WiFi speeds drop precipitously in the evening

Anonymous November 17, 2013
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We have an Actiontec M1424WR Rev e router and Verizon FiOS. We have the Verizon Double Play bundle, Internet and Phone only, no TV, and with the iMac connected to the Actiontec via Ethernet cable, our speeds are excellent. E.g., On a Saturday morning, the iMac gets download speeds of 58mbps and upload speeds of 34mbps.

The internet signal comes into the Actiontec via Coax cable. The Actiontec is located on the third floor of a three-floor townhouse.

The WiFi signal to the AppleTV three floors is  dismal at prime time in the evenings. A recent Ookla speed test returned 1.47/ 3.58 (downoad/upload), 66 ping. During the daytime, the received speed at the AppleTV is 13Mbps.

I have seen posts indicating that the Actiontec M1424WR gets poor ratings for WiFi signal strength and have seen posts claiming that you can turn off the WiFi on the Actiontec and add a WiFi capable modem with a good reputation for wireless strength. Specifically, I see a lot of recommendations for ASUS routers. Can any of you network gurus confirm this?

Would this be a good plan for achieving better WiFi signals at the AppleTV?

Is there another way which does not involve pulling ethernet cable throughout the house?

Second thoughts…

I had assumed that the drop in wifi download speeds I am experiencing at night was due to increasing numbers of people on the net, many of whom are streaming movies. Were that the case, however, would not the speed results of my iMac, which has a wired connection to my Actiontec modem also drop? But of course, mine don’t.

Mine is a case of where the download speeds to the iMac, via ethernet cable to the Actiontec router, are pretty much constant throughout the day. It is only the WiFi speeds which slow to a crawl in the evenings.

I had thought of putting the Actiontec in bridge mode, purchasing and introducing an Apple Extreme Base Station into the mix and possibly even installing an Apple Airport Express in the basement, next to the AppleTV to boost the signal.

However, if the wifi speeds two feet away from the Actiontec are 1.5Mbps, no matter what I do, that’s all I am going to receive at the AppleTV, no? It would be like coupling a firehose onto a garden hose in the expectation that you will get more water out of the firehose. Ain’t gonna happen.

  1. Oron J
    November 20, 2013 at 12:48 pm

    I suggest you check your WiFi using some tools. If you have an Android phone/tablet, try WiFi Analyser, which is very easy to use. Otherwise, assuming you are using Windows, try NetSurveyor or Xirrus Wi-Fi Inspector (which is a little more difficult to use).

  2. Rachael L
    November 19, 2013 at 3:41 am

    Our wifi was slowed down whenever we had our video baby monitor on. Our kid finally outgrew the monitor and we've had no problems since then.

  3. Bryan
    November 19, 2013 at 3:31 am

    Cat 5 is the best way to go "hardwired from your router". Coax is the worst. You'll always lose megs on wireless either way,that's just life. Now for geek talk. Make sure you ask for bonded pair when ordering your installation if over 3000 feet from the crossbox. If you keep using coax and/or wireless then your better off throwing your money and your megs down a well.

  4. Lynn
    November 18, 2013 at 10:29 pm

    Mine gets slower at night also. My provider switches me to a different server area at night.

  5. Marios Demetriou
    November 18, 2013 at 10:01 pm

    WiFi performance will decade if there is traffic on other networks running on the same or approximate channel.
    The reason for that is fairly straight forward. Air -or more accurately the electromagnetic spectrum- is a shared medium. Data transfers on near by networks will consume some of the bandwidth available for that channel (keep in mind that WiFi channels overlap (as mentioned by Jan F).
    When troubleshooting WiFi networks always keep in mind that the background noise (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Signal-to-noise_ratio) or near by networks affect the throughput. During off hours it is reasonable that the WiFi spectrum will be less congested - less data transfers are occurring thus more bandwidth is available for your network and your data. However during peak times, data transfers on nearby networks may consume bandwidth on the channels your network is using; thus the observed reduction in the troughtput

  6. DG
    November 18, 2013 at 9:19 pm

    You might be getting attacked via wifi. The router has to respond to every request, right or wrong. People could just be home in the evening trying to reach out to your router. This might show up in your logs in the router as a bad connection attempt.
    Might want to disable your ssid broadcast if you have problems in the future. This also has its drawbacks, but worth at least a test.
    Good luck.

  7. Shyam
    November 18, 2013 at 9:07 pm

    Try switching to the less crowded 5GHz band for lesser channel interference. Like Jan F said, use inSSIDer to actually see whether there's a crowd or not.

    Another check you may want to do is to check whether other wireless devices have the same wifi speed or not. You may have to update your drivers if you updated your router's firmware recently (always have a backup handy).

    • Anonymous
      November 19, 2013 at 12:22 am

      5GHz band is a poor solution for me. I discovered that routers in the 5GHz band have exactly 1/2 the signal strength of those in the 2.4GHz band and therefore reaching my AppleTV in the basement, three floors away, would be even more difficult.

    • Shyam
      November 19, 2013 at 7:35 pm

      I see. The propagation effects for 2.4GHz and 5GHz are different and depend upon the material that separates the router and the device (EM waves attenuate differently for varying f and varying 'alpha' or the attenuation constant). Sometimes, re-positioning the router can have a different effect (solves possible ground plane issues or corner diffraction).

