This story is part Tips for the houseCNET’s collection of handy tips for getting the most out of your home, inside and out.
The pandemic has radically changed our work habits. Working from home and spending more time online have become the norm; in turn, this necessitated fast and reliable Wi-Fi. Even now, more than two years later, our home internet connections are more important than ever.
In fact, a June McKinsey survey found that 58% of Americans have the option of working from home at least one day a week. With team meetings and important presentations happening remotely, the last thing anyone wants to deal with is a spotty network and a Wi-Fi signal that isn’t up to snuff.
Fortunately, you have options. Even if you don’t know much about your router settings or the best way to change them, you can always follow a few simple steps to make sure your speeds are as fast as possible. Let’s go through them and see if we can speed things up for you. (For better internet, see our recommendations from best ISPs, routers, mesh routers and Wi-Fi extenders you can buy.)
1. Run Internet Speed Tests
If you are considering making changes to your home network, you should do so from an informed position. The best way to do this is to run a few speed trials to get a good idea of any weak link in your Wi-Fi connection – and there are plenty of free services on the web that will help you do that.
Of your options, the Ookla Speedtest is the most widely used and the one I would recommend starting. It has an abundance of servers around the world, so you can choose from several nearby options to measure your connection speed. And, like most speed tests, it’s also easy to use – just hit the big “go” button and wait about a minute.
From there, you’ll get an overview of the current upload and download speeds for whatever device you’re running the speed test on, as well as the ping, which is a latency measure of how long it takes data to go. and come to any server you test with.
Start by focusing on upload and download speeds. Run a few tests at a time at various locations in your home where you will be working and gauge the average to get an idea of how resilient your gears are. If you see speeds in a room that are less than half of what you see when connecting at close range, this could be a place where you could improve things.
As for latency, you shouldn’t have to worry about it unless you have a lot of devices running on your network or you’re sharing bandwidth with family members or roommates. In that case, run some tests while your roommate is on a FaceTime call or while your kids are playing Fortnite – this will give you a good idea of how their activity might be affecting your own speed. If this ping number seems to jump, there is some basic steps you can follow, but the best thing to do if you can is to separate that side traffic from your own. More on that in a moment.
Read more: Best Internet Speed Tests of 2022
2. Move your workspace or router
If you’re able to work near your router, a wired Ethernet connection to your computer is the best way to ensure you get the fastest speeds. But if that’s not an option, you may need to work in a room where the Wi-Fi signal isn’t as strong as needed. This happens when you are too far from the router or because there are too many walls or obstacles between you.
Before buying anything, the first thing to do is to reposition your router to strengthen the connection. For best results you will want to keep it in the open, ideally as high up as possible. If you can reposition the antennae, try experimenting with that as well. Staggering them from different angles can be enough to increase your speed. If the router is downstairs and you are trying to boost the signal upstairs, try moving one or more of the antennas to a horizontal position. Antennas like these tend to radiate their Wi-Fi signal at a perpendicular angle, so a horizontal antenna will radiate a vertically oriented signal that might be more likely to make it upstairs.
There is one last thing to check before buying anything, and that is your router channel. The 2.4 and 5 GHz frequency bands that your router uses to send its signals are each divided into multiple channels, much like TV channels that you can receive with an antenna. Your router uses only one channel at a time, and if you’re using the same channel as a neighbor, for example, that interference can slow your connection.
To change this channel, go to your router settings on your computer. The best options are channels 1, 6, and 11, which don’t overlap, but your router may also have an “auto” setting that can determine the best channel for your situation.
3. Get a Wi-Fi repeater (or upgrade your router)
If none of that works, it might be time for a hardware upgrade. Pluggable range extenders are an option, and you have a lot of options that don’t cost very much. Your best bet is to pick one made by the same company that makes your router. It doesn’t need to be extremely fast – most of them aren’t – but as long as it can keep your speed above around 50 Mbps, you should be able to use the web as usual. , including video calls.
Read more: The Best Wi-Fi Repeater for Almost Everyone
This is the standard I used when I recently tested a handful of plug-in range extenders in my home and the much larger CNET smart home, where speeds are capped at 150Mbps. With just one router running the connection, speeds in remote rooms drop well below that 50Mbps threshold – but with a good range extender improving the connection, average whole-house speeds were dramatically improved.
The best performer was the TP-Link RE605X, with sustained download speeds of at least 130 Mbps to Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6 client devices throughout the location. Available now for $100 at Target, it’s my top recommendation in the category. For something even cheaper, consider the TP-Link RE220. It doesn’t support Wi-Fi 6, but it worked fine in my little home tests, and it’s usually available for under $30.
Another option would be to upgrade your router completely. If range is your concern, you’ll want to move multipoint mesh routers that come with range extender satellite devices to the top of your list. Again, there are very many options to choose from – and we have tested and reviewed many of the latest systems to hit the market. Among them, I like the TP-Link Deco W7200 at $233 the best, but similar systems from Asus, EroNetgear and Nest are also worth checking out.
Don’t need a mesh router and just want something quick, easy and affordable? The Asus RT-AX86U is a solid upgrade that costs $250, and for more of a bargain, you might want to consider the TP-Link Archer AX21, which costs less than $100. Both support Wi-Fi 6 and worked well in my home tests.
4. Prioritize your business traffic
So let’s go back to that scenario where your kids come home from school streaming Disney+ and play Fornite while you try to work. There are several things you might be able to do to prevent their internet traffic from affecting yours.
The first, and easiest, is to make sure you’re using different frequency bands. Most routers use both the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands, and many split these bands into two separate networks that you can connect to. The 5 GHz band is faster, while the 2.4 GHz band offers better range. Dedicating one of these two groups to work-related traffic only will give you a much better experience than sharing a group with your family or roommates.
Most routers can also set up an optional guest network, sometimes with maximum speed settings that can keep your kids from consuming too much bandwidth. Some will even let you run the network on a schedule, in case you want to shut them off entirely at certain times. Likewise, your router may be able to schedule access to specific devices or a group of devices.
Another feature to look for is Quality of Service, which allows some routers to prioritize traffic to specific devices or for specific purposes. For example, the Netgear Nighthawk RAX120 allows you to specify that video calls have a higher priority than gaming traffic. If this is an option with your router, it’s worth experimenting with.
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