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It’s time to roll up your sleeves and dive back into my favorite subject: wireless networks. I realize we’ve hit that drum a lot at Lifehacker, but that’s because WiFi issues are a fairly regular source of frustration for readers who don’t hesitate to give mine Tech 911 Inbox one ear.

This week, Lifehacker enthusiast Gareth writes:

I’m a lockdown teacher working from home. My personal laptop has such incredibly inconsistent speeds that I couldn’t use it for teaching. Fortunately, the work provided me with another laptop that works fine. My laptop is pretty new and I’ve never had WiFi issues. My current package is 125MB download and 10MB upload speed. However, some tests regularly come in under 5MB. In addition, my ps4 is hardly usable. Speeds under 5MB are the norm. Sometimes less than 1MB. I bought a wifi extender and a LAN cable and still under 5MB even though as you can see in the photos my phone has over 100MB in the same room as the ps4 which has a LAN connection.

If you have any suggestions I’d love to hear then. I tried changing DNS online to the recommended ones and did port forwarding but it made no difference. The speeds seem to be available in the router as other devices are fine. I know the ps4 only has 2.4 GHz, but doesn’t that limit the speed as dramatically as it is?

It is probably time to buy a new router

First off, I’d like to thank you for sending pictures of your network nightmare Gareth confirming that your connection speed is junk on both your PlayStation 4 and an older laptop (<5 Mbps downloads) on yours Phone great though (~ 110Mbps downloads). I thought I had some great troubleshooting ideas in mind, until I got to the point in your letter where you say that connecting devices with an ethernet cable didn't fix your speed at all. That makes things more complicated.

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In general, there are three basic troubleshooting tips that I would recommend to people when they experience inconsistent speeds on their devices:

  • Reboot your router.
  • Update your router’s firmware.
  • If possible, switch to Ethernet to improve your connection.

I am assuming that you have already made the first suggestion. Try the second one if it helps troubleshoot errors or other network problems. And then I can even recommend a general factory reset of your router. While you have to set up your WiFi again (which should take every five minutes), this could work magic on the problem. As for the last suggestion, I also assume that you connect your laptop directly to one of the Ethernet ports on your router (possibly not to the one on your WiFi extender) using a relatively modern Ethernet cable (Cat 5E) or cat. 6). Have you tried using a different Ethernet cable just in case?

It’s really weird that your PlayStation 4 should have such big problems with an ethernet connection, and I’m assuming you would get the same results if you plugged your old laptop directly into the router via ethernet. If you can get faster speeds, connect to your PlayStation 4. If you’re still driving slower, try connecting to your new laptop, etc. Basically the goal here is to determine if something is wrong with your router (where I think the problem is) or if it is your devices. While I would normally expect a faulty router to perform poorly for all of the devices connected to it, it is possible that there are some variables that make this difficult to identify.

Illustration for article titled How Do I Fix Inconsistent Download Speeds on My Home Network?

For example, it’s possible for your newer laptop to connect over your router’s 5 GHz band and this kind of gives you a solid connection, whereas your older laptop only connects over 2.4 GHz and messes everything up. The ethernet problem is confusing, but it is possible that you will see normal performance using a different ethernet cable as mentioned or testing different ethernet ports on your router yourself.

If your “router” is indeed the router / modem your ISP gave you, I think now is the time to call them and ask for a replacement (or upgrade). If they are reluctant or you don’t want to bother with it, ask if your devices need firmware updates that they can send you. (Or unplug your cable modem, wait a few minutes, and then plug it back in to see if that forces updates.)

You can also try buying your own router – I recommend something cheap and easyGiven your speed and how your cable modem / router is set to bridge mode. Basically, you want to turn it into a “dumb” cable modem and let your new router do all the heavy lifting.

Illustration for article titled How Do I Fix Inconsistent Download Speeds on My Home Network?

If you already have such a setup, you have probably reached the troubleshooting point where it is worth exploring a new router. Again, opt for something quick and simple like the $ 60 TP-Link Archer A7 and swap it out for whatever you’re using right now. That should completely fix your problems – and you probably won’t even need your wireless extender to get a decent signal all over your house.

In general, I don’t use wireless extenders when I can avoid them. They determine your speed when you don’t know exactly where you placed them (about halfway between your router’s location and the end of your router’s coverage) and when the extenders themselves don’t support a dedicated backhaul connection to your router. You want one that either uses 5 GHz to connect to your router and puts out a 2.4 GHz network, or one that uses 2.4 GHz to connect to your router and a 5 GHz Network output. If your extender is set to send to your devices and router in the same band, cut your maximum potential speed in half – at least.

Illustration for article titled How Do I Fix Inconsistent Download Speeds on My Home Network?

I applaud the steps you’ve taken so far to troubleshoot your router – switching to a faster DNS is a great, general thing that you can do in any situation. You don’t have to bother with port forwarding though as it doesn’t affect your download / upload speed, but more importantly your overall connection (if you are) trying to access an online gaming service, for example).

My only other thought, if you really want to stick with this router, is to split your WiFi into separate networks for the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands. This could at least allow you to squeal in the meantime with devices that can access any tape that gives you reasonable results (if any). However, this is really just a patch. If everything I’ve suggested doesn’t work, I really think it’s time to buy a new router. And that’s normal! Routers are messed up for the strangest reasons.

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