6 Things That Might Be Slowing Down Your Home Network
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Updated by Aaron Peters on 10/27/2017

As we consume more and more content online, the local network becomes increasingly important. Whether it’s streaming the latest movie on Netflix, posting updates to Twitter, or reading the fascinating articles here at MUO, we want speed. And when there are multiple people with multiple devices all tapping your home network for connectivity, you’ll want to make sure you’re wringing every last bit of speed out of it.

It’s easy to set up a home network, but even little flaws can add up to take a toll on performance. Below we’ll take a look at some things to take into consideration when building your network, highlight common problems, and take a look at how to fix them.

Consider the Following…

Before we dive into the sections below, there’s a couple of notes worth mentioning:

  • Firstly, bear in mind that part of your overall experience is your device’s ability to process traffic. You can have the slickest network in the world, but if you’re trying to play network games on a Pentium 4 with 512 MB of RAM, the network may not be your problem.
  • Also, we’re not delving too much into your internet service provider (ISP) at a granular level, such as whether DSL is better than cable. You want the best Wide Area Network (WAN) you can get of course, but we’ll be examining the Local Area Network (LAN) in this article.
  • Lastly, “slow performance” can be a subjective thing. If you’re happy with how your apps are performing, don’t bother yourself with trying to “fix what ain’t broke.” But if your browsing is a little slow, or your streaming movies buffering a little too often, take a look at some of the items below.

Let’s also take a moment to define what causes a “slow” network.

Internet data transmissions are managed and maintained using a series of protocols. The protocol suite, simply referred to as Internet Protocol (hence, IP address), use packets to send and receive data 10 Networking Terms You Probably Never Knew, And What They Mean 10 Networking Terms You Probably Never Knew, And What They Mean Here we'll explore 10 common networking terms, what they mean and where you are likely to encounter them. Read More . Each packet contains a tiny chunk of the overall content (such as a web page).

Content is split into packets at the origin, sent over the network, then reassembled at the other end. Part of the protocol requires that the sender states what they’re sending, send it, then confirming its receipt. If it doesn’t receive that confirmation, it will try to send it again. A big problem is “dropped packets,” or ones that don’t make it to the destination for whatever reason. The sender resubmitting these over and over again until they get their confirmation comprises a lot of what you (as a user) feel as “network slowness.” It’s not like wireless data suddenly slows down, despite what science fiction movies will have you believe.

Now let’s take a look at some potential causes of network slow-downs, and what you can do about them.

1. ISP Limitations

While we said we wouldn’t consider the capabilities of ISPs in general (since they’re out of our control), there is one issue that you can prevent. Some providers have a policy of throttling speed and throughput for high-volume users Is Your Carrier Slowing Down Your Unlimited Data Connection? How To Avoid Data Throttling Is Your Carrier Slowing Down Your Unlimited Data Connection? How To Avoid Data Throttling If you are on an unlimited plan that's throttled once you exceed certain limits or you have a data cap, as most people do, this article offers advice on how to ease the pain. Read More . Are you a big Torrent user? Or a cable-cutter, getting all of your HD video via streaming? Check your terms of service to make sure there’s not some threshold hidden in there that you regularly surpass.

Solution(s):

If this is indeed happening to you, sadly your options are limited. Either curtail your activity, or see if there’s another provider that doesn’t have the same draconian limits.

2. Network Throughput Is a Shared Resource

A common analogy for network speeds is to think of your connection as a pipe. And like a pipe, only so much data can go through that connection at any one time. In modern households each member of the family is likely to have at least one device that can connect to that network. Some members may have many more than that, including phones, tablets, game consoles, smart TVs, set-top boxes, and other “internet things.” Any or all of these may be sending or receiving information at a particular point in time.

