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Slow Internet at Home? Here Are Some Super Practical Tips to Help

IT geek here.  I’ve been working in the technology field since 1984, with a majority of those 35 years as a hands-on IT director. One of the more difficult feats that I’ve had to deal with is ensuring reliable wireless (Wi-Fi) Internet for large crowds at conference events. As soon as you put thousands of people into one large space, it’s immensely challenging to give everyone reliable Internet.

Quarantined families are now dealing with increased Internet issues at home. Everyone is doing video conference calls on Zoom, and often there are family members watching videos or playing games at the same time. With most of us stuck at home, Internet speed issues are more frustrating. What can we do about it?

Unfortunately, people have the wrong notion that if they have a strong Wi-Fi signal, any Internet issue must be the fault of the website, the app, or their Internet provider. But signal strength is not the only factor that matters. It’s often not the issue at all.

A Few Important Basics

Popular websites and services like Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, Netflix and Zoom have monstrous size Internet pipes and caching services. They can also quickly scale up based on increased demand by users. There are strategic backbone providers like Verizon, AT&T, and Level3 that provide service for popular sites and services. It’s rare for speed issues to be their fault. They have their act together even in these trying times.

Most of us subscribe to neighborhood Internet service providers (ISP) like Comcast, Cox, CenturyLink and AT&T. They usually provide the “last mile” of connectivity to our homes and apartments. While they are often at fault for service outages, they are typically not to blame for speed woes (unless you subscribed to the cheapest/slowest service — more on that later).

Inside our homes and apartments, our Wi-Fi router is key. Most people have a combination of devices like laptops, Roku or Chromecast or Amazon Firesticks, smart TVs, mobile phones and tablets. They are all connecting to the same wireless router. And this is where we usually need to focus our attention. But before we do, let’s make sure you have a sufficient level of service from your ISP. If you’re not sure what speed or level of service you have, run a speed test (suggested site). If you run a speed test from a laptop that is connected via wireless, it’s best to make sure you are within 10 feet of your router, and ideally when no one is streaming movies or videos at that moment. Note: The most accurate speed test will come from a computer with a wired connection to the router.

After you have a general idea of your download and upload speed, check out the chart below for a reference.

Common Service/Speed Choices for Cable Providers
(Speeds listed in Mbps with suggested number of computers/devices)

Cox Cable Services Comcast/Xfinity Services Number of computers/devices
Starter, 10 Down / 1 Up 3 devices
Essential, 30 Down / 2 Up Performance Starter, 25 Down / 2 Up 3 – 5 devices
Performance Plus, 60 Down / 5 Up 4 – 5 devices
Essential, 150 Down / 10 Up Performance Pro, 200 Down / 5 Up 5 – 7 devices
Ultimate, 300 Down / 30 Up Blast! Pro, 300 Down / 10 Up 7 – 9 devices
Gigablast, 1000 Down / 35 Up Gigabit, 1000 Down / 35 Up 9+ devices

Cox and Comcast certainly aren’t the only providers out there, but I hope the chart above will give you a reference to work from. For each service level, there’s a recommended maximum number of devices. While the download speed is especially important for watching movies or streaming video content, the upload speed is important for video conference calls. Note: If you only have a “starter” plan which gives you 2 Mbps or less, you’re going to experience random frustrations with video conference calls where the other side tells you that your video and/or audio gets “choppy” or cuts out.

But let’s assume you have an adequate level of service but you’re still dealing with slow Internet. Here are some practical tips in a suggested order of action to make things better.

Practical Tips

Use a Wired Connection

Is it possible to connect some of your laptops or other devices by an Ethernet cable? You should REALLY try do so. You’ll increase reliability in dramatic fashion. Get a 25′ or 50′ Ethernet cable, even if it means having it temporarily strung across the floor during this pandemic. (See these links to Best Buy link / Amazon link). Most home routers will have 4 Ethernet jacks on the back (sample pic below). You can bypass a lot of woes by getting as many devices as possible connected via an Ethernet cable. I can’t stress enough how useful a wired connection can be vs. a wireless connection. Usually, it’s just the simple act of connecting your computer to one of the available jacks on the back of the router. All done!

Get an Ethernet Jack for your Laptop

Related to the first tip, many modern laptop computers won’t have an Ethernet jack, especially if it’s a thinner model. So you might need to get an Ethernet dongle. For Apple Macbook laptops, Apple makes their own branded dongle but for Windows-based laptops, you’ll need to choose between a USB or USB-C adapter. If your laptop is less than two years old, chances are you’ll have the newer USB-C connection (here’s a picture that will help identify which one you have). A USB-C connection is definitely the faster port type to use if you have it. If not, the older USB connector can certainly be used. Here’s a list of Ethernet dongles from Amazon. They are pretty inexpensive!

