can affect your Wi-Fi signal is from other electronics in your home. Wi-Fi routers use radio frequencies to transmit their signal, just like cell phones, radios, and TVs. While we will dive into the specific radio frequencies in just a bit, it is important to know that many electronics in your home use the same radio frequency as your router. This leads to interference with your Wi-Fi signal, causing a slow Internet connection or causing the Wi-Fi signal to drop out completely. Some of the electronics that are known to interfere with Wi-Fi signals include: Cell phones, microwaves, baby monitors, cordless phones, garage door openers, Bluetooth speakers, and some wireless alarm systems. You should move these electronics away from your Wi-Fi router, and make sure they are not between your router and your devices.
Here is an example from one of our own customers of how interference from another device affected their Wi-Fi. The customer would sit in their living room working on their laptop, by using a Wi-Fi signal. But, whenever someone used the microwave in the kitchen, they would lose their Wi-Fi signal. Well, it turned out that their router was in the kitchen and the microwave was positioned between the router and the laptop they were working on in the living room. So, when the microwave was used, it’s frequency would interfere with the Wi-Fi signal, causing it to drop. By just moving the router to a different location, the issue was solved. So, if you are seeing your Wi-Fi signal dropping out frequently, you may want to investigate what other devices in your home may be affecting it.
Frequency Channels and Bands: As we mentioned before, Wi-Fi routers transmit their signal using radio waves. The two major radio frequencies routers use is 2.4GHz and 5GHz, and depending on which frequency your device connects to, can offer a much different experience. On average, the max speed of connecting to the 2.4GHz frequency is around 35-40Mbps, while a connection on the 5.0GHz frequency top speed is 80+Mbps. So depending on what Internet speed you have, you may want to consider changing which frequency your devices connects to.
While the 5.0GHz frequency can handle higher speeds, it does come with downfalls. 5.0GHz connections can’t travel as far and have a harder time transmitting through walls and furniture. According to Lifewire.com, the general rule is that a Wi-Fi signal using 2.5GHz frequency can reach up to 150ft indoors, while a signal using the 5GHz frequency can only reach about 50 ft. So, you may want to pick which devices connect to which signal frequency. For example, it’s probably better to connect your cell phones and tablets to the 2.4GHz frequency. Since the 2.4GHz signal frequency can reach further, you shouldn’t lose your connection as much when you walk around with these devices and use them in different rooms. Now, if you have a more stationary device, like a Roku or video game system, consider connecting them to the 5.0GHz signal frequency. Then, you can take advantage of the higher speeds the 5.0GHz signal frequency can offer, and don’t have to worry so much about the signal not reaching as far as the 2.4GHz signal, because you are not moving these items around your home regularly.
Reasons for Slow Internet
It’s easy to take your high-speed Internet connection for granted. That is until you are staring at your screen waiting for your video to buffer or website to load. Slow Internet can be frustrating, but it may not always be your Internet service provider’s fault. There are several factors in your home that can adversely affect the speed and stability of your Internet connection.
- Internet Speed & Number of Connection: As we discussed last month, when we refer to Internet speed, we are really talking about bandwidth, or capacity. It is the amount of data that can be transferred over an Internet connection in one second. It is important to know that bandwidth is a finite number for each Internet connection. The Internet connected devices in your home all share that bandwidth. That means the more devices you have connected at the same time, the less bandwidth each one will get, resulting in slower Internet speed for all. So, it is important to identify exactly how many devices are connected to the Internet in your home. And, note that just because a device is not being used, it can still be connected and using bandwidth.
- Your Computer: Any Internet activity uses a variety of your computer’s resources. These include things like the processor, RAM, and the hard disk drive. The computer processor affects background tasks occurring on the Internet that you don’t see, and the RAM affects the loading speed of websites, especially if you have more than one page open at a time. The performance and speed of these items can impact how quickly your computer performs tasks on the Internet. Malware, spyware, viruses, and worms can also slow your computer down, so make sure you have up-to-date computer security software.
Unauthorized Users: While wireless networks are very convenient, they can also be very insecure. If your Wi-Fi network is not secure, you open the door for hackers to steal your information or for neighbors to hijack your Wi-Fi for their own use. Be sure your wireless network is locked down, so you are not sharing your Internet connection. Click here for more information about locking down your router.
