UK telecoms regulator Ofcom recently gave out some warnings about how poor home WiFi could be responsible for users thinking their home internet speeds were bad; a seasonal twist even said it might be your fairy lamps that are causing your network to go south. They also launched an app to help check your WiFi quality, though predictably it’s only available for mainstream devices. Don’t worry, Windows users – it doesn’t do a lot anyway. No great loss.
The Ofcom app is actually developed by Samknows, a very useful website which might help you sort out issues with your line speed more than your WiFi – UK ADSL users can search for the telephone exchange you’re connected to, and see what services are offered – here’s an example – and you’ll see if there are LLU options that maybe would give you better/faster service than the default BT package.
The gist of the Ofcom advice is that other stuff in your house might be nuking your WiFi, so don’t go blaming rubbish performance on your network provider. That’s quite sensible, to a point – there are lots of domestic devices that might interfere with WiFi, though if you see poor conditions when wired in, it’s a different matter.
In the early days of WiFi networks, there’s a story of one company which was flummoxed by the fact that their network kept blowing up at certain times of the day, until they realised the next door company had a kitchen with a couple of microwave ovens for staff to heat their lunch, on the other side of the party wall… Here’s why.
First thing’s first, if you think you have a problem – check the health of your network connection. ToW #199 gave some ideas a couple of years ago, that still hold true – try the WinMTR tool, and the advice for using Resource Monitor to see what’s using your network in particular.
SkyDrive Pro OneDrive can be a hog these days, especially if it’s uploading a lot of stuff: you might see speed tests where the “ping” is measured nearly in seconds rather than ms, and the download speed will be a fraction of the norm (as the connection is being swamped by uploads).
Windows 10 users can download the excellent Network Speed Test app to get an idea. Try running it on a wired connection if you can, thereby ruling out WiFi as the cause of any gremlins at first. Move your laptop around and try on WiFi – you’ll see a table of the previous results for comparison.
Dude, it’s your neighbo(u)rs
Fact is, though, the guy next door is probably your biggest enemy for home WiFi. If you live in a built-up area with lots of people using networks called NETGEAR3415 or similar, this may tell you that:
- They never bothered to change the default network name. That’s not very good. Have some fun instead?
- They probably haven’t changed their default router password either. That’s very, very bad.
- They almost certainly left the router on its default channel, and that could mean it’s overlapping with yours.
It’s quite easy to get paranoid about home network setup & security (see here, for example) but a few golden rules should be applied – give it a name that neither ties it to your name or address, nor makes it obvious how to break into it. DEFINITELY change the default password, and ideally, the name of the admin account used to configure the router. Modern routers might be able to find a suitable WiFi channel to put themselves on, but the kind of junk you might have got from your company IT department or from your ISP, might not.
The radio spectrum used by WiFi networks is subdivided into 11 or 13/14 channels (depending on where you live) and making sure your router is on the channel that’s furthest apart from the other routers that are physically closest to it, will give you a better chance of avoiding interference from the neighbours.
Channel your strengths
There are tools to scan your network and show you what channels are available – this might then help you set your own router to occupy an appropriate position in the spectrum that’s a bit more in the clear – your results may vary and experimentation (even at different days/times) may be required. Some internet folklore says you should use a channel either slap in the middle or at either end of the range – eg 1, 6 or 11/13.
Ideally, you’d like to see all the nearby networks, and by looking at their signal strength and channel, set your router to use the channel that has the weakest network(s) on it already (or preferably, none at all).
- WiFi Analyser – neat Windows 10 app that displays the basics visually and as a list
- NirSoft WiFiInfoView – pretty sparse but gives you text info and if you know what you’re doing may be all you need
- MetaGeek inSSIDer 22.214.171.124 - free – nice tool that gives you a visual graph of what’s around you and lets you drill into a bit more detail
- MetaGeek inSSIDer v4 – more polished and functional upgrade to the previously-free version, now $20
You might not notice any real difference, but it gives you something to do, doesn’t it?