      Since I see that your problem is now resolved, it seems that you could have been subjected to some transient interference source. Another thing worth remembering is that the 2.4GHz band is (ab)used ruthlessly (by phones, wifi, and microwave ovens!) so it shouldn't be surprising if more people complain about slower speeds on this highly congested part of the spectrum as time goes by, unless RF front-ends improve dramatically.

      The reason why I mentioned 5GHz is because some dual-band radios can automatically provide 5GHz channels to nearby devices and use 2.4GHz channels for farther away devices or use the two radios together to go up to 100Mbps.


  8. Niklas
    November 18, 2013 at 9:03 pm

    For Macosx try iStumbler for easy overview of all Wifi points and their respictive channels in use. Try channels that are either not used or the ones used by the weakest Wifi's (will give the least interference). The night time/ day time pattern I'm pretty sure is related to the use of other wifi's in your surroundings. Either that or sun spots ;-)

  9. owen
    November 18, 2013 at 8:40 pm

    those actiontec's are known to have very poor wireless coverage

    I have a HGV1000 and it doesn't reach more then 50ft with a clear view.....

    I would suggest getting your own router.

  10. Derek
    November 18, 2013 at 8:36 pm

    "When the night shows
    the signals grow on radios"

    I've had the same issue in the past; weak signals that might not interfere during the day may be just a little stronger at night and cause problems. Same problem depending on the weather as well, cloudy rainy days were the worst, lot of signal reflection...Sunny humid days too, but not quite as bad. My wifi was practically unusable on days that it rained, due to being in an apartment building with about 50 networks in range.

  11. Gerry Hornik
    November 18, 2013 at 8:35 pm

    Is it possible that someone else is connecting to your router and consuming much of the bandwidth?

  12. dragonmouth
    November 18, 2013 at 3:26 pm

    In addition to what Jan suggests, try using MAC Filtering giving access only to devices with MAC addresses known to you. It may not deter determined moochers but will block casual leeches.

    • Anonymous
      November 18, 2013 at 10:11 pm

      I wanted to express my thanks for all of you for taking the time to help me resolve this problems and for the suggestions you have made.

      For the time being, I am simply going to monitor my speeds every once in awhile and see if they continue to be in the ranges I cited above. if they do, I can certainly live with that, but i will nonetheless experiment with using some of the less used channels 2, and see if that improves things.

      I have no idea what throttled those speeds back to the point where I made my original post, but I certainly hope it's gone for good.

  13. Jan F
    November 18, 2013 at 1:50 am

    If I understand your "second thoughts" I assume that in the evening when the speeds on the Apple TV are moderate at best the iMac still has a decent connection? In that case I would rule out bottleneck of a shared line and as you said assume the problem is with the WiFi.

    The first question you should look up is what other devices you have connected to the WiFi when the speed is low. Wireless bandwidth is always shared so if you are running updates on your mobile phone or a laptop via WiFi it will impact the speed at the Apple TV.

    While looking through the connected devices make sure you can identify all of them using the IP- and/or MAC address. If there are devices you cannot identify you might have someone piggybacking your internet. Make sure to use the best available security (probably WPA2), use encryption and change the passphrase to something random and secure.

    Last but not least you should do some auditing so see if there are other WiFi signals interfering with yours e.g. using inSSIDer. http://www.metageek.net/products/inssider/
    Maybe there are other WiFi networks that interface (same channel) and are only turned on in the evening. You might want to try a different channel that is the least used.

    • Anonymous
      November 18, 2013 at 2:32 am

      Agree with you: there is no bottleneck in a shared line, proof of which is in the speeds the wired iMac is consistently getting.

      Connected to the WiFi, but quiescent when I took my readings are, the iMac, a printer, a MacBook Pro, a MacBook Air, an AppleTV, two iPhones, and an iPad.

      I do indeed have WPA 2 with a very strong password.

      Tonite, the speeds I got were much better for some as yet unidentifiable reason:

      I took readings from late this afternoon to 2100H.

      I used http://www.speakeasy.com and a Washington, DC server (I live a mile outside DC) and this time took my MacBook Air from floor to floor to take the readings.

      The channel was #6.

      The formula is Time/Download Speed/Upload speed in Mbps

      Top Floor: 1735/26.30/21.02
      Basement: 1735/21.38/14.83

      Top Floor: 1825/25.87/9.05
      Basement: 1825/19.78/13.25

      Top Floor: 1945/24.99/16.68
      Basement: 1945/27.12/13.54

      Top Floor: 2100/24.30/20.11
      Basement: 2100/13.98/12.26

      So, whatever interference I was getting several nights in a row seems to have disappeared. Will continue to check and post the results here.

      Oh, BTW, when I ran NetSpot, it revealed 27 WiFi points in the immediate area, but most of these have very, very weak signals.

    • Jan F
      November 18, 2013 at 5:25 pm

      NetSpot works too ~ the strength you get doesn't really matter, although the lower the others are the less likely they are to interfere.

      The important information here is the channel those networks are using. You want to have you WiFi on a channel with minimal overlap to the other networks around. Here is a nice graphics about that: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_WLAN_channels

      My personal experience is that most networks usually run on the default channel 11 or they fall back to channel 9 or 1. So I usually have my WiFi running at channel 3 or 6.
      Basically find the channel that is not used or overlapping with the 27 WiFi points in range or only a minimum.
      If this still gives you very fluctuation results try going 1-2 channels up or down. Even mobile phones or cordless land-line phones can interfere with WiFi. Usually this is more of a "micro" tweaking for the best performance but in certain cases there is that one channel that works fine and the others only 'blaa'.

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