We all have a wide range of devices in our homes that are designed to be streaming data over Wi-Fi at any given moment, if not constantly. The wireless router is responsible for directing all of this wireless data from its origin to the correct recipient. If you are in a crowded neighborhood or apartment complex, there are likely to be multiple wireless routers in close proximity; all trying to send information over the same airspace. The same problem occurs when multiple people attempt to use the same channels on wireless radios – mass confusion! Luckily, there is a simple remedy that will have you downloading at maximum speed in no time.
Diagnosing Wireless Speed
Before you implement the steps outlined below, keep in mind that if your current wireless network is meeting your needs, then there may be no reason to change the settings and run the risk of accidentally making an unwanted change. I recommend changing your wireless signal if your signal is unacceptable and you need to explore your options short of buying a new router or upgrading your internet service.
Learn the download and upload speeds your internet service provider (ISP) should be providing along with your particular internet connection package. This is sometime available online, otherwise, you can definitely discover their speeds with a quick phone call to customer service. Here are links to popular American ISP contact pages:
- AT&T – Contact page
- Comcast – Customer Service page
- Road Runner – Contact page
- Verizon – Contact page
- Earthlink – Support page
- Charter – Contact page
Once you know your expected download and upload speeds, you need to verify them against actual speeds with a short test. Use SpeedTest.net to quickly assess your download and upload speed from anywhere in the world. The test should only take a minute, and you’ll get two scores at the end. I ran the test from my laptop and received the following scores:
Remember that you will not get the same speeds as me when you run the test. Speeds vary by region, ISP, and internet connection. Make sure you first run this test on a wired connection first, to make sure you have the best connection. If your speed is not consistent with what the ISP promises on a wired connection, the problem may be on the ISP side and there is nothing you can do to your router to help the situation. However, if you are satisfied the wired speed, then continue the test on your wireless connection. If you find a notable decrease in wireless speed, I recommend changing your wireless channel on your router to increase wireless speed.
Wireless Channel Selection
In order to select the best wireless channel for your router, you need find out what channels are being used by other nearby routers. There is a free utility called inSSIDer 2, but I prefer to use the online webapp called WiFi Stumbler. Both accomplish the same task, however, with WiFi Stumbler, you can find the channel of routers within the range of your computer without even leaving your browser window. I executed a scan on my laptop, using WiFi Stumbler, and received the following results:
Notice the channels listed in the “Channel” column in the resulting table shown above. Clearly, channels 1 and 11 are very popular in my neighborhood. That means all of the routers are battling each other on only 2 channels. In every situation, the best channel is going to be somewhere in between the popular channels (in my case, a channel between 1 and 11). In order to avoid interference with other wireless networks, I changed the wireless channel of my network (nd2) to 4 and my download speed increased notably.
Switch to the Best Wireless Channel
All routers have an administrative control panel whereby changes can be made to the router. Typically, you can reach the control panel by pointing your browser to http://192.168.1.1 and typing in the correct username an password (hopefully you changed the default router password and remember it!). However, the control panel could be assigned to another address. You can discover the address of your router by using the “ipconfig” command (see video below for instructions):
Look for the “Default Gateway” address in the ipconfig results, and then go to http://<Default Gateway> in your browser to reach the administrative login. Once you’ve logged in, browse to your wireless settings, change your channel per the instructions above, and don’t forget to save your settings! I’ve included a screenshot of the settings on my Linksys router as an example:
Channels 1, 6, and 11 are the most common default channels among routers. The general idea is to be as far away from everyone else’s channels. I recommend trying a few channels and testing each new setting at Speedtest.net to find the one that works best in your area.
Good luck and and please share any additional tips in the comments section!