How to boost your Wi-fi when everyone’s doing work from home and your internet signal is slow

  • With Covid lockdowns meaning online classes and loads of Netflix to catch up on, it may seem that videos are often lagging
  • Before you panic, try these low-cost solutions to making the most of your connection
Tribune News Service |
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It's bad enough when it's just you and your siblings doing online classes, but add your parents' Zoom meetings to the mix? Nightmare.

Your dad’s bingeing Bling Empire. Mum has back-to-back Zoom meetings for work. Your kid sister is gunning down bad guys on one screen while streaming his biology class on another. You’re just trying to post some stories to IG, but everything is laggy.

As the Covid era drags on, can there possibly be enough (literal) bandwidth for all?

Here’s a low- and no-cost guide to making the most out of your internet connection.

Check your current speed

Internet speed is measured in Mbps – megabits per second. It includes two numbers: download speed (the rate at which data can enter your house) and upload speed (how fast you can transmit). Some service plans are asymmetrical, with higher speeds for download than upload, which is fine for most applications.

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But in the videoconferencing era, with users receiving and transmitting video at the same time, a good upload speed becomes more important.

Check your speed using an app or website that measures it in real time, such as www.speedtest.net. This can be done from a desktop that is directly wired to the internet, in which case you are measuring the speed straight out of the cable.

Or it can be done further “downstream” on a phone or tablet, meaning that you are measuring the rate of data transfer through the cable and the Wi-fi signal.

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If the speed is well below what the service provider advertises, the issue could be anywhere along the chain: provider, cables, router, or even the device itself.

Let’s start with the router

A router – the little box with the blinking lights – converts your incoming data stream into radio waves and beams them throughout the home. It’s therefore important you place it in a good spot so it can equally distribute its “power” to all parts of your home.

The greater the distance and the more walls in between the router and end user, the weaker the signal.

Try to place the device in the middle of all possible spaces where you want people to have access. (If you have more than one floor in your home, try putting it on top of a high bookshelf on the lower floor.)

If the device has adjustable antennas, try aiming them in different directions to improve performance.

And never put your router on or next to a large metal object such as a filing cabinet. Metal is death to a Wi-fi signal.

My Wi-Fi ‘pizza’ icon looks full – why is my internet so slow?

Don’t be fooled. The Wi-fi icon – those little concentric arcs in the shape of a slice of pizza – reflects only how well the signal is travelling from the router to your device. It has little to do with the signal going into the device from your internet provider.

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It may seem almost too obvious to consider, but check that the cable is in good shape and is securely plugged into the back of the router. And make sure it is not pinched underneath a piece of furniture. It seems too simple to be true, but blocking a cable actually slows things down (imagine pinching a hosepipe; the water would stop, or slow down).

And don’t forget software updates. Install the latest to get the most out of your phone and laptop.

Routers need updates, too, though if it’s one you rent from your internet service providers, updates may happen automatically.

When all else fails, it may be time to spend some money

Things get old. You may just need to buy a new router.

Another option is to buy a device called an extender or repeater, which receives the Wi-fi signal from the router and generates a copy of it. They can be pretty reasonably priced, but check reviews – you may get what you pay for,

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Extenders should be plugged into a electrical socket midway between the router and the farthest point at which the user wants to extend the signal.

One wrinkle: the signal emanating from the extender will have a different network name. You need to enter that name into your phone (on an iPhone, look under “Settings”) along with the name of the original network, assuming you want to switch back and forth.

A fancier option is something called a mesh network, which consists of a multiple access points working together collaboratively, all under one network name.

Above all, take a deep breath and remember that pandemic life is hard on many. Internet access is a linchpin of modern existence. But it does not have to be a source of strife.

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