You may be surfing the web on your tablet, while your Xbox is grabbing the latest DLC content DLC: The Story of Gaming's Three Most Expensive Letters DLC: The Story of Gaming's Three Most Expensive Letters Downloadable Content (DLC) is a core part of modern video games. But where did it come from, and how has it affected the video game industry? Let's find out. Read More and the set-top box is streaming an on-demand movie. All of which are competing with 15 people trying to download the different Linux ISO Torrents The Torrent Guide for Everyone The Torrent Guide for Everyone There are tons of ways to download files and there is no doubt that BitTorrent is the most popular and fastest way to download what you want. Read More you’re seeding. Now, normally the data sent by devices you’re not actively using is minimal. But you can never really tell when that “perfect storm” will occur that squeezes your network connection, leading to stuttering videos, in-game lag, and more.

Solution(s):

If there’s a particular application or type of activity you want to make sure is always performing its best, look into Quality of Service. This setting of your router “ropes off” a certain amount of throughput for either a particular device, or a specific activity. Check out this article 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 for all the details on what it is, and where to look for it on your router.

6 Things That Might Be Slowing Down Your Home Network slow network router qos config

3. Substandard Wired Equipment (Devices & Cabling)

The ability of the network to carry a data signal is also dependent on the integrity of its parts. There are two aspects to this, the first of which is network equipment that shuffles the packets along to their destination. To most users, network devices are plug-and-play. You connect your cable/DSL/fiber modem to one port, then a device (either wired or wirelessly). And it just works. But these devices are embedded computers in their own right, and many of the same things that can affect a computer’s performance can affect theirs as well. If your router is old it may contain a slower processor, and levels of heat can build up over time. These can degrade the speed at which it can process network traffic, resulting in a performance hit.

The wires that data travels along is another factor. You can have the most optimized network in the world — up to the point of your router. But if the Ethernet cable between the router and your modem has broken copper, you’ll experience poor performance when accessing sites and content over the internet. This can be an issue, for example, when supplementing your network over your home’s electrical wiring Powerline Networking: What It Is & Why It Is Awesome [Technology Explained] Powerline Networking: What It Is & Why It Is Awesome [Technology Explained] Read More . Older homes with older electrical systems may not do as well as newer homes with newer wiring.

Solution(s):

On the device front, consider upgrading your main router, as it’s faster innards may help to handle more network traffic faster. (Plus, you can turn the old one into a wireless bridge and extend your network How to Turn an Old Router Into a Wireless Bridge How to Turn an Old Router Into a Wireless Bridge Not sure what to do with your old router? Try turning it into a wireless bridge! The process is surprisingly straightforward. Read More .) Or try installing a new, open source firmware such as DD-WRT What Is OpenWrt And Why Should I Use It For My Router? What Is OpenWrt And Why Should I Use It For My Router? OpenWrt is a Linux distribution for your router. It can be used for anything an embedded Linux system is used for. But would it suit you? Is your router compatible? Let's take a look. Read More , which may have a better software stack (plus you’ll get the bonus of extra features like a VPN).

If you’re stringing Ethernet cable all around your house Wi-Fi vs Ethernet: Which Should You Use and Why? Wi-Fi vs Ethernet: Which Should You Use and Why? The world is going wireless. Does that mean it's all over for Ethernet? Read More (not that there’s anything wrong with that!), check that cable for obvious breaks. You can use a network cable tester to make sure there’s no hidden issues, then replace any problematic segments. You can also consider adding Ethernet to some of your existing outlets (such as coaxial cable or phone line) if you feel like getting your hands dirty.

Network Cabling Explained

By and large, a cable network will get you a faster speed than Wi-Fi. However, not all cables are created equally and some are faster than others. Broadly speaking, cabling can be divided into three common categories:

  • Cat-5: the oldest and slowest frequently used network cable. Performance up to 100 Mbps, with a maximum distance of 100 meters; it is not Gigabit capable.
  • Cat-5e: superseeded Cat-5, and is one of the most commonly used network cables today; supports Gigabit Ethernet up to 100 meters.
  • Cat-6: fastest commonly used network cabling, supports up to 10 Gigabit up to a maximum of 50 meters (though Cat-6a supports distances up to 100 meters).

Most home networks use Cat-5e. It is cheap and offers standardized network performance for most homes. At the moment, Cat-6 is overkill. There aren’t many home networks that will make use of speeds up to 10 Gigabits — but this will change in the future.

