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Wi-Fi is the way of the world now. It’s the invisible friend that comforts us, allows us to binge on Netflix in bed, and equips us to work from anywhere at any time. Wi-Fi is pretty much a necessity these days. Sometimes, however, the relationship turns sour — especially when Wi-Fi slows to a crawl.

When you rely on Wi-Fi, speed issues can hurt. Unfortunately, speed issues aren’t always easy to diagnose due to the way Wi-Fi works. One unknown variable could potentially cut your Wi-Fi speed in half, so it’s important to know what to look for when something’s wrong.

WiFi-Router

Wi-Fi transfers data using one of two radio frequencies: 2.4 GHz (older standard) and 5 GHz (newer standard). Most modern routers can switch between the two and smart routers can even choose the best frequency for you. Within these frequencies, there are multiple channels: 14 of them at 2.4 GHz and 30 of them at 5GHz.

Those are the fundamentals of how Wi-Fi works. Knowing that, we can now explore some of the lesser-known reasons behind why your Wi-Fi is so slow — and the best ways to fix those issues.

1. Router Positioning

Most people underestimate the importance of picking a good spot for a Wi-Fi router. Even a small shift in positioning could end up being the difference between day and night.

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High vs. Low

If you’re like most people, you probably unpacked your new router, located a reasonable outlet location, plugged it in, and simply left it on a whatever was nearby: a shelf, a desk, or even the ground. As it turns out, router height does make a difference.

That is to say that leaving your router on the ground or behind other objects usually results in noticeably worse performance. Instead, put the router as high up as possible to extend the broadcasting range of the radio waves. This also helps clear the router of possible interferences.

Concrete & Metals

Materials like concrete and metal tend to be the worst for blocking Wi-Fi waves, but even objects of other materials can get in the way of high-performance wireless. Make sure your router isn’t blocked by any other objects, especially devices that are electronic.

Also, avoid placing your router in your basement as this area is usually enclosed by a lot of concrete, which can be almost impossible for Wi-Fi signals to penetrate.

Distance to Router

The further away from your router you get, the weaker the Wi-Fi signal. Therefore, the best option is to place your router as close to your devices as possible, but this is only practical if you have one main area where you tend to use your devices.

Otherwise, you should place your router near the center of your home. After all, Wi-Fi broadcasts in 360 degrees, so it doesn’t make sense to put it at one end of the house.

However, if your router is particularly weak or if your house is particularly big, then you may need to increase the range of those Wi-Fi waves by using Wi-Fi extenders or repeaters How Wi-Fi Extenders Work & 3 Best Ones You Should Buy How Wi-Fi Extenders Work & 3 Best Ones You Should Buy Wi-Fi extenders, which are sometimes called Wi-Fi repeaters or Wi-Fi boosters, boost the signal from your wireless router. Read More . These are auxiliary devices that connect to the main router and “repeat” the signal so it covers more area.

If you want to get truly scientific about your router placement, take a look at this project from a PhD student and download the app to try it for yourself.

2. Wireless Interference & Noise

You’ve probably never noticed but there are wireless signals all around you wherever you go and they’re passing through you all the time. From where? Electronic devices, Wi-Fi routers, satellites, cell towers, and more.

Architecture-Of-Radio-Screenshot

Information designer Richard Vijgen created “The Architecture of Radio” — available on iOS and Android — which uses public information on satellites and cell towers, along with Wi-Fi information, to create a map of all the invisible signals around you. I tried this out and you can see the results from my test in the screenshot above.

Although Wi-Fi is supposed to be on a different frequency than most of these devices, the amount of radio noise can still cause interference. Some common and noteworthy causes of interference include…

Microwaves

Did you know that microwave ovens can cause interference with your Wi-Fi network? Especially with older routers. This is because microwave ovens operate at a frequency of 2.45 GHz, which is incredibly close to the 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi band.

Specifically, the 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi band actually broadcasts between 2.412 GHz and 2.472 GHz, so there are times when the microwave frequency can overlap with the Wi-Fi frequency — and when that happens, the data being transferred gets disrupted.

Most microwaves are properly shielded so no waves should be detected outside of the oven, but when there is faulty or poor shielding, that’s when interference can occur.

Bluetooth Devices

It turns out that another favorite type of wireless connection — Bluetooth — also happens to operate at 2.4 GHz. In theory, a properly designed device should be shielded in a way that prevents interference.

