Why Is My Internet So Slow?
With how many internet and Wi-Fi-capable consoles, appliances, devices, gizmos, and gadgets the average person has integrated into their daily life, a slow internet connection can be more than a minor inconvenience. If your streaming video is choppy, your online game lags, or you find your work-from-home productivity frequently interrupted by slow downloads and glitchy video calls, a slow internet connection could be the culprit. Our guide helps you identify the issues and offers solutions for all your home network speed needs.
If your internet starts to slow down once everyone gets home for the day (or switches from work calls to Netflix and scrolling through social media on their phones), the number of devices connected to your network could be causing network congestion. A simple factor causes congestion: how much data the network requests and how much of it is transferred to that network. The more connected devices, the more data is requested and sent over your home network.
Not all congestion comes from your own network. During peak usage hours, the amount of data requested by all of an internet provider’s customers in the area exceeds the amount of data the network can effectively send, and all customers experience network congestion. Fiber-optic networks are capable of handling a massive amount of network traffic simultaneously and generally experience less congestion than cable or DSL networks.
Solution: Adjust QoS Settings
If your internet speed issues stem from network congestion, try adjusting your router’s quality-of-service (QoS) settings. These settings act like an air-traffic controller for your home network — they help your router prioritize your network traffic, meaning the most important data will get where it needs to go before any other data is handled. That means you can stay on your late-afternoon Zoom meeting while your kids watch Disney Plus after school without any interruption or slowdown. Not every router offers users access to the QoS settings. You may have to upgrade your router if you need to prioritize and organize your network traffic.
Data Cap Limit
If your internet plan comes with a monthly data cap, then your service provider might slow your network down as you reach or exceed your allotted data. These overages can come with fees, depending on your plan and provider. If your plan includes a data cap, make sure you’re cognizant of how much data you use per month so you can stay under your limit. Most routers don’t allow users to check their data usage, so you’ll have to find some third-party router firmware to help you monitor your home network data usage.
Solution: Monitor Data Usage or Switch to Unlimited Data
Once you’ve granted yourself the ability to effectively monitor your data usage, make sure you stay under your data cap. The more members of your household, the more devices that will use data on your network. If your household relies on streaming content, such as Netflix, Hulu, or Disney Plus, for living room entertainment, be aware that streaming can quickly eat up a lot of your allotted data — especially if you’re streaming in HD and 4K. An unlimited data plan, however, removes any consequences from hitting your data cap.
Blocked Wi-Fi Signals
If you’re primarily a Wi-Fi user, then your physical location could be to blame for your slow internet. Wi-Fi signals are blocked by pesky things that we enjoy in our homes, such as walls, doors, couches, and other furniture. If your router is tucked away in a closet or corner of your home, then you increase the number of obstacles your Wi-Fi signal has to pierce before it reaches you, slowing down your network before you even have a chance to use it.
Solution: Use an Ethernet Cable or Reposition the Router
The easiest way to avoid blocked Wi-Fi signals is to avoid Wi-Fi signals altogether. If possible, connect your device to your modem using an Ethernet cable and you’ll never have to worry about a Wi-Fi issue again.
Connecting devices to your modem with an Ethernet cable isn’t always feasible or convenient though. If it’s not, move your router to a more central location, preferably high off the ground, and arrange your furniture so your Wi-Fi signal can make it to you uninterrupted.
Latency refers to the amount of time it takes for you to send data over your network to another location and for that data to return to your original machine. The act of sending a small packet of data from one computer to another is referred to as “pinging” that machine, and the ping is the measurement, in milliseconds, of the network’s latency. Latency is caused by the location of the server you’re connecting to, the type of network connection you have, and your router. The longer the distance your data has to travel, the higher your latency.
Solution: Update Your Modem and Router’s Firmware
Updating your router and modem’s firmware is like taking your car in for service. It should run better, faster, and more efficiently after being serviced, just like your router and modem should perform better after you’ve updated their firmware. If you’re already running the current version of your router and modem’s firmware, make sure no user or application is using an unexpectedly large portion of your bandwidth. Reducing extra downloads or streaming can go a long way to curbing excessive latency.
