Whether for work, accessing information, socializing or entertainment, the internet is an important part of our day-to-day lives. We connect to the world through our phones, computers, TVs and tablets. These days, even our appliances can connect to our home internet and work together in the smart home ecosystem.
All these connections take up a fraction of your network's available bandwidth. In general, the more concurrent connections, the slower everything on the network will be. Managing which devices are connected to your network and how much bandwidth they are using, by itself, could be enough to maintain adequate speeds.
However, in some situations, you may need to do a little more tinkering to increase your internet speed. This includes some network configurations as well as hardware and service upgrades. Knowing your needs and your current network's capabilities can help guide you.
Understanding your connectivity needs
How you use the internet makes a big difference in determining how much internet you need. Different uses will have different requirements and considerations. Working from home, gaming and streaming services are just a few of the most common uses that require a lot of bandwidth.
Working from home may require faster internet
Depending on your type of work, your speed requirements will vary. Sending emails, editing cloud-based documents and posting to live chat channels have relatively modest requirements. Video chats and large file transfers, on the other hand, may require much faster connection speeds, both for upload and download. In either case, a reliable, consistent connection is a crucial requirement that should be at the top of your list if you work remotely.
What speed is ideal for gaming?
For online gaming, you need to take into consideration both speed and latency. When playing online games, speed helps when downloading updates, streaming new assets and graphics and connecting to game servers. Latency is the time it takes for your device to send and receive new information or data from a server. If your device has high latency, the longer it takes. If your device has low latency, the faster it takes. This could be impacted by distance from a wireless router or other Wi-Fi interference.
High latency is often referred to as ping and is measured in milliseconds. The lower the value, the less time it takes your device to communicate back and forth with the server. While anything below 100ms can be adequate, ping speeds below 50ms are considered ideal by gaming enthusiasts.
What speeds work well for video streaming?
Connecting to streaming services is another instance where a high download rate is important. Low connection speeds can cause videos to buffer and pause or cause the service to lower a video's bitrate, resulting in a blurry picture or muffled sound.
Is your internet speed affected by network performance issues?
In some cases, connection issues are quite obvious. Frequent disconnections, video playback interruptions or inconsistent download rates are clear signs of performance issues. However, a connection may appear sufficient while performing below its intended speed.
Test network speeds, including download and upload speeds.
Many online services exist to test your network speeds. These speed tests will evaluate your upload and download rates and then return a value to you in Mbps. These tests will give you the most accurate idea of your network capabilities at that moment if you're connected via a wired connection from the only device currently connected to the network. If you're connected using Wi-Fi, the speed will appear slower than it really is.
It's also important to test with multiple devices as well to see if your network can perform well enough even in a worst-case scenario. If you've experienced significantly slower speeds when multiple devices are connected, this could be a sign that your internet speed is insufficient for your needs.
There is also value in checking the wireless connection speed, especially if you intend to access the network from phones, tablets or other devices via Wi-Fi. This can give you a more realistic picture of what transfer speeds you can expect rather than what is possible in an ideal situation.
Monitor your network usage.
Accessing your router can help to see which devices are connected and how much bandwidth they are using. If you see a device that appears to be using more data than you expected, then that is a good indicator that something unusual is going on. Perhaps an application is downloading updates or uploading backups to the cloud behind the scenes. It could also be an indication of a potential cybersecurity threat. If a device is not updating, try restarting the router.
Data caps and throttling
Some internet service providers (ISPs) enforce data caps that limit the amount of data that can be transferred during a pay period. What happens after that limit is reached can vary by provider. Some ISPs will charge an additional fee for data over the limit, while some will limit the transfer speed beyond the data cap amount. Check with your provider to see if this is the case, and adjust your plan if needed.
Types of internet connections
There are different types of internet connections, not all of which are widely available. Some types of internet options may vary in cost as well. For example, cable may be more affordable than a satellite option, since cable providers will offer bundling discounts. However, your choice of internet may also factor in other considerations, such as your desired speed. Check to see whether faster internet is available in your area.
A cable internet connection uses the same coaxial cables that cable television uses to transfer data to and from your ISP. Cable service providers often offer bundles that include internet and television service together.
As far as speed goes, cable runs at an average pace in comparison to other internet options. Overall, cable may be a great option if you're looking for an affordable rate, but it may not be the most reliable connection if you have multiple devices on the same internet performing data-intense activities.
As an alternative to a wired connection, 5G Home internet provides high-speed wireless internet access. Since the connection comes from a cell tower, 5G internet service avoids issues presented by routers such as range or the need for a physical cable and outlet to plug into. Availability of 5G may be limited by the evolving service area of each provider.
Through the use of fiber optics, this technology can offer a faster internet connection than other services such as cable. With the increased bandwidth offered by fiber optics technology, services like Verizon Fios can offer phone, internet and TV services through the same cable. However, fiber optic internet technology is still relatively new and coverage is not as widely available as cable.
Satellite internet is a wireless technology that transfers information in space. While satellite can be used anywhere, the nature of the connection makes it especially useful in rural areas that may not yet have other high-speed options. Satellite may also be more expensive compared to fiber and cable internet packages.
