Understand Your Wi-Fi
Internet speed over Wi-Fi is one of the most common problems with home offices.
When you’re in the middle of a conference call, complex task, or captivating video, and you get the spinning wheel as your screen freezes, it’s frustrating. Everyone needs a functioning internet connection, from the entrepreneur to the career professional.
We get a lot of emails from customers with problems accessing or using files online. This post will help you if you’re having internet speed issues in your home office and want to understand what’s going on and what you can do about it.
Wi-Fi Vs Wireless Data
When we say Wi-Fi, we connect wirelessly to the internet via a modem. When we talk about wireless data, we’re talking about connecting to the internet through a cell phone tower.
So, what is Wi-Fi?
Wi-Fi stands for wireless fidelity, which replaced ethernet cables long ago. The thing is, lots of information travels over the internet. The internet is a huge storage system. Accessing the internet essentially means accessing a large amount of encoded information. When that information travels over a cable, it travels in a straight line. On the other hand, when coded info travels through the air, it can end up anywhere. But this coded info doesn’t have a pilot like a plane; the modem just shoots it out. As such, internet information travelling through the air is subject to interference that no one can control.
How Wi-Fi Travels
Wireless technology is based on radio waves, similar to AM/FM radio.
When the radio was invented, it worked because the channels could handle the information load that travelled over it. The internet uses a significantly higher amount of information than AM/FM radio, yet it’s still travelling in the same method using the same basic technology.
This means that more people use the Wi-fi channels, like in a condo tower, there is more congestion. Radio signals can only handle so much information, and when too many people are on Wi-Fi in a small space, there isn’t enough to go around. If your Wi-Fi gets slow in the evening, it’s probably because of congestion.
Things That Interfere with Wi-Fi
The last time your Wi-Fi was slow, you may have called up your ISP. You ran a speed test on your device to prove there’s a problem, but when they ran their own speed test, the speed was up to par. So what happened?
Your ISP probably guarantees a certain speed to the modem, but no ISP in Canada guarantees speed to your device over Wi-Fi. The ISP has no control over things in or around your home that interferes with your Wi-Fi as it travels between the modem and your device.
They simply can’t control the things interfering with your signal.
- Thick concrete walls in your home
- Lath & plaster walls in your home
- Radio devices (baby monitors)
- Too many other Wi-Fi devices
- Bluetooth devices
- Location of modem
- Other nearby users on the same Wi-Fi network
Improving Your Home Office Wi-Fi
Now that we understand why your Wi-Fi is slow, let’s try to improve it.
First, you must understand that the internet delivered from the modem to your device using an ethernet cable is still the most dependable way to connect from home. But most people want more than only wired internet. If you need to connect wirelessly, there are many things you can do to improve your signal.
We’ll start with a deep dive into what doesn’t work so you don’t waste time and money.
Wireless Solutions That Don’t Work
There are a lot of useless devices in the tech market. You might be tempted to go to the tech store and spend a lot of money on these items and then spend time trying to figure out what they are, what they do and how to use them. We recommend resisting those urges until you’ve done some research.
If your modem was installed in the last few years, it actually probably has quite a few boosters already built in. A Wi-Fi booster slightly extends the range of your signal. Its goal is to shoot the Wi-Fi signal a little farther to reach your home’s dead zones. However, the standard signal emitters built into most modems can already send that signal well beyond your home’s walls. If you’re having a slow Wi-Fi problem, it’s likely because of interference, so shooting the signal a little farther does nothing. It’s a waste of time and money, and landfills are full of Wi-Fi boosters that people threw out.
Most ISPs come out with a new modem every couple of years. If your modem is more than 10 years old, a new one can improve the situation. If it’s only a year old, an upgrade likely won’t help much. A new modem won’t eliminate interference if you have interference in your home.
Playing with Your Modem Settings
You can go into your modem’s firmware page and change your settings. This is probably not a good idea if you don’t know what you’re doing, but some things can help.
Just like a radio, Wi-Fi has channels. In a high-traffic area, like a condo tower, many people are trying to connect to Wi-Fi. Some channels have more traffic than others. Most modems, by default, are set to Auto choose the best channel available when they are set up. When you go in and manually change the channel, it may help briefly, but you may have to keep going back and changing the channel every time it gets slow. It’s best to leave it set to Auto-select the optimal channel.
There are two Wi-Fi bands, 2.5 gigahertz (ghz) and 5 ghz. The 5 GHz is more powerful but has a shorter range, so it’s best for devices that use more signal and are closer to the modem, like a smart TV. The 2.5 GHz band is weaker but has a longer range, so it’s better for devices that use less signal but need to move around, like your smartphone or tablet. Use bands wisely, not randomly.
The dynamic host configuration protocol (DHCP) is how your modem connects to your ISP’s servers outside your home. It’s how your modem recognizes that you have an active account with the ISP (without an active account, no internet, no exceptions, no workarounds). The only state of this setting where your internet will work is when this is on. If you turn it off, you’ll lose your connection from the outside and have to call your ISP to turn it back on. It makes the problem worse.
In short, don’t play with your modem’s settings unless you know what they actually do. You’ll likely make the problem worse.
Wi-Fi Solutions That Help
There are a lot of offerings out there to help with your Wi-Fi speed. Some work better than others.
Buy a Proper Speed Plan
If you have 20 devices to connect, a 5 MBPS speed plan won’t cut it.
