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Why Is My WiFi So Slow?

Written by: Jefferson / September 24, 2021

There are few things as frustrating as dealing with slow internet. In fact, having no internet might actually be less irritating than dealing with constant buffering or ridiculous load times. If you have a WiFi network, you have probably experienced issues with slow internet before. 
There are lots of reasons why this might happen and a lot of them revolve around your router. Using a high-quality router that features the latest in next-generation WiFi technology can significantly reduce the odds of experiencing unbearably slow internet. However, there are still a few reasons why you might be having difficulties with your WiFi speeds, even if you are using an incredibly powerful router and servers. Interference, signal strength, the hardware used, bandwidth usage, tablets,  smartphones, and Bluetooth devices, can all have an effect on WiFi signals. 

How Does WiFi Work?

Before we get into what might be causing your internet to run slowly, we will first need to cover exactly how your WiFi works. Through the use of antennas, your router is responsible for creating a virtual network that wirelessly connects to your devices. Whether you’re an Android user or an iPhone user, connecting a Mac, smart TVs, or need to use baby monitors, your WiFi router is needed to make these devices function. 
This network is what is being referred to when talking about WiFi. In addition to creating this wireless network, your router has a hardwire connection to your modem. Technically, your router doesn’t connect to the internet. 
Instead, it will connect to the modem that creates a high speed internet connection. A modem acts as a sort of digital translator between the internet and your router. The electrical signals and complex coding of the internet are virtually unreadable by most devices. The modem takes this information and basically breaks it down in a universal analog language that is easily understood by your devices. A typical exchange will look similar to this:
1.After connecting to your WiFi network, you click on a web page (which has an IP address). 
2.The information prompt is first sent to your router wirelessly and then to your modem through a cable.
3.Your modem will upload this prompt to the internet before it receives a response. Upload speeds vary from device to device.
4.The response will be broken down and translated into a binary code that your device can understand.
5.Your modem will then transfer the code to your router, where it will be screened for potential threats, such as viruses and cookies. This may result in a slow internet connection (in which case, a Wi-Fi extender may be necessary). 
6.If acceptable, the code is then wirelessly transmitted to your device and the page will appear on your screen.
Despite being a somewhat complicated process, this exchange will typically require a fraction of a second to complete. The binary code ( a series of ones and zeroes) that is used to create images, sounds, and words on your device’s screen is measured in bits. 
Each digit in a binary sequence represents one bit of data and eight bits will equal one byte. Most internet connections are measured in megabytes per second (Mbps). A megabyte is equal to eight million bits and so one Mbps is equal to eight million bits being downloaded or uploaded every second. The average download speed for a WiFi network is between 12 and 25 Mbps so there is a lot of information being uploaded and downloaded every second that you are connected to the internet. Depending on the download, your internet connection speeds may be affected.

Troubleshooting Slow WiFi 

The connection shared between your device, router, and modem will upload and download hundreds of millions of bits every single second. As a result, even the slightest issues could quickly cause significant problems with connection and speeds. 
It’s possible for the root cause to be the device you’re using, the router, the modem, the Wi-Fi network, your high-speed internet plan, your quality of service, whether or not you have an old router, the cables, or even the website you're visiting, just to name a few. By following this list, you should be able to narrow down what might be causing your Wi-Fi connection to run slower than usual:

Reload the Website and Change Devices 

The first step is to figure out if the website you are using is the problem. It’s not uncommon for websites to crash, especially if they are experiencing particularly heavy traffic. If there is still a problem, try going to another website. The odds of two websites chosen at random crashing at the same time are astronomically low. 
If the other website loads up normally, then the issue is with the first website and there is nothing that you can do to fix the problem. However, if the second website doesn’t load and you’re still getting slow internet speeds, then the issue might be with your device. Try using another device connected to your network and visit the same page. If there are no problems then the slow internet is the fault of the first device you used. If this new device is experiencing the same issues, you will need to try the next step. 

Check for Outages and Test Your Connection Speed

It’s possible that you aren’t the only person that is currently experiencing difficulties with slow internet. If you are able, go to the Downdetector website and check if your area is experiencing issues. The internet is run using electric signals being transferred all around the world, so it doesn’t take much to disrupt a connection and create connection problems. 
If there are no issues being reported in your area regarding the Wi-Fi signal, that means that your issues are with your local network. The next step would be to test the overall speed of your connection. Using a website like Speedtest will help you to identify your current speed. 
Before starting the test you should exit out of any streaming services, pause any downloads, and stop any other heavy internet activities. It’s important to note that you probably won’t get the exact speed advertised by your internet service provider. They often sell your rates as “up to” X amount of speed so it’s completely normal for your speeds to be lower than what your subscription plan claims. However, if the test reveals a very low connection speed then you will need to move to the next step. 