6 Things That Might Be Slowing Down Your Home Network cat5e cable cut back

However, if you’re still using Cat-5, then this is undoubtedly a bottleneck, limiting your internal speeds to 100 Mbps. Cat-5e is very cheap, and you can make some yourself How To Make Your Own Ethernet Cables How To Make Your Own Ethernet Cables Read More  easily if you purchases in bulk on a reel; there really is no reason not to replace all your Cat-5 cabling with Gigabit capable Cat-5e.

6 Things That Might Be Slowing Down Your Home Network cat6a cable cut back

4. Wireless Network Band/Channel

The next thing to check is what wireless band and channel you’re using. This is important because there may be some (many?) networks surrounding you using the same ones. If too many devices are trying to talk at the same time, their messages will collide — this is wireless interference. The frequency band you’re using depends on which wireless standard you’re using: either 2.4 GHz (802.11b/g/n) or 5 GHz (802.11a/ac/n). Higher frequency bands provide faster speeds, but lower ones are better able to go through obstacles (more on this in a later section). Many modern routers will offer networks in both bands.

Each band is also divided into channels, which is a measure to reduce interference. Some routers will attempt to select a “quiet” channel for you when you set it up, but not always. Add to this the fact that many people are unaware of the channel and won’t change it, meaning the majority of networks are on the default (first) channel. If there’s a lot of traffic on the same channel of the same band as your router, you’ll likely encounter some slowness as the packets in that channel collide.

Solutions:

When trying to you scan for networks, the ones in the higher range will typically have “_5GHz” appended to their names. If you see a majority of network names either with or without it, try to use the other on your own router. You may find the wireless lanes less crowded.

inssider

If you need a particular band and instead are looking to adjust the channel, use a scanner application to see how heavily used each channel is. Options exist for most operating systems. Check out

All of these display the channel used by surrounding networks… again, pick a different one to reduce interference.

5. Wireless Network Range

In most home networks, the majority of devices are connected via wireless. This means how you set up your Wi-Fi network is one of the most important elements to impact your performance. There are a number of considerations to ensure you’re getting the most out of your wireless connections.

The first and most obvious is range. The wireless networking technologies of the IEEE 802.11 family have roughly the same range. It’s about 100 to 150 feet. Unless you’re trying to access your network from a hammock in the woods, this is probably enough. But it’s worth noting that wireless signals also get weaker over distance. The longer the distance, the more likely your packets will not arrive intact, and will need to be resent. Dropping and resending network packets is what you ultimately perceive as “slow internet.”

Solution(s):

If you need your wireless to travel long distances, consider these tips to boost your WiFi signal 8 Tips to Effectively Boost Your Wireless Router Signal 8 Tips to Effectively Boost Your Wireless Router Signal If your wireless router's signal doesn't seem to reach very far, or if your signal keeps dropping for some weird reason, here are a few things you can do that might fix it. Read More . Extender devices like these Power Up Your Home Wi-Fi Using a Booster or Extender Power Up Your Home Wi-Fi Using a Booster or Extender Wi-Fi is great until it fails to hit the hard-to-reach corners of your house. There are two easy ways to gain that extra reach: extenders and boosters. Read More can also act as a middleman and forward your traffic along to the router. They can effectively double the distance you can be from your internet drop.

6. Wireless Signal Penetration

6 Things That Might Be Slowing Down Your Home Network slow home network no signal

The final element to look at is wireless network penetration. What kinds of obstacles does the signal have to get through in order to reach your device? Consider the following: in my house, I get zero signal at a point on the first floor. But I get perfectly adequate performance at the same spot on the second floor. Why?

Because the router is also on the second floor. For my device to reach it, it needs to go through two doors. These hollow-core items don’t put up much of a fight in terms of blocking the signal.

6 Things That Might Be Slowing Down Your Home Network slow home network same floor

But from the same spot one floor lower, it needs to go through the floor and wall — lengthwise, no less. Multiple layers of drywall, studs, joists, subfloor, and carpet block this straight line to the router. The end result is that somewhere along the way all my packets typically get lost.

