For many of us, quarantining and distance learning in the COVID-era has not only strained our own mental wellness, but it may have pushed our home network to its breaking point as well. With more people online at home, streaming videos, video conferencing, or accessing the web, we all inadvertently put our home networks through a stress-test that may have highlighted some problems.
Despite having a robust network infrastructure built throughout the city of Irvine, many users may be experiencing issues like occasional slowness or intermittent dropouts that are very apparent in the age of Zoom and Google Meet. These hiccups can be caused by a number of factors and there are different options to solve them.
Potential causes of network problems
- Network capacity problems from your Internet Service Provider
- Many homes in your neighborhood may share the same network backbone as you and their usage can sometimes impact your speeds
- Excess bandwidth usage in your home
- Having multiple people streaming content all at once
- Aging personal network equipment (routers/modems) or computers
- Improper placement/configuration of your wireless router
- Overlapping wireless channels with your neighbors
- Global outages/service issues for individual products like Google Meet or Zoom
With all these contributing factors, it can be difficult to identify the source of your network problems. We've found some articles and will provide some tips to help you troubleshoot your network and get more consistent and reliable performance.
Start with a Speed Test
If you're concerned with your connection speeds, test your connection at www.speedtest.net. Start your tests plugged in, or as close to your router as possible, and then repeat the test from the areas of your home that you notice problems. The results from right next to your router should ideally be close to the speeds your internet service provider advertises.
You should receive 3 numbers back from the test, a ping time, download speed, and upload speed. Ping is the latency of your connection, or how long it takes for your requests to get a response (typically <100ms). The download speed is going to represent how quickly you can retrieve content. Upload speed determines how fast you can share content out. It's not uncommon in residential internet to see download speeds of 100 Mbps up to 1000 Mbps, but uploads of only 10-30 Mbps.
For video conferencing, download speed would dictate how good of quality everyone else on your screen appears, and upload speed would dictate how clear you are to them. In most cases, a Zoom call on a Chromebook wouldn't use more than 1.5 Mbps up/down. If you have a higher resolution device, you're likely to use a little more bandwidth. Compare your speed test numbers to those requirements to see if you have enough bandwidth for one (or multiple) video conferences.
Identify trouble areas
If the speed drops substantially as you move further away from your router, you may have identified some limitations of your wireless router. Appliances or even walls in your home can interfere with your signal, so experiment to see where you have trouble. You can try moving your wireless router to a more central location in your home, place it higher up or away from walls, or remove it from a closet, behind a desk, or in the back of a media center. While these are often the locations the cable may come into your home, they don't make for the best broadcast locations.
The other thing to look out for is how many other wireless networks you can see from that location. Your wireless network may be competing for the same frequency (or channel) as your neighbor. This is fairly easy to change on your router, and many newer routers will even do it for you automatically. If you have a router with a 5 GHz antenna, try to connect to this as it may provide you better speeds. If you have to set up further away, 2.4 GHz will allow for a longer range, but at the cost of some speed.
Hotspot vs Home Internet
We've received a large number of requests for hotspots to help with connectivity during distance learning, but please be aware, these aren't a fix for all problems. Hotspots rely on a cellular network for a connection (like your cellphone) and coverage and performance can vary greatly. If you have trouble getting a cell signal in your house, the hotspot will have trouble too. Hotspot speeds are typically slower than home internet speeds (around 20 Mbps) and tend to be more variable. If you don't have home internet, it's a great solution, but it won't be more reliable than your home network.
Consider your needs and options
If you've done the troubleshooting and identified a problem with your bandwidth, you may want to reach out to your internet service provider to see what other internet packages they may offer. If you think it's your wireless router that may be holding you back, look into some new models. If your router is too far away to get a signal everywhere, you may want to consider an extender or mesh network.
While we can't recommend a solution that's right for you, we hope we provided some resources that may help you get better connected.
Home Network Tips for the Coronavirus Pandemic - FCC.gov 7/1/20
The Best Ways to Boost Your Home Wifi - lifehacker.com 6/8/20
How to boost your home's Wi-Fi - theverge.com 3/19/20
Top 10 Ways to Boost your WiFi - netspotapp.com