Slow or unreliable home internet is unacceptable, especially when you’re paying upwards of $50 a month for your plan. Here are the tools that you need to identify and fix most home internet issues on your own, without fighting with your ISP or buying into a more expensive service package.
First, Compare Your Internet Speed to Your Plan
Before making any changes to your home internet, it’s important to know what you’re paying for and what speeds you’re actually getting. If you’re paying for up to 100 Mbps and landing download speeds of 75 Mbps, for example, then you’re in a pretty good spot. In fact, you likely won’t see any significant speed changes without paying for a better plan.
But if you’re getting 9 Mbps speeds while paying for 100 Mbps, then you’re in for a frustrating ride, and paying for a better plan is not the solution.
So, take a minute to peek at your bill and see how what speeds (in Mbps) you’re paying for. If you pay online, then you may need to hunt down a PDF of your bill on your ISP’s My Account page. Keep in mind that you’re paying up to the speed that’s on your bill—you should expect to achieve slightly lower speeds, especially during peak usage hours (when everyone comes home to watch Netflix).
Once you know what you’re paying for, it’s time to run a speed test on Speedtest.net or Fast.com. Shut off any unnecessary software or connected devices and see what happens. Your download speed should be close to what you see on your bill. If so, great, you can move on with life or increase network speeds by paying for a better plan. If not, then we need to do a little more troubleshooting.
Rule Out Common Problems
Don’t throw your computer out the window just yet. Let’s run through some basic troubleshooting steps. It’s easy to convince yourself that these steps aren’t necessary, but they’re the most common home internet problems, and they take just a second to identify and fix.
Run through these steps one at a time, testing your connection speed along the way.
- Power-Cycle Your Router and Modem: Unplug your router and modem for 10 to 20 seconds. It’s important that you actually wait before plugging them back in, as their internal components can retain a charge for a lot longer than you’d expect.
- Try a Wired Connection: Try plugging your computer into your modem via Ethernet cable. If this makes a startling difference to your internet speed, then your problem is probably due to a crappy router or network interference.
- Reduce Network Interference: If you’re operating on a wireless connection, then move your router out from behind your couch and place it in an open area. If you own any cordless phones, try powering them down, as they may be interfering with your router’s signal (more on this in our Change Your Wireless Channel section).
- Check the Cable Connection: Check the coaxial cable connection between your modem and the wall. Remove any Coaxial splitters, and try swapping out the Coaxial cable if you have another one handy. Check that the Ethernet cable connecting your modem and router isn’t damaged in any way, and try swapping it out with another cable if possible.
- Rule Out Other Devices: Make sure that the other devices in your home aren’t hogging your network. You can do this by turning everything off manually, or by checking what devices are connected to your router (and how much bandwidth they’re using) from your router’s web interface.
- Run Anti-Virus Software: If you’re only experiencing slow network speeds on your desktop computer (not your phone or other devices), then try running anti-virus software, like Windows Defender.
- Check That You’re Using the 5 GHz Band: Most modern routers output a 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz band simultaneously. The 5 GHz band is faster, so make sure that you’re using it. It’ll look identical to your usual network, just with the word “5G” or “5 GHz” attached. (If your router doesn’t offer both bands at once, then it’s probably routing connections to a 5 GHz band automatically).
If these steps don’t bring your network speed to an acceptable level, then it’s time to go a little deeper. You may need to fiddle around with some software, or even replace your modem and router.
Change Your Wireless Channel to Eliminate Interference
When two nearby radio stations operate on the same frequency, it becomes difficult for listeners to pick up on either channel, as the radio signals are constantly overlapping and interfering with one another. And, as odd as it sounds, the same problem can happen with your Wi-Fi router.
See, routers utilize a handful of channels to broadcast a wireless signal. These separate channels are meant to keep Wi-Fi signals from overlapping. But sometimes you end up with a neighbor whose router (or cordless phone) operates on the same channel as yours—an issue that results in network interference.
In this situation, you’ll need to check which wireless channels are the most congested in your area, and potentially change your router’s channel to something more stable. There are a few different tools for observing wireless congestion in your area, with the most notable options being the Wi-Fi Analyzer Android app, the AirPort Utility app on iOS devices (open the app and enable its “Wi-Fi Scanner”), or the WifiInfoView tool for Windows computers.
These apps show which channel you’re using right now, along with the channels of nearby routers. If you find that your signal is overlapping with some of your neighbor’s networks, then it’s time to log into your router’s web interface, locate the Wi-Fi channel option (usually in Advanced Settings), and change your channel to the least congested option available.
Change Your DNS Server to Improve Speed
DNS servers are like phone books for your computer. They take the domain names that you type in your search bar (such as “google.com”) and direct your computer to the appropriate IP address for that domain name. Without DNS servers, you’d need to maintain a personal list of website IP addresses, or manually look up a database each time you want to visit a site.