Change the Channel 

Your WiFi network connection operates in a similar way to your car radio. The signals are sent out in wave frequencies that are picked up by antennas. These frequencies are connected to a channel used by your router. The issue is that the more routers on a channel, the more frequencies will be transmitted. 
If you live in a densely populated area, it’s possible that your router is operating on the same channel as your neighbors. This can cause severe issues with connections and your overall speed. You will need to find a channel that either currently isn’t being used or is only used by a few other routers. By changing your WiFi channel, you should be able to improve your connection. If not, then you will need to try a few other options. 
Some newer WiFi routers have auto channel selection that will select the least noisy channel upon power up.  Restart your WiFi router can often fix channel congestion.

Restart Your Equipment 

One of the easiest ways to fix a problem in the tech world is to simply turn it off and turn it back on again. Believe it or not, this can fix a lot of problems and it’s worth the time to try it. All you will have to do is remove the power plug of your router and modem and wait for about a minute or so. You should also take this opportunity to restart whatever device that you are using as well, just in case. 
After a minute, plug in the power source of your equipment and let them boot themselves up. It will probably take a couple of minutes before they are connected and ready to go, so sit back and relax. Once they are reconnected and your device is able to get online again, you should retest your connection speed and see if any improvements were made. If the issues are still persisting then you will need to start using some more advanced techniques to repair them.

Improve Your Connection 

Unless you are using a router capable of creating a mesh WiFi system, your network will resemble an invisible bubble with your router located in the dead center. If you are having issues with your connection, it’s possible that it’s the result of a poor connection to your router. Physical objects such as walls in your home can dampen and weaken the connection between your device and your router. 
Move your device closer to the router and see if your connection speed is improved. If it does then you were just too far out of range earlier and will need to upgrade your router for more coverage. However, if the issue continues to persist you will need to plug your device directly into the router. 
By plugging in directly to your router, it will eliminate the possibility of a poor wireless connection and should improve your overall speed. Run the speed test again and see if this fixed the issue. If not, there are still a few options left to try. 

Bypass the Router 

You don’t actually need a router in order to access the internet, since the router is only responsible for creating your WiFi network. Use an ethernet cable and plug your device directly into the modem. This should immediately provide some answers to your potential connection issues. Run the speed test one more time and see if there are any changes. 
If the connection speed has improved, then you have a faulty router and will need to replace it. Router technology improves at a fairly incredible rate so it’s a good idea to upgrade your router every three to five years. On the other hand, modem technology largely remains the same and doesn’t require upgrades very often. If you are still having issues with your connection speed even after plugging into your modem, then you might need to replace it instead.

Replace Your Cables

Before you start purchasing all new gear, there is still one option left that might solve the issue: replacing your cables. It’s a little bit of a “hail mary” type fix, but it might end up saving you some money and is worth trying. If you don’t have a spare ethernet cable, go out and buy a new one. 
They are only a few dollars and it’s good to have a backup. Use this new cable to plug directly into the modem and try the speed test again. It’s possible that your cable was old or had minor damage preventing a solid connection. In the event that this didn’t fix your issues, you might be out of options for a cheap or easy fix.

Call Your Internet Service Provider

The last thing that you should do before purchasing some new equipment is to call up your internet service provider. Even though you have checked to see if there are currently outages in your area, it doesn’t mean that your internet service provider isn’t the reason for your issues. 
You are most likely paying a fairly large sum of money each month for internet service. If you are having difficulties with your internet then your provider should be aware of them. It’s entirely possible that it could be an issue on their end that is causing the problems in the first place.  

The Takeaway

Although we might sometimes take it for granted, using a WiFi network is an incredible feature of modern technology. There are so many factors and components that play a role in creating a WiFi network that it’s just a matter of time before you experience issues with low speeds or poor connections. 
Most of the time, the issue is the result of an outdated or faulty router. By upgrading your router today, you can improve your overall experience with WiFi and reduce the odds of slow speeds and connection issues. 
How Does Wi-Fi Work? | Scientific American.
What is Binary? | Computer Hope
How Bits and Bytes Work | HowStuffWorks
Speedtest by Ookla - The Global Broadband Speed Test
How to Change the WiFi Channel on Your Router | Hello Tech
Why Rebooting Your Router Fixes So Many Problems (and Why You Have to Wait 10 Seconds) | How To Geek
How to tell when it's time to upgrade your router | CNet