4 Reasons Why Your Wi-Fi Is So Slow (And How to Fix Them)
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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, anytime. Wi-Fi is thus pretty much a necessity these days.

But when the Wi-Fi slows to a crawl, the relationship turns sour.

If your Wi-Fi is slow all of a sudden, or you’ve been experiencing Wi-Fi lag, you’ll want to get it back up to speed as soon as possible. Unfortunately, speed issues aren’t always easy to diagnose. So we’ve rounded up four of the best ways to fix your poor connection.

1. Router Positioning

Wi-Fi Router Positioned Adjacent To Flower Pot
Image Credit: ronstik/Depositphotos

Many people underestimate the importance of picking a right spot for a Wi-Fi router. Even a small shift in positioning could end up causing slow Wi-Fi.

High vs. Low

Like most people, you probably unpacked your new router, located a reasonable outlet, and 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. 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 potential interference.

Concrete and Metals

Materials like concrete and metal are usually the biggest blockers of Wi-Fi signals. They are so effective at this that Faraday cages use the same materials to block all electromagnetic fields–they can even protect you from RFID hacks.

So you may want to avoid placing your router in your basement, as a lot of concrete usually encloses this area. Other materials can impede your wireless network’s performance, too. Make sure any other large or notable objects don’t block your router.

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. However, this is only practical if you have one main area where you tend to use your Wi-Fi-enabled 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 necessarily make sense to put it at one end of the house.

However, if your router’s broadcast is noticeably weak or if your house is particularly large, then you may need to increase the range of those Wi-Fi waves. 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 are auxiliary devices that connect to the main router and repeat the signal to cover a greater area.

If you want to get scientific about your router placement, take a look at this project from London-based Software Engineer Jason Cole. After moving into a new apartment, he mathematically modeled the property’s Wi-Fi hotspots and coldspots. You can try this for yourself with his WiFi Solver app, currently available for Android and Chrome OS.

Download: WiFi Solver for Android | Chrome OS (Free)

2. Wireless Interference and Noise

Drawing Of Wireless Signals Broadcasting From Multiple Buildings
Image Credit: kytalpa/Depositphotos

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. These signals come from our electronic devices, Wi-Fi routers, satellites, cell towers, and more.

Although Wi-Fi is usually on a different frequency than most of these devices, the amount of radio noise can still cause interference. However, you may be able to minimize some common causes of interference.

Microwaves

It turns out that microwave ovens can cause interference with your Wi-Fi network, which is particularly common with older routers. This is because microwave ovens operate at a frequency of 2.45GHz, which is incredibly close to the 2.4GHz Wi-Fi band.

The 2.4GHz Wi-Fi band actually broadcasts between 2.412GHz and 2.472GHz, so there are times when the microwave frequency can overlap with the Wi-Fi frequency. When that happens, the data being transferred gets disrupted. Most microwaves have proper shielding, so no waves should be detected outside of the oven.

But interference can occur with inadequate or poor shielding.

Bluetooth Devices

One of the other popular wireless connections, Bluetooth, also happens to operate at 2.4GHz. In theory, a properly designed device should be shielded in a way that prevents interference.

To avoid frequency clash, Bluetooth manufacturers use frequency hopping, where the signal randomly rotates between 70 different channels, changing up to 1,600 times per second. Newer Bluetooth devices can also have the ability to identify “bad” (currently in-use) channels and avoid those. But interference can still occur, so try moving the router away from Bluetooth devices.

Experiment by turning your Bluetooth devices off to see if this is the cause of your troubles, especially if they are older Bluetooth devices without channel management.

Christmas Lights

Strangely enough, Christmas lights (or fairy lights) can be a devious culprit in slowing down your Wi-Fi. The effect is caused by these lights emitting an electromagnetic field that interacts with your Wi-Fi band. Flashing lights are particularly problematic.

But you aren’t even immune with modern LED lights. Some LED strings have flashing chips built into each lamp, and these create an interfering electromagnetic field.

In reality, all other kinds of electric 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.

Background Noise

Information designer Richard Vijgen created the mobile app Architecture of Radio. It uses public information on satellites and cell towers, along with Wi-Fi information and GPS location, to create a map of all the invisible signals around you.

While the app isn’t intended as a measurement tool, it helps to visualize the digital signals all around us.

Download: Architecture of Radio for Android | iOS ($3)

3. Your Neighbors

A Row Of Houses In A Well-Presented Area
Image Credit: Hannamariah/Depositphotos

Nearly every household has its own Wi-Fi network, which can create channel overlap. This can cause issues in a townhouse, but is especially problematic in housing complexes and apartments with many routers nearby.

Channel overlap is mostly an issue for routers that can only broadcast at 2.4GHz, or if you have devices that can only receive a 2.4GHz wireless signal. This is because there are only 14 channels to transmit on. Two routers broadcasting on the same channel at the same frequency will interfere with each other.

That’s why it’s crucial that you pick a proper 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 How to Pick the Best Wi-Fi Channel for Your Router How to Pick the Best Wi-Fi Channel for Your Router What's the best Wi-Fi channel for your router and how do you change it? We answer these questions and more in this quick guide. Read More .