You need 5 MBPS per device over ethernet (wired connection) to watch videos in 1080p. Over Wi-Fi, you need 15 MBPS per device to watch in 1080p. To watch in 4K over Wi-Fi, you need 25 MBPS per device.
The formula is:
Download Vs. Upload
Most people stream services for entertainment. However, for those who are running conferences, upload versus download is extremely important. Most ISPs focus their advertising on download speeds. If you’re hosting a virtual conference, you need to focus on upload speed, and you’ll need to read the fine print a little more thoroughly. Most 10 MBPS speed plans are 10 MBPS download and 1 MBPS upload. While 10 MBPS may be enough to watch a conference, 1 MBPS isn’t enough to host one. Know what you need and what you’re actually getting before buying your internet plan.
Mesh Repeater Wi-Fi Network
This plug-in pod system blankets your home with Wi-Fi signals in a more organized way. It essentially uses a series of Wi-Fi repeaters (little pods that you plug into electrical outlets in various parts of your home) that map out your home and attempt to cover it evenly with a signal. Not all models or systems may be compatible with your modem, so check with your ISP before buying anything.
Essentially, the plane that is your Wi-fi travelling through the air now has a pilot. However, that pilot is new to his job and isn’t perfect yet. So it will be hit-and-miss. If you’re going this way, we recommend getting pods that have built-in ethernet cable ports; this way, you get the convenience of Wi-Fi with the controlled aspect of ethernet cable, a hybrid system.
Reboot, Reload, Reinstall
Rebooting your modem will help your Wi-Fi speed because it clears data from the modem’s cache, freeing up space and creating a new connection to the ISP. Rebooting your device also makes more room for Wi-Fi to flow freely. However, rebooting devices is only a temporary fix for slow Wi-Fi. You need to do more to solve the problem. (Please note that this is general troubleshooting; if you have a more serious issue, please contact your ISP.)
Eliminate Unnecessary Devices
This seems counterproductive, but ask yourself, does your fridge’s ice dispenser need to be connected to your smartphone? You could free up more than 5GB of speed for your smartphone to watch LinkedIn Learning on. Consider whether you need a device to connect wirelessly to the internet. Sometimes less is more.
Ethernet Your Smart TV
Your smart TV probably uses more Wi-Fi than your smartphone. You’re probably using it to watch movies and sports in 4K. By putting these stationery heavy users on ethernet, you’re making them play better while freeing up Wi-Fi for your mobile devices. It’s a smart play.
Reduce Your Playback Settings
We know 4K video is beautiful, but do you need it for all your devices? Know that 1080p and 720p can still provide pretty good video quality using significantly fewer data. If everyone in the house took their playback settings on LinkedIn Learning down from 4K to 720p, there would be so much more data to go around.
Physical Systems Anyone Can Learn
The internet comprises physical systems with workflow components that anyone can learn. Once you understand the nuts and bolts of how it works, you begin to see beyond the latest and greatest marketing copy. You know what you actually need, what to buy, what not to buy, how to set it up, how to use it, and how to maintain it. That’s how you get ahead with tech.
Wi-Fi connects you wirelessly to the internet via a modem. Wireless data connects you to the internet using a cell phone tower.
Troubleshooting Wireless Data
If your internet is slow over wireless data, there isn’t much you can do. Its source is a cell phone tower that may be 10 km from your location. There may be bad weather, congestion, or a weak signal from the tower – or you may be too far away. Calling your phone provider up and complaining won’t help.
Maintenance may help. Reboot your devices. Call your phone provider, but be courteous if it’s a continuous problem. The person who picks up has no background on you or your situation, so follow their process. Answer their questions and go through their troubleshooting steps. It may seem like they’re not doing anything, but they’re testing on their end while you’re rebooting. Document the problem, and if they continually don’t help you, filing a complaint with CCTS is something you can do.
Wireless Data is Expensive
Internet over wireless data is very expensive. You pay by the GB. Unlimited plans in this area are extremely expensive (and almost impossible to find without throttling in Canada), so if you plan to connect to the internet exclusively with data, expect to pay over $300 per month.
Wireless Internet Has Many Options
We live fast-paced lives and need the internet everywhere. Getting decent internet access everywhere you need to work is possible, but you must be practical and knowledgeable.
No one internet connection solution fits all scenarios. If you’re at the cottage, the only option is wireless data, which will likely be slow. If you’re in a major city, you have many options that constantly change. Learn more about your options from experts, know how to use and access them, and know when to use which option.
Some Places Shouldn’t Have Internet
Accept that you probably won’t get internet if you go to the Arctic. Know there are some places you just won’t be able to connect. If you need to be connected, don’t go to those places.
The internet requires infrastructure. Remote places, like your cottage, may be peaceful because there isn’t much around. The minute they start building infrastructure in those places, they change. The peace is lost. If you need to work, work where infrastructure is in place. If you want to relax and get away from it all, a place without an internet connection may be the best thing ever.
That’s not to say you don’t have freedom. You can work remotely, the internet is almost everywhere these days. But the more remote, the worse your signal will be. Being practical goes a long way toward getting the most from your tech.
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Lega Disclaimer: Although we’re here to help, internet speed issues are ultimately between you and your ISP. We have no knowledge of your provider or your home setup and can’t provide personalized advice on internet speed. The above was intended as general learning only. KATA Accounting Solutions PC accepts no legal liability.