- Reboot Modem and Router: Just like you are supposed to shut down and restart your computers on a regular basis, you should also be doing the same for your modem and router. When modems and routers are constantly running, they can get overloaded and overheated, causing their performance to decline. It is recommended that you reboot your modem and router at least once a month. To reboot them, just unplug each one from the power outlet for a couple minutes and then plug them back in. This ensures they get the latest network and security updates, along with clearing out the memory and resetting tasks that may have gotten stalled.
- Wireless Routers: While wired Internet connections offer the best performance and reliability, most people enjoy the freedom of a Wi-Fi connection. However, a bad Wi-Fi signal or a poor performing router can greatly affect your Internet speeds. Where your router is located can greatly affect the strength of your Wi-Fi signal and coverage area. Other devices in your home may also be interfering with your Wi-Fi signal causing it to slow down or drop completely. Some wireless routers can also drop their connections completely during times of heavy workloads, like doing online gaming or copying a large file.
- The Website You Visit: The composition of the website you are visiting, including text, images, and videos, makes a difference on how fast the webpage can load. A website composed of mainly text loads faster than a website, such as YouTube, which is mostly pictures and movies. Also, where the website’s host server is located can also cause websites to load slower.
- Background Programs: It is easy to forget that some applications and programs can run other processes in the background while you are using them. While these applications are designed to do useful work, they may be quietly slowing your computer down and consuming your Internet resources. Some of the most common applications that are guilty of this are video games or programs that have a lot of videos.
What is Internet Speed?
Over the last decade, the Internet has really changed the way we live, do business, socialize, and stay informed. So it is important that your Internet speed is fast enough to keep up. We all know how frustrating it is to have to wait for your website to load or your video to buffer!
When we talk about Internet speed, we are really talking about bandwidth, or capacity. It is the amount of data that can be transferred over an Internet connection in one second. At ImOn we talk about Internet speed using download and upload speeds. Download speed is the speed data is transferred from one place to another. When you watch a video, listen to a song, get email, or search Google, you are using your download speed. Upload speed refers to the speed data is transferred from your computer to the Internet. You use your upload speed when you post videos on YouTube, post pictures on social media, send emails, or save files to the cloud.
So now that you know what Internet speed is, how do you know what speed is right for you? Different households have drastically different Internet speed needs. A single person who only uses the Internet to access social media and send emails doesn’t need as much Internet speed as a family of five who are streaming Netflix in every room. When you are trying to decide on what Internet speed your home needs, there are three main things to consider.
- How many people use the Internet in your home?
- How many Internet connected devices do you have in your home?
- What activities do you do on the Internet?
How many people in your home use the Internet?
Your Internet connection is only so fast, and when several people are using a single Internet connection at the same time, the Internet bandwidth is shared among them. Which means, the more people you have, the less bandwidth each person will get, resulting in slower Internet speed for everyone.
How many Internet connected devices do you have in your home?
Long gone are the days when your home only had one PC connected to the Internet. Now pretty much everything uses an Internet connection or Wi-Fi signal. Just like the Internet bandwidth is shared among the people in your home, it is also shared with every connected device in your home. For example, if you have 15Mb of Internet and 2 people are looking at social media on their smartphones while streaming an HD movie on TV, the 15Mb of bandwidth is now divided among the 3 devices and each device is getting around 5Mb to use. So it is really important to identify exactly how many devices are connected in your home. And, note that just because a device is not being used, it can still be connected to the Internet and using some of your bandwidth.
What activities do you do on the Internet?
The last thing to consider when it comes to Internet speed is the types of activities you use your Internet for. The average Internet user does at least 7 things online a day. Some of these activities, like streaming HD videos and playing online games, use a lot of bandwidth, while sending emails and surfing the web takes very little. If you don’t have enough bandwidth for these activities, you will likely encounter issues like buffering. The Federal Communications Commission’s website has a list of recommended minimum Internet speeds for various online activities.
To help you estimate the Internet speed you need to accommodate all of the people, activities, and devices in your home, ImOn has created a handy Internet Bandwidth Calculation Worksheet. This worksheet will make you take a look at exactly how many devices you have in your home and what activities people are doing on the Internet. Keep in mind that this will only calculate the minimum bandwidth that you need. If you would rather have us do all of the number crunching then just try our ImOn Speed Analyzer.