Furthermore, in order to prevent frequency clash, Bluetooth manufacturers use frequency hopping, which is where the signal randomly rotates between 70 different channels, changing up to 1,600 times per second. Newer Bluetooth devices may also have the ability to identify “bad” or currently in-use channels and avoid those.

But interference can still occur, so try moving the router away from Bluetooth devices (or at least turn those devices off) to see if this is the cause of your troubles — especially if they are older Bluetooth devices without channel management.

Christmas Lights

Funny enough, Christmas lights (or fairy lights) can be a devious culprit in slowing down your Wi-Fi because these lights can emit an electromagnetic field which interacts with your Wi-Fi band. This is especially bad when using lights with the ability to flash.

Christmas-Lights

You aren’t even safe with modern LED lights because some of them have flashing chips built into each lamp, and these create an interfering electromagnetic field.

In reality, all other kinds of lights can cause interference by emitting electromagnetic fields like this, but the effect is close to negligible in most cases. However, you should keep your router away from electric lights just in case.

3. Your Neighbors

A truth of the modern world is that every household has their own Wi-Fi network, which can cause issues with channel overlap 4 Things That Might Be Slowing Down Your Home Network 4 Things That Might Be Slowing Down Your Home Network If you have more than one computer in your house, home networking knowledge becomes essential. But there are many factors which can slow down a home network, often quite easily fixed. Read More . This can be somewhat problematic in a townhouse, but is especially problematic in housing complexes and apartments where there can be many routers within close proximity.

Channel overlap is mostly an issue for routers that can only broadcast at 2.4 GHz or if you have devices which can only receive a 2.4 GHz wireless signal. Why? Because there are only 14 channels to broadcast on. Two routers broadcasting on the same channel at the same frequency will interfere.

Wi-Fi-Town

Which is why it’s important that you pick a good channel in your router settings. Modern routers can choose channels for you automatically, but sometimes it’s better to investigate and find the best channel yourself When Defaults Are Bad: How To Pick a Unique Wireless Channel For Your Router When Defaults Are Bad: How To Pick a Unique Wireless Channel For Your Router Wired ethernet will always be better than wireless connections, but sometimes you don’t have a choice - all manner of mobile devices need wifi. There is however one very basic step you can take which... Read More .

Furthermore, people may try and get on your network without your knowledge, and this can also slow down your Wi-Fi. The single most important thing you can do about this is make sure your router doesn’t have an easy-to-break password 7 Password Mistakes That Will Likely Get You Hacked 7 Password Mistakes That Will Likely Get You Hacked The worst passwords of 2015 have been released, and they're quite worrying. But they show that it's absolutely critical to strengthen your weak passwords, with just a few simple tweaks. Read More . Also, keep your router up-to-date and perform regular checks for suspicious devices on your network.

4. Your Household

Have you ever left a massive download running on your PC? Well, in that case you are probably the cause of your own slow Wi-Fi. Downloading large files can take quite a toll on your Wi-Fi performance Does Your WiFi Speed Drop? Here Is Why & How To Fix It! Does Your WiFi Speed Drop? Here Is Why & How To Fix It! One moment you're absolutely dominating in your online game while downloading some movies (legally, of course), and the next moment you can barely load a simple web page. What gives? Read More . Sometimes this can’t be avoided — OS updates can be huge, for example — but if you are running tasks that aren’t urgent, try pausing them.

More likely, however, is that the people on your network — such as friends, roommates, or family members — are participating in bandwidth-heavy activities like gaming and streaming Netflix. Fortunately, if this is the case, you can prioritize your own network traffic by enabling Quality of Service in your router settings How to Fix Gaming & Video Lag With an Easy Router Tweak How to Fix Gaming & Video Lag With an Easy Router Tweak Tired of network lag when other people are watching videos and downloading torrents? Here's how to reclaim your network performance without any third-party tools. Read More .

Bonus Fact: Humans are 60% water… and water can slow down radio waves. While I’m not suggesting that you remove all the people from your house, do make sure your router is kept out of the main areas where people congregate. The impact won’t be earth-shaking, but it could be noticeable.

