One of the most common complaints I get from readers and friends is that their home internet is slow or unreliable. Like a chain, your internet connection is only as strong as its weakest link and there are many links to explore.
How you do this depends on whether it’s just a crash or it’s running slowly. And if it’s slow, is it a long-term issue, which you may be able to fix, or a short-term temporary slowdown which may just be the result of temporary network congestion , either with your provider or with the website, application or service you connect to, but it could also be your modem, router or Internet gateway, your Wi-Fi, your cabling or even of the device you use to connect. If your internet connection is working and you think it is slow, you can check the speed on one of the links found at larrysworld.com/speedtest.
Many people assume that the problem is with their internet service provider and while it is happening that may not be the problem, although sometimes the connection from the provider can slow down and even fail altogether. If you suddenly have no internet, it could be your provider or it could be a problem with your modem or router.
The first thing I do is check the status lights on my modem/router. They’re not always obvious, so it’s a good idea to take a look at them while your internet is working and also go to the manufacturer’s support page to see what the various codes mean or seers. You can usually find this by Googling the name of your provider followed by the status of the gateway light.
If the lights indicate a status problem, or if you just want to be sure, you can restart your modem and/or router. In some cases, the modem, which may be called a gateway, is a single device from your provider, but you may also have a separate modem and router. If you have both, unplug them both, wait 30 seconds and plug in the modem followed by the router. This will temporarily disable all internet devices in your home. So only do this if there is an outage or if you know no one else is using the internet. After a few minutes, your lights should be back to normal unless the problem is with your provider, in which case it’s time to call their customer service line or use their website from a device. connected as your phone to check the status. For Comcast it’s xfinity.com/support/status and for AT&T it’s att.com/outages.
A word of warning. Whether you call or check the website, your provider may not yet be aware of an outage. I haven’t had any outages since switching to AT&T fiber in April, but when I called Comcast after a rare outage, I would sometimes contact them before they knew it. Sometimes the best way to tell if it’s an outage is to check with your neighbors who use the same provider. Usually, a blackout affects an entire neighborhood or at least very close accommodations.
If your Internet is slow, there are several culprits. One of them could be that you need to upgrade your service to a faster internet speed. Even entry-level speeds should be sufficient for basic single-user use, but if multiple members of your household are online, especially if they are streaming or using video conferencing services like Zoom, you may need to -be upgraded to a faster service. . But the problem could be on your end.
Check if your Wi-Fi is the problem
If your slow devices are connected by Wi-Fi, one way to check is to plug one of them directly into the router or gateway via an Ethernet cable to see if the problem is Wi-Fi or something else. You can also try temporarily moving a device closer to the router or gateway. If this improves your performance, you may need to add a repeater to your Wi-Fi network to bring the signal closer to the devices.
There are different ways to do this. The cheapest is usually to buy a range extender like the $34 TP-Link N300 Wi-Fi Range Extender. You place the extender between your router/gateway and the device so that it picks up, amplifies and rebroadcasts the signal.
A better solution is to get a mesh network, which may require replacing your router. A mesh network comes with multiple compatible routers or extenders that overlap each other. You place at least one mesh device between your main router and the devices. A big advantage of a mesh network is that you have one network for the whole house instead of separate networks like you would with a repeater. I have the Eero 6 network at my house which consists of 3 identical routers placed in different parts of the house to extend coverage everywhere including front and back yard and garage to service my car, door opener garage door and the garage security camera. Since it’s one large network, I can get uninterrupted access even if I move my phone or laptop around the property. Providers including AT&T and Comcast will rent mesh extenders for their gateway, but it might be cheaper to buy your own mesh network router.
There are other possibilities. When I couldn’t figure out why my old Comcast cable service was slow, I called the company and they sent a technician who found that the squirrels had eaten the cable, enough to weaken but not break the connection. There may also be an improper split between your cable TV and internet service that the cable company can fix. Also, with cable, the problem may be that your neighbors are online and using some of the bandwidth allocated to your neighborhood. That’s not a problem with fiber, though.
I’m never happy with a breakdown, but the last time it happened there was a silver lining. I went out to ask my neighbors if they had an outage, which they did, and it led to a pleasant conversation between three neighbors and a respite from being on the line until the problem was resolved.
Larry Magid is a technology journalist and internet safety activist.