Troubleshooting Slow Internet Issues During the Coronavirus Lockdown
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Troubleshooting Slow Internet Issues During the Coronavirus Lockdown

With working from home, and staying at home in general quickly becoming a (temporary we hope) way of life for many people, an increased number of us are relying on the Internet for work, education and entertainment.

The emphasis here is on the increased part. In many households not only are there adults working but students taking classes and, when not occupied thus gaming with friends or chatting via one of the many messenger services. Lots of us are indulging in the odd Netflix/Hulu/ Amazon Prime binge as well.

All of this adds up to place greater demand on our Wi-Fi network infrastructure, reducing the bandwidth available for each user, and is leaving people frustrated at seemingly slow internet speeds.

While internet service providers may not be able to instantly respond to these changes, there are a few tricks you can use to boost your home internet’s speed and keep everyone connected and productive (even if they are only watching Tiger King right now.)

Why is your internet slow?

There may be lots of reasons why your Internet speeds are slow right now. Internet use requires a reliable connection between your device and the destination, which may be a server that is physically located on the other side of the world.

Did you try turning your router off and on again? Yes, cliched advice, but it's worth a shot. Tip: make sure it’s turned off for at least ten seconds.

Your connection to that server may also be passing through hundreds of devices on its journey. Each one of these is a potential failure, or weak point. If one point along this path isn’t functioning optimally, this can significantly affect your internet experience.

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If you are continually having problems trying to connect via a VPN service may route your Internet signal through channels that are not so busy.

Web servers in particular are often affected by external factors, including Denial of Service (DOS) attacks, wherein an overload of traffic causes congestion in the server, and impedes proper functioning. And believe it or not, even with all that's going on the world right now the hackers are still out there (and as the human ones are probably bored too may be more active than ever)

While you may not have control over these things from your home network, that doesn’t mean you don’t have options to improve your internet speed.Here are some suggestions:

Wi-Fi signal boost

The access point (wireless router) in your home network is used to connect your devices to your internet service provider. Most access points provide a wireless signal with a limited number of channels, which can lead to slowing interference from nearby signals, like your neighbor’s. A “channel” is a kind of virtual “pipe” through which data is transferred.

Although your devices are designed to avoid interference by switching channels automatically (there are usually 14 available), it may help to check your router settings, as some are set to a single channel by default, especially older ones.

When trying different options to reduce interference, try to select channels 1, 6 or 11 as they can help to minimize problems (for 2.4GHz wireless).

What else can you do?

There are a few more things you can try to improve your Wi-Fi signal. If your router supports 5GHz Wi-Fi signals, switching to this can provide a faster data rate, but over shorter distances. Reposition your router for best coverage (usually a central position).

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The difference between 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi signals is they have different data transmission speeds. While 5GHz can transfer data faster (with 23 available channels), 2.4GHz provides a wider range. If you want speed, go for 5GHz. For better coverage, choose 2.4GHz.

Some domestic appliances can cause interference with your router. It’s worth checking if using your microwave oven, cordless phone or baby monitor affects your connection, as they may be using the same frequency as your router.

Using a Wi-Fi extender can help with coverage by boosting or extending the signal.

Viruses and malware

To avoid computer viruses, make sure you regularly check for updates on your devices and use antivirus software. It’s also worth rebooting your router to clear specific malware (malicious software designed to damage your device or server), such as VPNFilter – a malware that infects more than half a million routers in more than 50 countries.

You should also check the following:

Does your router need to be replaced with a newer model? This may be the case if it has been used for many years. Newer models support enhanced functions and faster internet speeds and are still available for purchase – and fast shipping – from the likes of Amazon and Best Buy.

Is the firmware of your wireless router updated? You can do this by visiting the device manufacturer’s website. This will help fix problems and might allow additional functionality. It’s unlikely this update is done automatically and most of us really don't usually have the time to check such things.

Planning your Internet usage

If multiple people are streaming video at your home, and in your neighborhood in general, which often requires ten times the daytime demand, a limited internet connection will soon be fully used up

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Try to plan you and family members’ online activities around peak times. Before the pandemic hit, most home internet usage was oriented around the early evenings, after close of business. With the shift to mass remote working and schooling, the demand for Internet access is likely much higher than usual.

Outside your home, connectivity is likely to be on a “best effort” plan, which shares a fixed bandwidth with other users. In other words, your Internet bandwidth is shared with others in your area when they access the internet at the same time. A shared bandwidth results in slower individual speeds.

You can’t control how many people access the internet, but you can manage your own internet activity by downloading large files or content overnight, or outside of peak hours (when there is less traffic).

How to improve your ISP’s network issues

While you can try to fix issues and optimize the setup inside your home, unfortunately you can’t really influence network performance outside it. Thus, contacting your Internet service provider and seeking support is your best option.

Be prepared, however, for the fact that they may be working with fewer staff and if a technician is needed while most companies do still have techs working they are unusually busy.

All the above considered, it’s important to remember that when using the Internet at home, we’re sharing a limited resource. Just like buying pasta or toilet paper, there are lots of people who need it just as much as you, so use it wisely.

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