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Slow internet is simply not acceptable anymore. We lived through the days of dial-up (well, some of us did), so now we deserve an internet that operates the way science fiction promised. When your internet isn’t working right, the world feels less like “Star Trek” and more like “The Hunger Games.”
Fortunately, there are ways to fix slow internet. In this article, you’ll learn how to make your internet faster, regardless of whether you have a single device with problems or a household full of sluggish electronics. Internet that operates at warp speed is only a few paragraphs away.
We have become accustomed to blazing-fast speeds. Just a few decades ago, loading an image took forever, and streaming video was simply impossible. Now, we expect our HD and even 4K video to load in seconds and run for hours without buffering. We play online games with thousands of other players from all around the globe — all interacting in real time.
Even a minor amount of lag can ruin any of those experiences. You can tell when your video and audio are out-of-sync by a fraction of a second. A delayed swing of your avatar’s ax can mean the difference between eternal glory and instant death.
Three different processes have to work perfectly for our internet experience to seem fast enough: ping, upload, and download.
When you signed up for a plan with your internet service provider (ISP), the ISP’s plan listed a speed. If you were like me the first time I got an internet plan, you probably expected to be seeing that speed all the time — after all, it’s what you paid for. But the truth is that you may never see that full speed, and the speed you do see will vary depending on your equipment, your usage, and even the time of day.
Are you experiencing slow internet? Let’s start by narrowing down the problem.
Is the slow internet only occurring on a single device? If you have another phone, laptop, or desktop that you can test with, go ahead and check it now.
You’ll want to make sure that both devices are connected to the same Wi-Fi network. Run Ookla’s Speedtest on both devices to see if they are both experiencing the same level of slowdown. Keep that link in mind, as it will be the easiest way to test whether the speed of your internet connection is improving after any of these fixes. The test will give you information about ping, upload speeds, and download speeds — slow internet speeds can result from an increased ping or a decrease in upload/download speed, so be sure to check all three.
Depending on whether the slowdown is on one device or multiple, you’ll find ideas in the appropriate section below.
If your PC or Mac is the only device having internet issues, let’s start with the easiest option: restarting it. Several problems could be occurring, and most of them aren’t worth diagnosing. If a restart fixes the problem and it doesn’t come back, then you can just move on with your day. If there are updates to be run on the system, let those run and restart it again in case one of those updates resolves the problem.
If the problem persists, and if you are on a Wi-Fi network, try connecting directly to the router with an Ethernet cable if you can. No, I’m not asking you to stay there forever, but this will help us narrow down the issue. If the problem goes away when you connect via Ethernet, check out the instructions below on Wi-Fi problems.
If the problem occurs even on Ethernet, let’s try cutting down some of those browser tabs. In fact, go ahead and re-open the browser with just a single tab to see if you get your internet speed back. If it does, you might need to learn to whittle down those browser tabs in the future — and that’s a problem I’m very familiar with.
If that still didn’t work, you can try running a virus and malware scan on your computer. You could also try running an ad blocker to see if that speeds things up. If none of that works, there might be a deeper problem with your computer. Do programs other than the internet run slow on it? It’s probably time to get your computer looked at, but you should back up all of your important files first.
If the only device you are having internet speed issues on is your iPhone or Android, you should go ahead and try restarting it. If that solves the problem and the issue doesn’t come back, you can take the time you just saved and go stream “Justice League” on HBO Max.
If the problem persists, try disconnecting from the Wi-Fi. If you aren’t seeing any slowdown issues on your mobile network, scroll down to the section below on fixing Wi-Fi problems.
If the slowdown persists regardless of your network, it’s time to take a look at the phone itself. One likely culprit is the number of browser tabs you have open. Try restarting your browser with just a single tab and seeing if the speed comes back. If it does, you likely just need to limit your active browser tabs in the future.
Is the slowdown limited to your browser or is it occurring with all apps? You can try shutting down all other apps to see if the speed returns. If the problem still persists, you may need to get your phone serviced by the manufacturer or your mobile phone service provider.
If you can connect one of your laptops directly to the router via the Ethernet, go ahead and do so. If the speeds pick up, jump to the section below on fixing Wi-Fi problems.
If the problem persists even on Ethernet and it’s occurring on several devices, it’s very likely that either your modem or your ISP is at the center of the problem. If you have your last ISP bill handy, check it over thoroughly to see if there is any mention of a data cap, especially if you are nearing the end of your current billing cycle. Several ISPs throttle internet speeds after you reach a specified data cap, and that information is often buried in the fine print.
If your slowdown issues are intermittent, it may be due to heavy traffic from other customers of your ISP. This is especially likely if you have cable internet or if the slowdown is most noticeable in the evening hours (7-11 p.m. ) when people are home from work and using their internet more heavily.
At this point, your best course of action is to contact your ISP, especially if they supplied your modem. They’ll be able to determine whether it is an issue specific to you or whether it is a larger network issue, and they will likely specify a further course of action if any is possible. Even if your overall internet speeds are slow, there are things you can do to optimize your Wi-Fi on a slow internet connection.
Wi-Fi problems are a common reason for slow home internet. Your router is the source of your Wi-Fi signal, so much of our focus will be on that important device. To start with, we’ll see if simply restarting your router fixes the problem.