6 Things That Might Be Slowing Down Your Home Network slow home network different floor

Solution(s):

Place your access points in a location where you’ll be as perpendicular to walls as possible. Keep in mind that trying to go parallel through it will require going through multiple (dense, wooden or stone) structures. In contrast, going perpendicular may only require going through softer drywall. Failing that, if you’re having trouble connecting, consider switching to your 2.4 GHz network. It has better ability to go through solid objects.

Make Sure Your Network Keeps Up With Your Devices

While it’s certainly advisable to plan your network, you never really know what devices you’ll add in the future. At first just using the wireless provided by the router may be enough to access the web. But continue to think about your needs as you add more and different devices.

Are you plagued with “slow internet?” Do you have any tips or clever home network designs to help out those that are? Let us know how you optimize your home network in the comments below!

Image Credit: ginasanders/Depositphotos

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  1. Tim Norris
    March 30, 2017 at 9:02 am

    Hi
    When my internet router and connection is busy, the whole of my home network, 3 PCs and 2 iPads, slows down to a halt even though everything works through a good quality switch. Does anyone know how can I isolate the problem or separate the two elements - internet and LAN? Thanks Tim

    • James Bruce
      March 30, 2017 at 10:02 am

      It sounds like your router is the problem - probably one provided by your ISP. Consider replacing it by buying an actual router, then use the one provided by your ISP as just the internet connection (don't use it to serve Wifi). You may be able to switch it into what's called "modem mode", which will shut down it's ehternet ports and everything else other than just the internet.

      • Tim Norris
        March 30, 2017 at 10:10 am

        Hi James
        Thank you for your quick response. The router is a Cisco enterprise level router with no wifi and only has one link into the switch I do not manage it, it is managed by the ISP who are quite competent and they use NAting to map my fixed public addresses to my internal addresses - 192.168....... I loaded Wireshark yesterday to capture traffic and see what is happening. I am gradually blocking ip addresses connecting to my server using IPSec, and it does seem to be having an effect.
        Keep well, and thank you again. Warmest regards Tim

  2. snickie
    August 24, 2016 at 11:02 am

    When I test my internet speed with a cable on LAN I get 97/97 Mbit/s (download/upload). I get exactly the same with WiFi at a distance of 30 feet and a thick concrete wall between my laptop a my router.
    This article is outdated, WiFi works very well today.
    Btw, my internet is announced at 100/100 Mbit/s.

    • James Bruce
      March 30, 2017 at 10:04 am

      Your wall isn't thick enough to be a problem. Come visit my house, where meter thick solid stone walls do present a problem to Wifi. The fundamental laws of physics haven't changed, and no, you should still shouldn't be running lots of devices off of Wifi if you have a choice. It does get congested, and it does suffer interference from other household devices and other networks.

  3. Bathrasher
    January 3, 2016 at 4:08 pm

    ... I wish 100mbs was even an option.

  4. Troy
    January 27, 2015 at 5:04 pm

    So, if I have a 10/100 router connected to a 10/100 switch which is then connected to all my computers, would simply upgrading the switch alone to a gigabit bring my computers on the network up to gigabit speeds (providing the computers have gigabit cards)?

    • James Bruce
      January 27, 2015 at 5:12 pm

      Your cabling would need to be up to scratch too, but yes, with gigabit ethernet cards in each machine, decent cabling, and gigabit switch, your computers would be communicating to each other at gigabit speeds. Obviously, this wouldn't affect your internet speed, but streaming and file transfers between devices would be significantly improved.

      Your cabling needs to be Cat5E or Cat6, not just Cat5. It should say on the cable which it is.

    • Troy
      January 27, 2015 at 5:21 pm

      Thanks Bruce.
      I constructed all my wires using cat5e several years ago, so I should be good there.
      I'll need to add a gigabit net card to my HTPC, my old Bimbows PC, and the NAS I'm looking to build. But providing I do that, and get a new gigabit switch, I should be good on my LAN side even though my router is still 10/100?