Dial-up internet makes use of phone lines to call a service provider to connect to the internet. With a maximum data transfer rate of 56 kbps, the speed offered by dial-up may be sufficient for email and browsing text-based websites, but many sites and services are built with faster connections in mind.
Dial-up technology may be insufficient for browsing content with images, audio and video, as well as downloading and transferring files. It's also insufficient for multi-tasking. Many people also use dial-up internet with a phone line, so whenever you're online, you can't use your phone line for anything else.
Digital subscriber line
A digital subscriber line (DSL) connection uses phone lines but offers a faster connection than dial-up. This is because DSL uses more bandwidth than dial-up and isn't hindered by disruptions in the phone line. Unlike dial-up, DSL operates at a different frequency and so allows a phone line to be used for telephone calls without interfering with an internet connection.
Optimizing your home network to make it faster
Some aspects of your home network setup may be affecting your speed as well. Software and hardware configurations can add unnecessary complications or issues to your network. In some cases, simply replacing outdated hardware and devices can make a big difference in the stability and speed of your network connection.
A router is a device that communicates directly with a modem and distributes your internet connection around your home. These devices can be bought outright, but they can also be rented from your internet service provider. Renting a router can be a good way to avoid any issues stemming from your router since the ISP should offer routers that are compatible with your connection setup.
However, whether you own or rent your router, its placement is an important aspect of its operation. Typically, a device's connection to the router will be stronger the closer it is, so try to place your router in a central location where it can be conveniently accessed by the devices that need to connect to it. However, this may be limited by the placement of a modem for the two to work together.
Keep components up to date
Physical components, such as cables and connectors, can become worn and, as a result, become less effective. Replacing coaxial cables with brand-new ones can help. Additionally, some settings and upgrades can help to improve connection speed:
- Connection protocols: Make sure your router supports Wi-Fi 6 connection protocols, which offer a faster and more efficient connection.
- Frequency bands: Routers will often offer a 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz connection band. The 2.4 GHz connection is slower but has a longer range, while the 5 GHz connection works better closer to the router. These considerations can help you decide which band to connect to.
- Wi-Fi extenders: These devices can be used to extend the useful reach of a Wi-Fi network. Strategic placement of extenders can help in larger homes where a centrally placed router is unable to communicate with all connected devices.
Wireless connections can be convenient, but their speed and connection can be limited by the transmitter and receiver's capabilities. Through the use of Cat5 and Cat6 ethernet cables, devices can connect directly to a router, reducing latency and possibly increasing connection speeds. In most homes, Cat5 cables are sufficient, but those with more intense needs may benefit from the increased data transfer capabilities of Cat6 cables.
A passthrough powerline can help to make a more direct connection between a device and the router by using your home's powerline. However, these connections can have connection issues in homes with multiple circuits, and they are susceptible to electrical interference.
Particularly if you live in a well-populated area, network security is a must. Regularly changing your network password can help avoid direct connection by unwanted users. Additionally, security software can help prevent remote intrusions. By securing your network and kicking illegitimate connections, you can improve your connection quality.
Device-related performance loss
Within devices themselves, both software and hardware can affect performance and result in issues with your internet connection. Some may be outdated and there may be behind-the-scenes programs that could be causing issues.
Upgrade old hardware
The devices that you use to access the internet can be the source of some performance issues. As devices become outdated, they may have compatibility issues with new or updated operating systems and, thus, stop being supported. This can result in performance issues, including poor network performance. Upgrading to a new device, such as a tablet or laptop, can help with these problems.
Additionally, desktop computers may have insufficient memory to meet the demands of apps like video streaming services. This could be a sign of faulty or insufficient RAM. Upgrading your computer's memory can help in these instances.
Operating system complications
Tasks running in the background can have an impact on a device's operations, causing slowdowns in everything from network performance to the loading time of applications. This can include application launchers, automatically updating software and browser cookies that track internet behavior. Closing unnecessary applications and routinely deleting cookies can eliminate some of these issues.
Ads provide a source of revenue for many websites, so they're likely here to stay. However, these ads can have an impact on internet speed in several ways. High-resolution images and video can take up valuable bandwidth or count toward a monthly data cap. Ads can also be resource intensive, taking up memory and processor power that can have a slowing effect beyond issues with internet speed.
Third-party browser extensions can help to block ads, which can result in a smoother browsing experience, reducing bandwidth and data usage. However, it's always best to research any extension before using it, as some extensions have no direct support from the browser developers.
Upgrade your internet service
If other options have been exhausted, sometimes your internet speed can be increased by upgrading your existing service. ISPs typically offer packages in tiers, which can differ in factors like upload and download speed, data caps and even additional hardware, such as Wi-Fi extenders.
If you spend a lot of time online or you're working with outdated tech, it may be time to upgrade your service. More than ever before, faster internet options are becoming increasingly available to people all over the world — even those in more rural areas. The only reason some may hesitate to upgrade is because of worries about cost.
However, the reality is that most internet upgrades are unlikely to increase your service costs, depending on which package you choose. ISPs may also bundle together services or offer deals and discounts that can help you save money. As such, it might be worth it to look at other options in your area to find a provider that offers faster service.