Warning: Before continuing, make sure that no one else is using your internet connection — including roommates, family, etc. If they are, these steps will cause their internet to drop, and dropping someone’s internet is a great way to make an enemy.
Look up the restart directions for your particular router if you can find them. If not, the following steps should work:
This is also a good chance to update your router’s firmware, which is important for security and can also fix some common Wi-Fi issues. Your router manufacturer’s website will have instructions on how to update your specific model. During this, you’re going to need to figure out how to log into your router. Don’t forget that process as we’ll be using it later.
One common cause of Wi-FI problems is router placement. People don’t like to have routers out in the open, but that is where they work best. If your router is behind a bookcase or under a table, it’s time to redecorate. Move your router into an open area where there is a relatively clean line of sight to your devices. Wi-Fi signals penetrate walls, but every object the signal goes through makes it weaker. Also, bring your router as close to the center of your home as possible, and make sure the antenna is pointing straight up.
This is a good time to look at the age of your router. The newer Wi-Fi standards are much better at providing a strong signal in a wide range of situations. Check your router label for a line that says “Dual-band Wireless AC/N,” “Wireless N Router,” or something similar. Specifically, you are looking for what that one- or two-letter sequence is. If there is an “N” or “AC,” your router is likely fairly new as these are the newer standards. If it’s an “A,” “B,” or “G” without the newer letters, your router is probably due for an upgrade.
Even with a well-placed modern router, Wi-Fi signals still only travel a limited distance. If you find that your internet speeds slow down as you get further from your router, you probably need to look into ways to extend your Wi-Fi range. This could include adding a Wi-Fi extender, a device that makes the internet faster further from your router. If you have just one or two devices that need faster speeds further from your router, you can also consider replacing those devices’ Wi-Fi connections with a powerline adapter, allowing you to connect to your router through your home’s electrical wiring at speeds faster than Wi-Fi.
Most routers can only handle about 10 devices. In the olden days, that was plenty. Now, even a single person could have enough computers, mobile phones, smart speakers, streaming devices, and Smart TVs to overload a router. If that sounds like you or your housemates, it’s probably time to add another router.
Sometimes, the device overload isn’t coming from inside the house — if you haven’t secured your Wi-Fi, any number of your neighbors could be taking advantage of your generosity. The convenience of unsecured Wi-Fi is not worth the risk, so make sure to secure your Wi-Fi, including adding a strong password.
The devices you have on Wi-FI are not the only thing that can interfere with your signal. If you are in an area with several Wi-Fi signals, they could be operating in the same frequency band as yours. Wireless phones, microwave ovens, baby monitors, and several other devices can also cause interference. Instead of trying to diagnose what device is interfering — or even if another device is interfering — it’s easier to just find a frequency with less interference.
Wi-Fi routers operate in either of two frequency bands — 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz — the latter being more common in newer routers. Some — known as dual-band routers — can operate in both ranges. Within each band, there are a series of smaller bands known as channels available to the router. Our next step is to find which channel has the least interference in your home. You can do this on either a Windows or Mac device, and you only need to do it once.
If you have a Mac, this will be incredibly easy. Just follow these steps.
Windows doesn’t have an integrated app for this process, but you can download WifiInfoView from NirSoft to achieve similar results. With that link, you’ll find instructions and a downloadable program. Follow their instructions until you have the recommended channels which you should write down for the next step.
Now, you’ll need to actually change the channel on your router. You should already know from the steps above how to log into your router, so go ahead and log back in. Look for a menu that says Wi-Fi settings or Wireless. In that menu, you should see an item that says Wi-Fi Channel or just Channel. Go ahead and set it to the channel you found earlier. You may have to hit the Save or Apply button to finalize the change. If your router is dual-band, there will be separate settings for 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz channels, which may not be in the same section of the menu.
If you can’t find the menu or the setting, Google is always around to help. Search for your brand and “set channel,” e.g., “Netgear set channel”. If you aren’t sure about what you are doing, definitely look up those router-specific settings. If you change the wrong router setting, you could lose your Wi-Fi entirely, making your current internet problem much worse.
If you are running a VPN, it’s a very likely cause for your slow internet. If you are wondering which VPN makes the internet faster, the sad answer is that none of them will. VPNs add additional steps to your internet connection, so they all inevitably slow it down. Some are far worse than others though, so let’s see how much of an impact your VPN is having.
Try turning your VPN off long enough to test your unprotected internet speeds. Before you do that, be sure to shut down any apps or browser windows you don’t want to be exposed outside of your VPN. You can use Ookla’s Speedtest again for this process. If your VPN is causing a significant slowdown in your connection, you should try looking for a faster VPN server. If you can’t find a fast enough server on your current VPN, you might need to switch to a faster VPN.
If none of these steps worked, you should definitely be contacting your ISP to see if they can offer a better resolution. If your Wi-Fi is causing problems, you can also contact the manufacturer so they can walk you through more advanced debugging steps.
If all else fails, it might be time to consider upgrading your internet access. Take a look at our list of the best ISPs to find out what options you might have available to you. It’s 2021 — don’t settle for slow internet!
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