People may also try to get on your network without your knowledge. It’s a security issue, but could also slow down your Wi-Fi. The most important way to prevent this is to make sure your router has a strong password. Weak Wi-Fi passwords are relatively easy to hack How Easy Is It to Crack a Wi-Fi Network? How Easy Is It to Crack a Wi-Fi Network? Wi-Fi security is important. You don't want intruders piggybacking on your precious bandwidth -- or worse. There a few misconceptions regarding Wi-Fi security, and we're here to dispel them. Read More , especially those based on WEP standards.

You should also keep your router up-to-date and regularly check for suspicious devices on your network How to Check Your Wi-Fi Network for Suspicious Devices How to Check Your Wi-Fi Network for Suspicious Devices Are you worried that strangers or hackers might be on your Wi-Fi network? Here's how you can check and how to do something about it. Read More .

4. Other Household Users

Drawing Of A House Overlaid On A Photograph Of A Field
Image Credit: olly18/Depositphotos

Have you ever left a large download running on your PC? That may be the cause of your slow Wi-Fi. Downloading large files can take quite a toll on your Wi-Fi performance. Sometimes you can’t avoid this—operating system updates can be massive, for example—but if you’re 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 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 .

As humans are 60 percent water, and water can reduce the frequency of radio waves, people can also pose a connection problem. I’m not suggesting that you remove all the people from your house, of course. But do make sure to keep your router out of the main areas where people congregate. The impact won’t be monumental, but it may be noticeable.

Ready to Fix Your Internet Speed?

Identifying the cause of your slow Wi-Fi can be a challenge. From router placement to the people in your home, there are a lot of possibilities. If you’ve exhausted the physical explanations for your sluggish network, then it might be time to turn to the digital.

Also, take the opportunity to change your DNS settings Why Changing DNS Settings Increases Your Internet Speed Why Changing DNS Settings Increases Your Internet Speed Changing your DNS settings is one of those minor tweaks that can have big returns on day-to-day internet speeds. Read More to see if that helps. If the slowdown is isolated to your mobile devices, it’s worth considering that there may be reasons your smartphone has slow internet speeds.

Explore more about: Computer Networks, Hardware Tips, Troubleshooting, Wi-Fi.

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  1. Anonymous/rt720
    August 11, 2018 at 1:36 pm

    I believe, spectrum just want a upgrade....
    Do they slow your speed down?, YES.
    They do. Regular internet speed is not bad, until your provider slows it down on purpose. Free flowing internet is fast.,
    but.....when I am told it could be something that I have already tried to fix.
    Well, it leads me back years ago, before the great slow down when the internet providers all started to slow the internet to make a profit..........

    • James Frew
      August 12, 2018 at 3:59 pm

      You're right that your ISP has the ability to influence your internet speeds. This article though covers the factors that can slow down the Wi-Fi once the internet reaches your router - internally on your network.

  2. adam c smith
    June 18, 2018 at 3:58 am

    I don't think any of these are right. My connection is 200mbps and speed test frequently shows it at 200+ mbps. When I connect to our wifi it's different, usually pretty high, around 60mbps or so, but lately, under 7. If it were range I could understand, but I came upstairs and stood next to the router and got the same results.

  3. George
    January 26, 2018 at 10:13 am

    I tried everything. Followed loads of people's duff advice. In the end the only thing that worked was running my laptop in safe mode with networking.

    • James Frew
      February 7, 2018 at 1:19 pm

      What did the root cause turn out to be? Did anything listed in the article help?

  4. Marc
    July 22, 2017 at 5:23 pm

    I have spent hours trying to resolve my slow wifi on 2 laptops, including my Surface Pro 3. My AIO Lenovo showed 28 mbps while my 2 laptops right next to the AIO showed 4-6 mbps downloads. After reading, resetting and unplugging the routers/ modem, etc., I realized that if I disabled my Avast antivirus program and/ or my McAfee program, the speeds returned to normal. After some reading I realized that the antivirus companies tell you the programs "may slow speeds a little"...how about a lot?? I read some more and now I just use Windows Defender, as it does not interfere and studies have shown little benefit using other anti-viral programs with Win 10. Just be aware...the antivirus program may be slowing you down!!

    • James Frew
      July 24, 2017 at 10:47 am

      It depends on which features of the antivirus you are using. If the software is monitoring inbound/outbound connections then it may slow down the internet speed. However, it shouldn't be noticeable and I'd guess that the speed up when uninstalling was coincidental. You also mentioned Avast & McAfee - it's unclear if you had these running on one device at the same time but that will generally hurt overall PC performance, as well as compromising their effectiveness. Another possibility is incorrect/out-of-date drivers for the Wi-Fi adaptor.

  5. Khin Hnin Swe
    July 11, 2017 at 4:57 am

    Wifi Network is very slow.I can't solve this problems.How do I fix?

    • James Frew
      July 11, 2017 at 9:44 am

      If you have tried the steps above and still can't fix it then its worth checking that the slow speed is across all devices on your network. Are you using a VPN? What is your average speed for your ISP in your area and how does yours compare?

  6. Anonymous
    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.

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

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

  8. Anonymous
    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.