Internet speeds around the home have never been faster with cable, fibre and even 5G now entering the home.
But they have also never been slower due to sheer demand in today’s homes with our increasing numbers of connected devices.
We need more of that bandwidth to power Netflix, Disney+ and other streaming TV services, video calls such as Zoom, laptops, smartphones and tablet Wi-Fi, video gaming, smart-home devices (doorbells, smart thermostats, lights), voice assistants like Alexa, and more.
US households own an average of 11 connected devices. 30 percent of people in the UK own five or more connected devices, according to Google’s Connected Consumer Survey.
If it’s just you living in your house or apartment, then you should be ok. But if you’re in a large family or group of sharers, that network speed is quickly going to fade.
If you see the buffering message or movies take forever to download, you have a speed or bandwidth problem.
We all need to speed up our home networks.
We often don’t think of having a “network’ at home, but that’s exactly what we have nowadays. We take the Internet connection from the router and try to spread that around the house as best we can.
Understanding that we have a home network is the first step to boosting speeds in our homes. Now we can set about making it faster and able to take the strain of so many demanding devices.
Here are our favourite tips for speeding up and optimising a home network.
Your home network will only be as fast as your Internet connection.
First, make sure that your broadband connection is as fast as you can get it.
Consider upgrading to cable or fibre connection.
Some of these promise 1Gbps speed (which usually works out at around 900Mbps).
Before you try anything, it's worth running a speed test to see what you're working with. We recommend speedtest.net.
Get a faster router
Your router connects a modem to other devices to allow communication between them and the internet. This will be the first stress point in a busy smart home.
First, a quick explanation on modems and routers: A modem connects to the internet, while a router acts as a hub that distributes that connection to different devices in your home.
A modem is all you need if you need to hook up only one computer to the internet. If you want to connect multiple devices, you need a router. If you want to connect to the internet with Wi-Fi, you need a wireless router.
Internet providers (ISPs) often provide subscribers with a combination router-modem. You probably received a free router or combo modem/router from your provider. These are usually pretty decent, but they are unlikely to be from the best.
And it’s likely to be quite old, and therefore not built to take advantage of the latest Wi-Fi standards.
Having a separate modem and router makes future upgrades easier, so you can keep up with the latest WiFi technology. Router technology moves forward a lot faster than modem technology.
A top-end router will give you better range and faster speeds thanks to the latest wireless technologies, plus sophisticated network management.
For best results, look for an 802.11ac wireless router (preferably get one that supports MU-MIMO) with at least three aerials. Multiple antennas reduce error and boost speed.
According to Tech Advisor lab testing, it doesn’t matter if these are inside or mounted outside the router – although the exterior aerials certainly look the business.
Older routers also have slower processors, which means they can take longer to pass on that data from the source.
Most new routers are “dual-band” so support both 2.4GHz and 5GHz radio bands. The older 2.4GHz band has a longer range but is likely to be more crowded and susceptible to interference (for example from microwaves). So use the 5GHz band if you can.
If you have a lot of people living with you, look for a tri-band router that has one 2.4 GHz and two 5 GHz channels to support more simultaneous users.
Also, try to get a router with more than one port - you want Gigabit Ethernet ports for the fastest speeds.
A new protocol called Wi-Fi 6 is even faster, but is quite a recent technology so finding compatible devices is tricky right now.
Wi-Fi 6 is essentially a rebranding of the latest 802.11ax standard that supersedes 802.11ac, and we should all be happy that the industry is starting to give Wi-Fi standards more sensible and understandable names.
It’s hoped that Wi-Fi 6 will lead to a 4X improvement in throughput.
Move your router
If your router is tucked away in a distant corner of the house (often to hide the ugly object from sight), then it’s going to have a harder time pushing its signal out to the places you need it most.
The best place for a router is in the middle of your home. If you can, get a telephone extension cable and relocate the router so it’s roughly in the centre of your home and as high off the floor as you can. This will give it the best chance of delivering strong, fast Wi-Fi to all areas of the home and avoid those black spots.
And installing Powerline or Mesh (see below for more details) should mean you can leave your router tucked away.
Use Powerline adapters to push data around the home
The best way to route data around your home would be to snake Ethernet cables around each room, but that’s not practical.
But what’s more practical than the power cables that are ll through your house? You can use these as proxy Ethernet cables, with the simple creation of a Powerline network.
Fit one in the room with your router by plugging it into a nearby power socket. Then link it to the router with an Ethernet cable. Now take the other Powerline adapter to the room/s where you need fast access.
Plug that in, and then connect it to the smart TV, games console, laptop, Sky box, or whatever with another cable.
It’s that simple.
Some Powerline adapters can add a new Wi-Fi hotspot to the second room.
Powerline is a much more stable and strong connection than you’ll get with a feeble Wi-Fi extender, so these can quickly and cheaply boost Wi-Fi where you need it most.
Powerline Wi-Fi takes the strong signal from your router and brings it to a second or third room, while Wi-Fi extenders just push a fading signal a bit further.
Mesh Wi-Fi your house
Not all Powerline adapters have Wi-Fi, so consider setting up a “mesh network” instead.
Mesh WiFi creates a whole-home Wi-Fi system that should eliminate dead zones and provide uninterrupted, faster and more reliable WiFi throughout your home.
Traditional routers broadcast Wi-Fi from a single point, but mesh systems have multiple access points. One mesh unit links to the router or modem, and becomes the main hub. The other mesh units (called “nodes”) capture and rebroadcast the router’s signal. This gives you a single Wi-Fi network onto which your devices will seamlessly connect and disconnect in the background as you move around.
Connect a mesh unit to your router, and it creates a new, super-smart Wi-Fi network. Some mesh systems use Powerline as a backbone.
Like Powerlines, some products include parental controls and scheduling.