A quick-check guide:

  1. Keep your router central and high in your home and away from other objects Wireless Feng Shui: How to Optimize Your House For Best Wi-Fi Reception Wireless Feng Shui: How to Optimize Your House For Best Wi-Fi Reception Setting up a Wi-Fi network should be an easy prospect, shouldn't it? I mean, a house is a closed-in box, and you'd think when you place a device that transmits wireless signals in all directions... Read More .
  2. Keep other electronic devices out of the way of the router
  3. Check for Channel interference
  4. Keep your router’s firmware up-to-date and check its security settings
  5. Avoid large downloads during waking hours

Have you had any of these slow down your Wi-Fi? How did you fix it? Any you think we missed? Let us know in the comments below. Good luck in your own Wi-Fi investigation!

Image Credit: GST via Shutterstock.com, Sofiaworld via Shutterstock.com, You can more via Shutterstock.com

  1. Axle Grease
    April 20, 2016 at 9:55 am

    This is timely advice. A Linksys WRT1900AC is being couriered to me due to having discovered that my TP-Link 450Mbps router has been robbing me of ~23Mbps for the three years I've had it, even though I was using cat 5e ethernet cables to its alleged gigabit ports. So instead of around the 103 to 106Mbps I was getting, which I thought was outstanding service from my ISP, I am now getting 124-128Mbps with the PC hooked directly to the modem. In any case, I'm very much look forward to trying out 802.11ac protocol on my PCs. Just got to buy the requisite Wi-Fi adapter for the older machine. I'd like make less use of ethernet cables.

    BTW, in regard to finding the best channel for oneself; unfortunately MetaGeek inSSIDer is not, or is no longer free, unlike what is written in the article to which you've linked.

  2. Derrick
    April 7, 2016 at 3:15 am

    I guess you learn something new every day, christmas lights interfering with the Wi-Fi.

  3. likefun butnot
    April 4, 2016 at 8:40 pm

    A wireless Access Point (AP) is a distinct device from a Router. Many home routers and consumer cable and DSL modems include Access Point functionality but that is not universally true. APs can be separate devices and it's not entirely appropriate to describe all routers as access points, just as not all "modem" devices are routers.

    Related to the idea of interference, signals from newer 802.11 standards tend to override or subsume signals from older 802.11 standards. Having several nearby 802.11ac sources will make maintaining an 802.11n , a, g or b connection much more tenuous, if they're trying to use the same frequency.

    Here's a few more:

    1. You're trying to use the crappy, low-power wireless access point built in to a consumer modem that's meant to allow a wireless client to configure the modem as a replacement for an access point meant to cover a small office or entire home. I've observed this to be ridiculously common.

    2. You have many client devices attached to the same access point. 802.11 bandwidth is shared among connected devices. The more devices that are connected and using data, the less bandwidth that is available to other clients and devices. This can be exacerbated by using inexpensive access points with slow internal processors or by devices generating intensive traffic (e.g. Bittorrent) in a way that has nothing to do with the standards underlying your Access Point device. Make sure your modem, router and access point(s) are capable enough to manage the traffic demands of your network, or use wires when bandwidth-intensive tasks are undertaken. If you have lots of devices, add more access points.

    3. You've configured your network with Wireless Extenders instead of Access Points. Wireless Extenders essentially borrow bandwidth from a source wireless network rather than creating a new pool of their own, which is what a stand-alone Access Point will do. They can exacerbate issues of wireless bandwidth management for networks that have many devices. Configure additional Access Points instead. Connect the APs to the source network with ethernet or use homeplug devices if necessary.

    4. Your client devices have crummy antenna or transceiver implementations. The commercial-grade Ubiquiti UAP-LR I have on my balcony is usable on my laptop from about 120m away. My phone and most of my tablets need to be within ~50m before they'll pick it up; their antennas just aren't as sensitive or they don't have the transmit power to maintain a connection. I have Dell Venue that needs to be within 20m to connect, something I blame entirely on the hardware in that specific device. Likewise, the antennas in your Set Top Box, Smart TV or Game Console probably aren't exactly top notch, either.

    As a related issue, some Access Points and some devices support muttichannel (MIMO) transmissions for 802.11 data, but this is vanishingly rare for consumer hardware, especially on the client side. Just because you have an "AC1750" 3x3 access point doesn't mean your Acer notebook or Sony Blu ray Player can use it all. There's no fix for that but to carefully select your devices with an eye toward fast wireless access.

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