    • James Bruce
      January 27, 2015 at 5:29 pm

      Is there anything plugged into your router other than the switch? If not, you're good. The connection between your switch and router will only be used for internet and management traffic, so 100 is fine there. The switch is smart enough to know not to redirect anything to the router if it's intended recipient is another machine plugged into itself.

    • Troy
      January 27, 2015 at 5:33 pm

      My layout is: Internet(satellite) > into modem > into 10/100 router > (1)cat5e to 8 port switch > (2~6)cat5e to various machines.

      Would be great if my only expense is a switch and a couple net cards!

  5. Nikhil Pandey
    February 11, 2013 at 3:06 pm

    Look at my internet speed. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-iBkUp3mK4

  6. babu vhora
    January 28, 2013 at 1:53 pm

    Thank you....

  7. ELIZABETH G.F.
    January 10, 2013 at 11:37 pm

    yes.

  8. Eli
    December 20, 2012 at 10:28 pm

    for wifi analysis - I found that wif analyzer is much more convenient than wifi scanner

  9. Anonymous
    December 19, 2012 at 11:47 pm

    Good article, very informative on the subject! Looks like I have some tweaking to do myself.

  10. Brandon Brown
    December 19, 2012 at 1:09 am

    Some very useful information here. I feel a weekend project coming...

  11. Alan
    December 18, 2012 at 4:47 am

    i have a fluke DTX1800 if anyone wants cable test results.....

  12. Alan
    December 18, 2012 at 4:44 am

    WIFI = Slow even the 5Ghz 'N' 300 mpbs stuff. light use only other than that, Avoid like the plague.
    Best for home = 1gbps to the desktop via CAT6 and a good Gigabit switch.
    Depending on the length of the cable runs you can get 1gbps connections over Cat5 and Cat5e. not the best tho.

    Ultimate = 10Gbps fibre to the desktop (i haven't seen it used in home setups tho)

  13. Walter Askew
    December 18, 2012 at 12:15 am

    Now you've given me a lot of work to do, but at least you told me what to do and how. Thanks.

  14. Igor Rizvi?
    December 17, 2012 at 11:24 pm

    Thats true about old cables.i switched to a new cable (odl one was old for about at least 3 years) and i got slightly increas in speeds...

  15. LovesFLSun
    December 17, 2012 at 7:03 pm

    The bottleneck will always be the internet connection.

    • muotechguy
      December 18, 2012 at 9:06 am

      That's not true. A slow wifi can easily be eclipsed by some of the faster net connections.

  16. Gerald Huber
    December 17, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    nice article. you forgot one thing that slows down a network. Kid playing Call of Duty.

    • muotechguy
      December 18, 2012 at 9:05 am

      Hehe. I always wondered how much bandwidth gaming actually used. Acording to some tests, COD clients actually only use about 5-10k/s, which is quite remarkable really. The host can expect to have about 20X that since they receive everyone else's info, but still. Less than you might think!

  17. Scott Macmillan
    December 17, 2012 at 5:33 pm

    This was a real help.I wasn't aware of the network interface card.

  18. Jorge Andrade
    December 17, 2012 at 12:48 pm

    thanks for the info. beeing trying to enance my home network for awile, this is going to help

  19. Mac Witty
    December 17, 2012 at 8:45 am

    Thanks, will check this when I'm home to see if I can get better speed

  20. Mike McClure
    December 16, 2012 at 11:52 pm

    Could you please tell me where you found the information that states that Category 5 cable is incapable of running Gigabit Ethernet?

    Not only does that conflict with the Category 5 Wikipedia article, but I'm also using Cat 5 on several 1000baseT network links and it seems to work just fine.

    • Jose Paolo Gonzales Otico
      December 17, 2012 at 1:17 am

      I'm actually interested to know too since it does conflict with the Wiki article.

    • James Bruce
      December 17, 2012 at 9:02 am

      Hmm, good question. In my experience, none of *my* cat5 cables have ever successfully supported 1000baseT - switches and routers only ever let them go to 100. In theory, they *can* support it, but only if (a) all four pairs are wired (some cat5 cables only had 2 pairs wired since those are all thats needed). (b) the run is short enough, and (c) the interference is not too high or the cable is of good enough quality.