Your ISP should connect you to a local DNS server automatically. But an alternative DNS server may retrieve websites faster than whatever your ISP set you up with.
Start by downloading the DNS Benchmark tool on a Windows or Linux device (or by opening the Network Utility tool on a Mac). Open the DNS Benchmark tool, click the Nameservers tab, and run a benchmark. Once it’s done, it’ll offer to benchmark 5000 public servers in the world and find the best one for you. Accept this second test, wait about 10 minutes, and take note of the fastest DNS servers available to you (ignoring “Local Network Nameserver”—that’s just your router).
Now, log into your router’s web interface through your browser, find which primary and secondary DNS servers you’re currently using, and replace them with the two fastest DNS servers addresses from your benchmark test (again, ignore “Local Network Nameserver”). This should provide a boost in networking speed, although some people may not notice a significant difference.
Replace Your Modem to Get the Most From Your Plan
When’s the last time you bought a modem? Old modems aren’t powerful enough to handle modern internet plans, and cable internet providers like Xfinity, Comcast, Cox, and Spectrum have a habit of renting out modems that can’t keep up with the speeds that customers pay for. (For reference, Fiber and LTE providers, such as AT&T and Google, use proprietary modems that are reliable and irreplaceable.)
Inspect the stickers on your modem (the box that plugs into the wall) and look for an Mbps rating. It should meet or exceed the speeds that you’re paying for on your plan. Take a second to double-check that your modem has a Gigabit Ethernet port (for wired connections or a router), and that it doesn’t feel excessively hot. Otherwise, it’s getting a little long in the tooth and needs to be replaced.
If you need to replace your modem, then we suggest buying the NETGEAR Gigabit cable modem or the ARRIS SURFBOARD cable modem. These products are sold for a variety of download speeds, so pick one that’s appropriate for your internet plan. If you think that you might upgrade your plan in the future, then we suggest buying a modem with a higher speed that your current plan.
NETGEAR Cable Modem CM500 - Compatible With All Cable Providers Including Xfinity by Comcast, Spectrum, Cox | For Cable Plans Up to 300 Mbps | DOCSIS 3.0
NETGEAR's affordable cable internet modem supports Gigabit Ethernet, and is sold for a variety of download speed standards.
Replace Your Router for More Reliable Wireless Internet
If you’re having trouble with wireless internet speeds or reliability, then it may be time to upgrade your router. Older routers may lack Gigabit connections, they may overheat, and they may not output a 5 GHz band. Routers provided by ISPs may suffer some similar issues, and almost certainly lack the horsepower to fill your entire home with reliable Wi-Fi signals.
Shopping for a router isn’t too difficult of a task, although it’s a little more expensive than shopping for a modem. If you’re just looking for something cheap and simple that’ll cover your whole home, then we suggest using the TP-Link AC1750 Smart Wi-Fi Router, which works at speeds up to 1,750 Mbps, has a 2,500 square foot range, works with Alexa and IFTTT, and is compatible with TP-Link Mesh Wi-Fi Extenders.
If you’re willing to spend a bit of extra money, then we suggest buying a modern mesh router kit. These systems boost the Wi-Fi signal to every corner of your home, ensuring that your bedroom gets just as good a signal as your living room. Units like the Google Nest Router or the Amazon eero Pro are perfect for anyone who wants a premium mesh Wi-Fi experience, while budget offerings from TP-Link and Tenda may be more within the average person’s reach (but offer slightly less detailed network controls).
TP-Link AC1750 Smart WiFi Router - Dual Band Gigabit Wireless Internet Router for Home, Works with Alexa, VPN Server, Parental Control&QoS (Archer A7)
TP-Link's AC1750 smart router works at speeds up to 1,750 Mbps, have a 2,500 square foot range, works with Alexa and IFTTT, and is compatible with Wi-Fi extenders.
If Things Don’t Speed Up, Call Your ISP
Once you’ve tried every trick in the book, it’s time to call your ISP. Establish that you’ve tried to fix the problem on your own, and humor any troubleshooting steps that they offer (as these steps help them find problems that might be beyond your control, like damaged cable equipment).
If your ISP can’t remotely identify a problem, then they may ask to send someone to your home. Your ISP will probably offer to waive the cost of this visit if the problem is on their end. (It’s up to you to decide whether that’s fair or worth a threat to cancel service.)
And, of course, if you aren’t happy with the service that you’re receiving, then it’s time to switch providers. Consider switching from cable internet to a service like Google Fiber or AT&T Fiber. These services cost just about as much as cable internet, yet they’re infinitely faster and more reliable. Just make sure that they’re available in your area before you ditch your current ISP.