Why your WiFi connection is slow

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Have you ever tried to connect to a WiFi network at a coffee shop, mall, or even the confines of your own home, but couldn’t? Even if you did get a connection, was it painstakingly slow? Ever tried watching a YouTube video on your smartphone, tablet or laptop, only to have it buffer every few seconds? Are you a gamer and constantly lag when you’re playing? Want to download files and programs from the Internet, but that green bar denoting your download progress is moving at a snail’s pace? This article from the Wall Street Journal and the above image outlines why.

Let’s say that the subscription to your ISP promises up to 300 mbps Internet speed. But that’s not the speed you’re going to get at any given time (hence the up to), and that signal might even degrade before it hits your home for various reasons—bad wiring, network congestion, server problems—the list of reasons can go on and on. Once it enters your router and starts transmitting a signal, there’s a myriad of other devices that can further degrade that signal—other people’s routers (this can be a pain especially if you live in an apartment like I do), microwaves, walls, and the distance from the router (obviously, the further away you are from a WiFi access point, the weaker the signal).

Will that finally determine how fast your WiFi will be? Not in the slightest. You then have to account for your router’s internal networking tasks, which may take up around 50% of the available bandwidth after the degradation of your signal from the ISP to the router and from other devices. Then the real fun begins, especially if you’re living with your family, and Mom’s, Dad’s, and your siblings’ devices, which include smartphones, tablets, laptops, desktops, gaming consoles, and smart TVs, will be fighting for that remaining bandwidth. Some people have rectified this situation by either directly plugging into the router, buying a better router, or buying adapters to boost the wireless signal and improve the bandwidth situation.

It would seem that unless you have adapters that boost the wireless signal, the only solution is to make a sacrifice. If you can plug a device into a router, then do so—but those who can only connect via wireless will most likely lag as a result if multiple devices are competing for that available bandwidth that is coming into your home.