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If you’re using a USB dongle that allows your desktop to receive a Wi-Fi connection, you may have noticed that your internet speeds are slower than expected. In some cases, a LOT slower. Unfortunately, this is a common problem for USB Wi-Fi dongles.

What causes this slowdown? In three words: other wireless devices.

Wireless devices transmit data using frequencies, and these frequencies are invisible but they have their own distinct shapes. The problem occurs when two or more devices transmit data using the same frequency shapes (i.e., on the same frequency channel).

Unfortunately, there are a very limited number of frequency channels available in the 2.4 GHz range — and most wireless peripherals transmit on 2.4 GHz, including Bluetooth, Logitech USB dongles, and more. They’re all on the same wireless spectrum, which leads to wireless congestion and dysfunction.

To illustrate, here’s what the 2.4 GHz spectrum looks like:

wikipedia channel widths

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Notice how there are only three channels (1, 6, and 11) that do not overlap with one another. If you use multiple devices on the 2.4 GHz frequency, your wireless internet speeds simply aren’t optimal, and consumer electronics suffer majorly from these overlapping frequencies.

When two devices transmit on overlapping channels, their transmissions can interfere with each other, resulting in sluggish performance, limited range, and lag.

Why is it this way? Well, when the 2.4 GHz spectrum first came into use, engineers never predicted that the average home would come to include dozens of different Wi-Fi signals. That’s the reason why the 5 GHz band was invented (why dual-band routers matter How Dual-Band Routers Can Solve Your Wireless Woes How Dual-Band Routers Can Solve Your Wireless Woes Using a router that supports the dual-band standard can significantly boost your Wi-Fi speeds in many circumstances. Read More ).

So how can you fix this issue? There are three methods you can try.

1. Use a USB Extender

The simplest option is to use a USB extender. The main benefit here is that USB extenders allow you to reposition the location of your USB wireless adapter.

Not only does channel overlap cause dongles to misbehave, it’s also cumulative when combined with the radio-frequency-blocking properties of a computer case or metal laptop. Almost universally, repositioning the dongle improves the dongle’s performance.

In fact, many dongle manufacturers include an extender by default for this reason. For example, the Steam Controller (our review of the Steam Controller Better Than a Mouse and Keyboard? Steam Controller Review and Giveaway Better Than a Mouse and Keyboard? Steam Controller Review and Giveaway Every decade there's a revolution in game controller design. In 1983 Nintendo released the first directional pad. In 1997 we received the ergonomic DualShock. In 2006 the Wii Remote brought motion controls. Now we have... Read More ) includes a weighted extender with a microUSB cable attached.

steam-controller-wireless-dongle-extender

Amazon stocks a large number of USB extenders, cradles, docks, and hubs. Any one of these options will provide an improvement in dongle performance — but the best will tilt the dongle at a vertical angle, which maximizes the dongle’s exposure to wireless frequencies.

Weme 4-Port USB 2.0 Hub with Built-in Cable(31")2.6-Ft for iMac, MacBook, MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, Mac Mini, Chrombook, Surface Pro, Surface Book, PC Weme 4-Port USB 2.0 Hub with Built-in Cable(31")2.6-Ft for iMac, MacBook, MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, Mac Mini, Chrombook, Surface Pro, Surface Book, PC 4 port USB 2.0 or 1.1 devices to Compact size and portable. Easily expand by connecting up to your Macbook, Laptop, ultrabook, tablet PC and any USB 2.0 capable computer works with USB. Works with USB extension cable and reverse Compatible with USB 1.1 Buy Now At Amazon $5.99

Even better, it shouldn’t use a metal case, which can interfere with wireless signals. My favorite from Amazon is the Weme 4-Port USB Data Hub, which possesses all of the aforementioned characteristics and can connect up to four devices.

Geekdigg USB 3.0 Hub All-in-1 High Speed MS/Micro SD/M2/TF Card Reader 3 USB Ports Combo for PC Laptop Desktop Macbook Air Pro with USB Cable Geekdigg USB 3.0 Hub All-in-1 High Speed MS/Micro SD/M2/TF Card Reader 3 USB Ports Combo for PC Laptop Desktop Macbook Air Pro with USB Cable Expand 1 USB 3.0 port into 3 USB 3.0 ports. Connect 3 devices simultaneously without creating a mess Buy Now At Amazon $19.49

However, if you want more functionality out of your hub, check out the Geekdigg USB Hub & Card Reader. It throws in a microSD and miniSD card reader, along with a removable microUSB cable.

2. Change Your Wi-Fi Router Channel

The three non-overlapping channels used by Wireless-N and Wireless-G routers divide into 11 different overlapping channels. While Bluetooth devices automatically change their channel to the least-used frequency, many other devices do not.