Use Different Names for 5GHz vs 2.4GHz

This will get a tad technical but bear with me. Every home-based router that is less than 5 or 6 years old will support two different frequencies for wireless service. The older technology is 2.4GHz. There’s a technical acronym for all of this but it’s not important. This older type of wireless has but one advantage — the signal can travel farther than the newer 5GHz technology. But it’s slower and it’s far more prone to traffic congestion within your home. In contrast, the newer 5GHz technology can be 10 times faster. That’s not a hard and fast rule because lots of factors can impede things.

Most routers use the same name (or SSID) for both the 2.4 and 5.0 GHz signal. Your devices will routinely connect to whichever signal is stronger, which is almost always going to be the older 2.4 signal. But that’s the slower technology that is prone to congestion! So if you are wiling to adventure into your router’s configuration, it’s worth the effort.

  • Changing Your Router’s Config: Go into your router’s setup, which usually is accessed via or Typically, somewhere under the Wireless setup screen, you can change the name for the 2.4GHz signal (called the SSID) so that it’s different from the 5GHz signal name.  On my home networks, I always name my 2.4 wireless with a different name like MyWiFi_2_4GHZ.
  • Check Your Computers/Devices: After saving this change, your computers and devices will usually see two wireless choices. But don’t be surprised if a computer or device only sees the older 2.4 signal! This tells you something! It means that device only supports the older (slower) technology. And it also means that for any computer or device that can see the 5.0 GHz signal, have it connect to i! Even if the signal strength is less. Why? As long as you have at least modest signal strength, the 5.0 signal can still transfer more data faster, and it can do so with a larger number of devices simultaneously! That’s hugely important when you have the kiddos home too.

Old Router? Replace it

If your wireless router is older than 4 or 5 years, you should consider replacing it. While I personally tend to buy new routers every 12 to 18 months (I enjoy testing and exploring), routers tend to get flaky or unreliable with age. Often it’s the fault of the power supply (wall transformer/brick). If your router is but a few years old and you have to frequently power it off & on to get it working, a bad wall transformer (power brick) is a likely culprit. If you can find a replacement (Google the part/model number on the power brick), it’s worth trying to replace it. Otherwise, consider the CNET router recommendations when looking for a new router. For a family household, I strongly recommend spending more than $100 on a new router.

Router Placement in the Home

If all of the other tips above have been followed but you are struggling with signal strength, the placement of the wireless router is important. It’s ideal to find a central location so that the radio signals to/from the router can reach out better. I realize this is often difficult or impossible in many homes, but if can be helpful to look for the best compromise. Examples of the worst placement include a closet, or a third floor bedroom or the basement (pic below visualizes a bad location for a router). In contrast, a main hallway or family room near the center of the home is ideal. (Note: here’s an excellent 2-minute video on the topic).

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q: Are Wi-Fi extenders helpful? Should I buy one?
A: I personally hate Wi-Fi extenders. They are problematic. They’ll work one day and then stop working, and you’ll have to turn them off/on, etc. Also, when you understand how they work, you’ll realize what a bad idea they are. If you have an extender installed, when your laptop is connected to the extender and you try to watch a video or download anything, your request is radio-transmitted to the extender, and then the extender radio-transmits that request to the wi-fi router, then the router gets that packet of data from the Internet and radio-broadcasts it back to the extender, and then finally the extender broadcasts it to your laptop. And keep in mind, routers are limited in how many devices it can talk to at the same time. So extenders compound the issue of radio congestion when they are in use.

Q: Are Wireless Mesh networks a good option? Should I buy one?
A: For larger homes where one wireless router (even when centrally located) is unable to reach to all areas, wireless mesh routers are a good option. They are expensive! So I’d try all of the tips above first before upgrading to a mesh network.

Q: What about power line adapters? Is that a good option to get a signal to a hard to reach corner of my house?
A: You can usually get a set of power line adapters for $100 or less, and I would definitely consider that option if I had a distant corner of the house (e.g., rec-room in a basement). Netgear and TP-Link are popular options.

Have another question on this topic? Feel free to comment or write me at

1 Comment

  1. Ronna

    I have a question about wired connections. I connected my laptop to my router with an ethernet cable but isn’t working. I restarted my laptop while on airplane mode but that didn’t help. Any suggestions?

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