With the recent and ongoing stay at home orders and social distancing in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more people than ever before are working remotely, participating in e-learning, and binging Netflix. This has created quite a bit of strain on internet service providers, where residential service has historically taken a backseat to business customers. The infrastructure available to residential areas just isn’t as robust as the dedicated enterprise connections that most are used to through their work or school. As a result the bandwidth limitations have become all to apparent as a house full of people try to work, learn, and entertain themselves all at the same time – all day long! However fear not as there are a few things that we can do to help make sure we wring every bit of bandwidth that we can out of our connection to the world.
1 Reset that modem and router on the daily!
Just like your computer can get sluggish in-between restarts, your modem and router accumulate errors and issues the longer that they are powered on. Oftentimes a simple power cycle will resolve most connection issues, and speed things up when they have slowed to a crawl! Disconnect the power from your modem and router for 5 minutes and then plug them back in one at a time – power up the modem first and allow it to fully boot up ~2 minutes before plugging the router back in. If you have a modem/router combo then you just unplug for 5 minutes and plug it back in! I have my modem/router combo connected to one of those mechanical light times so that it automatically power cycles every night at 4am.
2 Rent or Own?
While we are on the topic of modems and routers, do you own your own equipment, or are you paying your ISP a monthly rental fee? These fees can range from $10-15 per month forever and the ISP provided equipment is pretty low quality. Purchasing your own modem/router combo will cost you $60-100 up front depending on what you pick, but you will save money in the long run by not renting equipment from your ISP. Purchasing higher quality equipment will also allow for faster speeds on your home WiFi.
3 Which WiFi to Choose?
Choose your WiFi connection to maximize your value. Most routers these days have dual band WiFi broadcasting at both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. You will see the difference when selecting which network to connect to, usually it’s right there in the name like this: HomeNetwork-2.4GHz or HomeNetwork-5GHz. The main difference is that 5 GHz allows for much faster speeds and 2.4 GHz allows for a stronger single further from the router. So if you are sitting somewhat nearby your router, pick the 5 GHz for faster connection speeds. If your router is on the other side of the house and you have a weaker signal, pick the 2.4 GHz for a more reliable network connection.
4 Timing is Everything!
Try and time your network usage and compromise with your family or roommates. If you have work or e-learning to do then ask others in your home to ease up on network intensive activities like Netflix or other video streaming- watching Netflix in HD consumes around 3,000 MB per hour (3 GB) and Netflix in 4K consumes even more. Using Zoom consumes around 810 MB per hour (0.81 GB) for just receiving the video stream, and uses about the same amount for sending your video stream back. You can always turn off your webcam to improve the quality of what you are receiving via Zoom. By comparison, playing online games consumes far less data, popular games such as Fortnite and Minecraft both use about 100 MB of data per hour (0.10 GB). So if you have an important Zoom call, ask others in the house to pause the Netflix and play a game instead!
5 Wired > Wireless
If you are still having connection issues with your home WiFi setup, consider plugging in an ethernet cable to your router for a hardwired connection. WiFi is subject to interference from all sorts of things – from your microwave to your neighbor’s router. While WiFi has a theroretical speed of up to 6.9 Gbps, it ususally maxes out at around 1 Gbps. Comparatively a hardwired ethernet connection will get you 10 Gbps or more!
Bonus: Speed Test
Here is a quick and easy speed test to check your home internet connection: https://fast.com/