On top of that, it’s impossible to change how dongles transmit data. So when conflicts arise, the only option is to change the channel that your router broadcasts on. I wrote a guide on how to adjust Wi-Fi channels How to Fix a Slow or Unstable Wi-Fi Connection How to Fix a Slow or Unstable Wi-Fi Connection One simple trick could speed up your Wi-Fi connection. We explain the issue, how to analyze Wi-Fi networks around you, and how to use the information to speed up your Wi-Fi connection. Read More  so I won’t go into detail here, but it’s a simple two-step process:

  1. Use a Wi-Fi analyzer app How to Boost Your Wi-Fi Speed Up to 5x With One Quick Fix How to Boost Your Wi-Fi Speed Up to 5x With One Quick Fix If you're having trouble with your Wi-Fi speed, there's one quick fix that only takes a minute but could significantly boost performance. You should try it ASAP! Read More  to find the optimal channel.
  2. Log into your wireless router and change to the best channel.

We have a great guide on how to access your router’s settings How to Configure Your Router to Make Your Home Network Really Secure How to Configure Your Router to Make Your Home Network Really Secure Default router settings put your network at risk, allowing freeloading strangers to squeeze nadwidth and potentially commit crimes. Use our summary to configure your standard router settings to prevent unauthorized access to your network. Read More , so check that out if you’ve never changed any of your router’s settings before. The article covers most of the nuances required for the majority of devices out there. It shouldn’t take more than a minute of your time.

3. Get a Dual-Band Router

Buying a new router is by far the most expensive option, but for apartment-dwellers it’s highly recommended because it has the highest rate of success in boosting slow Wi-Fi dongle speeds.

As mentioned above, most routers broadcast signals on either 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. While the 2.4 GHz band offers three non-overlapping channels, the 5 GHz band produces a whopping 23 non-overlapping channels. Combined with the other benefits of using 5 GHz, you’ll notice a big boost in performance.

dlink ultra router profile

However, you would also need to make sure that most, if not all, of your other devices can use the 5 GHz spectrum. If few or none do, you wouldn’t benefit at all from using a dual-band router.

Also, if you’re experiencing problems with a wireless adapter USB dongle, a new router would only make sense if the dongle itself is also dual-band! Otherwise it would continue to broadcast and receive over the same problematic portion of the wireless spectrum.

TP-Link Archer C7 Wireless Dual Band Gigabit Router (AC1750) TP-Link Archer C7 Wireless Dual Band Gigabit Router (AC1750) 1.75Gbps total available bandwith, which includes 450Mbps at 2.4GHz and 1300Mbps at 5GHz Buy Now At Amazon $75.99

Wirecutter recommends buying the Archer C7 Dual-Band Router, which offers across-the-board performance and Wireless-AC, the latest wireless standard. Then again, if you want to take your home network to the next level with IFTTT (what is IFTTT? The Ultimate IFTTT Guide: Use The Web's Most Powerful Tool Like A Pro The Ultimate IFTTT Guide: Use The Web's Most Powerful Tool Like A Pro IFTTT is an automation that will enable you to connect 2 services so that, when something happens with one service, a trigger goes off and an action takes place automatically on the other. Read More ), try out the D-Link Ultra Tri-Band Router (our D-Link Ultra review D-Link AC3200 ULTRA Wireless Router Review and Giveaway D-Link AC3200 ULTRA Wireless Router Review and Giveaway D-Link sent me their newest AC3200 router, the ULTRA, and my wireless speeds went through the roof – and into outer space. This is a beast of a router, and you can win one too. Read More ).

Which One Is the Best Method?

You might be tempted to try the free option first, before buying either a USB hub or a dual-channel router. That’s a reasonable route to take.

However, rather than playing with your router’s settings (which can cause additional problems), you might get more mileage out of just buying a USB extender or hub. The cost hovers around $5 and has the best chance of quickly fixing your problems.

Anyone else have USB dongle connection problems? How did you fix it?

Image Credits: Wireless bands via Wikipedia

  1. Targ Smith
    October 3, 2016 at 12:34 pm

    Changing my online router settings from "Auto" to a specific channel brought my new usb wifi adapter's speed --I paid $2 for this device -- from a crawl to a reasonably fast speed. In some configurations the channel is under the "basic" section of Wifi setup online, and in others it is under "advanced."

    I got lost for hours trying to fix it, by reading people's problems and often unusual solutions which wouldn't apply to most people. I think your approaches are the best. I used some free Wifi troubleshooting software, but it wasn't until I just experimented with changing channels myself that I realize the software was trying to tell me what channel I should select.

    • Kannon Y
      October 7, 2016 at 8:48 pm

      Thanks for sharing. I've had similar issues myself.

      Auto channel is notoriously unreliable, although I've only seen it on high end D-Link routers.

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