      Made to spec, I believe you're correct in saying cat5 should be able to support gigabit. In reality, I've found they don't. I guess it will vary, but for most home users it will be easy to check - just look at the switch lights and see the speed it has auto-negotiated. Obviously, if the cat-5 cable you have supports gigabit, no need to upgrade it. Sorry for the confusion, and thank you for commenting on that bit.

      • Mike McClure
        December 17, 2012 at 12:08 pm

        Sorry to nitpick, but even a Category 5e or Category 6 cable won't work on 1000baseT if all four pairs are not connected. It also might not work if it is poorly made, damaged, or interference is really high. But that has nothing to do with the type of cable.

        Your article makes it sound like a Category 5 cable will *never* work.

  21. Achraf Almouloudi
    December 16, 2012 at 11:48 pm

    If you want to setup a home storage using your old PC it is better to make sure it has a faster drive or SSD if possible or you'll suffer when transferring files.

  22. Charles Klug
    December 16, 2012 at 9:52 pm

    Keep in mind that if you have a DIY NAS your hard disks could be the limitiing factor instead of the CPU. I turned a old 3.2GHz P4 into a FreeNAS machine and learned that my 2TB Seagate HDD was the limiting factor. The HDD only spun at 5200RPM and only went up to 30MB/s transfer. I bought a new network card, updated router firmware and monitored the NAS CPU load. Granted 30MB/s is a great improvement over 12MB/s with 10/100 router.

    • James Bruce
      December 17, 2012 at 9:02 am

      Good point; I guess in this case a striped RAID would help.

      • Charles Klug
        December 17, 2012 at 5:13 pm

        Or if you set up a ZFS Pool which can be safer than a RAID but the RAM needed (1GB RAM for Every TB of HDD) would be beyond using an old computer.

  23. Nicola De Ieso
    December 16, 2012 at 9:42 pm

    Thanks for these tips. I use cables cat-5e.

  24. Jason Papapanagiotakis
    December 16, 2012 at 8:01 pm

    Nice overview, still need to find a way to make things work in my house, cant stream a 3D movie yet..!

  25. Doc
    December 16, 2012 at 7:51 pm

    "Wireless internet is very convenient, but also incredibly unreliable and slow. With home Internet speeds of 50MB and higher now commonplace, a wifi connection will never be able to make full use of that." Where are you getting 50MB? That's 400Mbits/sec (Capital B is "bytes," not "bits.")
    I've got one of the higher RoadRunner packages, and it's only 15Mb/s peak, with lots of sites markedly slower because of bottlenecks. With 802.11n giving me a shared speed of 150Mb/s, there's no way I can saturate my Internet connection with WiFi.

    "Fixed computers and devices should always be cabled where possible to minimize wifi traffic; obviously if you don’t own your home it’s difficult to drill holes in walls and such, but would a cable around the edge of your rooom really be such an eyesore?"

    Unless you're on Gigabit Ethernet (and gigabit routers are still a good deal more expensive than their 10/100 brethren), *and* you're moving gigabytes of files from PC to PC, then your WiFi connection should be more than sufficient...and yes, I've got Cat5 cables hooked where I don't have room (or sufficient cards) for WiFi...I've yet to find a low-profile WiFi card for my mini-PC home media server. And *yes,* they're an eyesore.

  26. jasray
    December 16, 2012 at 7:45 pm

    What I typically find is the customer's wireless card is outdated. I rarely see tech sites recommend installing/upgrading a wireless card or using something such as the Alfa antenna and driver on the laptop/desktop needing faster performance.

    Even with DDWRT installed on a router with increased output performance, I've yet to see a dramatic change in connection speeds or reliability in the connection until the adapter card was changed.

  27. MP H
    December 16, 2012 at 7:15 pm

    Good read - Easy for new home networkers to understand...

  28. Alex Slutsky
    December 16, 2012 at 6:55 pm

    Thanks for the info, will try some of those on the home router.