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It’s annoying when your internet service isn’t working properly. And it’s difficult to figure out what’s wrong.
It could be your internet company’s fault, a boo-boo with your home gear, or interference from your neighbor’s Call of Duty game night. And sometimes we are our own worst enemy.
Try to address these four mistakes that could be degrading your home internet:
1. Do not confuse the modem and router
Confession: I made that mistake just this week.
The modem is the box that brings the internet into your home. It usually plugs into a wiring jack in your wall.
The router connects to your modem with a cable and brings your devices online, usually over WiFi. (Some of you may have a router and modem combo.)
If you’re the type to go beyond your WiFi 6E mesh network, blessed be you. Normal people just want our internet to work.
The distinction between modems and routers is important because of #2.
2. Don’t hide your wireless router
It’s okay to tuck your modem under a stack of books. But your router needs to be treated like a Fabergé egg.
Your WiFi works best when your router is in the heart of your home — not on a bookshelf, parked under a metal table, or behind your TV or fish tank.
I understand why people – and I’m one of those people – hide these gimmicks out of sight. Routers range in appearance from “yuck” to “get that creepy UFO out of my house”. (A free business idea: adorable outfits to cover up our ugly routers.)
And the farther your devices are from the router, the harder it can be to establish a solid connection.
Beware of interference from walls, metal, water and other obstacles that prevent the beautiful Internet rainbows from reaching your bedroom TV.
Carl Leuschner, senior vice president of the company behind internet service Spectrum, said customers often have hiccups with connected doorbells like those from Amazon’s Ring. The outside wall of your home gets in the way, and the doorbell is often far from your router.
If you have unreliable WiFi, even a small router move can make a big difference.
Can you place your router on your TV stand instead of on a shelf, or move it from the living room floor to the top of a closet? For issues with connected doorbells, Leuschner says Spectrum suggests people move their routers closer to the door or buy a device that extends WiFi into tricky corners.
Washington Post tech columnist Geoffrey A. Fowler wrote a wireless troubleshooting guide in which he mainly suggested free solutions. (One tip: start by unplugging your modem, waiting 10 seconds, and plugging it back in.)
3. Don’t buy the super fast internet
ISPs will dazzle you with service plans that promise BLAZING. FAST. SPEEDS.
But in a 2019 Wall Street Journal project, researchers found that most people were only using a fraction of the internet speeds they paid for. Streaming video quality didn’t improve much for people watching over faster connections.
I’m not saying you’ll get by with the dial-up Internet of the 1990’s. But most homes will get by with a basic high-speed plan from an ISP that offers download speeds of 50, 100, 200, or 300 megabits per second. (Many Americans can’t even access speeds that fast or afford service. Internet access is a big problem.)
Download speeds measure the maximum rate of online data being transferred into your home. Will you actually get the 300 megabit speeds you signed up for? Not necessarily.
Sascha Meinrath, a telecoms professor at Penn State University, said provider download speeds are often sufficient for most homes, but a bottleneck could be upload speeds — a measure of the data coming from your devices back to the internet be transmitted.
Tight upload speeds could be the problem if your Zoom call freezes while your teen fires off their TikTok creations. But upload speeds are usually ignored in Internet companies’ marketing pitches.
It’s worth starting with your provider’s lowest plan. If your internet is molasses, consider upgrading. But first, try moving your router and other fix-it experiments from Geoff’s column.
4. You don’t have to get your router from your internet company
Many ISPs will give you (or charge you for) a modem or router. You should consider buying them yourself, although I’m at odds between buying and renting from the internet company.
Some providers charge an additional $5 to $15 per month to use their router or modem. You save money when you buy it yourself. Follow your ISP’s installation instructions. (Here are modem guides from two major vendors, Xfinity and Spectrum.)
With your own equipment, you replace your modem and router whenever you want, not when your ISP chooses to do so. If your router is more than two or three years old, it’s worth considering a new one. Modems are usually fine longer.
However, there are advantages to accepting your ISP’s modem or router. The company should keep your software up to date, make sure your devices can handle the internet speeds you’re paying for, and help you with any problems.
I buy my own router and modem, but it’s not for everyone.
Whether you rent or buy your Internet equipment, make an informed choice and not what the ISP decides for you.
Related reading: How ISPs and TV Providers get away with increasing your bill
Does your ISP charge for a router? Or make you pay extra to use your own? Take a look at your internet bill and email me at [email protected]
If you have a relatively new model of Amazon Echo home speaker, it can add momentum to WiFi dead zones in your home.
For people who also own Amazon’s Eero “mesh” WiFi system — which is essentially a router plus mini-pods you can place around your home to spread WiFi — Echo devices can act as WiFi signal boosters serve. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post.)
My colleague Chris Velazco tried the Eero and Echo combo and found it wasn’t a magic bullet.
But he said the Echo plus Eero combo might help when you come to a point where your Wi-Fi is getting a little precarious. Maybe it’s a bedroom in the corner of your house or the internet dead zone in Chris’ kitchen.
Read more from Chris: Some Amazon Echos can double as WiFi range extenders. It’s not a perfect solution.
And Geoff wrote about Mesh WiFi: Consider this upgrade to fix your internet dead zones.