The internet, in one form or another, has been around since 1983. In the past 40 years, there have been countless iterations of internet equipment — your modem, and now your router. If you don’t remember the last time you upgraded your modem or router, it may be time to do so since they have a useful lifespan of about seven years. If you rent your modem and router from your internet provider, odds are you won’t have the latest and greatest equipment, but you won’t have the most obsolete either.
Solution: Buy a Newer, Compatible Modem and Router
Many users rent their router and modem from their ISP, but you can purchase your own equipment. Doing so ensures you won’t end up stuck in the past when it comes to internet speed, and it can save you money in the long run. You also won’t have to worry about annoying equipment-return protocols if or when you change ISPs. Make sure the modem and router you plan to buy are supported by your ISP before you spend your money.
Slow Internet Plan
Sometimes your equipment is working the best it can, but your internet plan is just slow. Slow means different things for different users. How a heavy gamer who regularly downloads large files defines “slow” will be much different from how someone who only uses the internet to email Word documents will define it. If you frequently stream 4K video and play online games competitively, you’ll likely need download speeds of at least 200 Mbps. If all you’re doing is checking your email and browsing the internet, you can start as low as 5 Mbps.
Solution: Switch to a Faster Internet Provider, Plan, or Connection Type
Upgrading to a cable or fiber internet provider can help speed up your home network, but the easiest fix is to add bandwidth. Some of the providers who offer the fastest download speeds are:
- AT&T Fiber
- Verizon Fios
- Google Fiber
Too Many Applications
It’s rare to do only one thing at a time on a computer. If you find yourself at your computer for any length of time, you could have 10 or more applications or browser tabs running at once. Your computer has only so much processing power, so it can do only so much simultaneously.
Solution: Close Unused Applications, Browsers, and Downloads
This one is easy: Close extra applications or browser tabs when you’re done using them. Odds are your device can handle at least one or two extra things at a time, but the more you try to do at once, the slower it gets. Leave your massive downloads for when you aren’t actively using your computer.
Other Factors That Affect Internet Speeds
These aren’t the only elements that can lead to slow internet. Your ISP might slow down your service or, if you haven’t been careful, you’ll have downloaded a virus or other malware.
Throttling is a strategy most commonly employed by wireless ISPs. If your ISP needs to limit the amount of bandwidth you’re using (if you’re nearing your data cap) or the amount of bandwidth all its users in a particular area are using, it can slow down your internet. If you own your own modem and router, your ISP is unable to enact such measures against your home network. Otherwise, opt for a plan without a data cap.
Malware and Viruses
If you don’t use antivirus software, you may want to consider it because such tools can be invaluable if you have the misfortune of downloading a virus or other malware. Antivirus software will often catch any bad apples you’ve downloaded before they become a larger problem. When using the internet, you’re connecting to every other computer connected to the internet at that time, so make sure you protect your network by downloading only trusted files or running them through an antivirus tool first.
How to Fix Slow Internet Quickly
Sometimes you just need your internet to work right this second. If you don’t have time to fuss with more involved fixes, the solutions below should take five minutes or less.
Reset Your Modem and Router
If you’ve ever called tech support, they’ve probably asked if you’ve tried turning it off and back on again. There’s a reason it’s the go-to piece of tech advice: It works. Turn off and unplug your router and modem, wait five to 10 minutes, and then turn them back on.
Perform a Speed Test
It helps to know what kind of bandwidth you’re working with when you’re troubleshooting your slow internet. Find an online speed test and take it twice — once via a Wi-Fi connection and once via an Ethernet cable. That will tell you if your wireless network is the problem or if you aren’t getting the right speed from your modem.
Switch Frequency Band
If you’re lucky enough to have a dual-band router, you have access to two different wireless frequencies for your home network: 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. The 2.4 GHz band has been around the longest and most devices support it. The 5 GHz band, however, is much newer, way faster, and less congested since fewer devices are 5 GHz capable. Once you access your router settings, turn on 5 GHz transmission. You’ll need your IP address and router login info, but it’s worth the effort to get back to speedy Wi-Fi.