It's Sunday evening and you're home, with no desire to go out. There's a new season of your favorite show available on Netflix. You've been looking forward to this binge session all week.
Once the popcorn's popped and you've made yourself comfortable on the couch, you sit down and open up the Netflix app on your TV. The loading wheel pops up onto the screen, as it usually does for a few seconds before the video loads, but this time, it never goes away.
Your worst fear has been realized. That super-fast WiFi connection has failed you when you needed it most. Your night is ruined.
But that's not necessarily true. While most of us don't have any real idea how the internet actually works, it's pretty easy to do basic troubleshooting with your WiFi connection that can help it deliver the service you need more consistently.
In general, there are three main types of problems that can occur: a slow connection, no connection, and a security breach.
All of these problems can be equally frustrating, although security threats should be the biggest concern since they can lead to data and even identity theft. The good news is they can usually be fixed if you take a pragmatic, methodical approach, which we've outlined for you to help you solve any WiFi problems without tears and angry tirades.
Problem 1: Slow Connection
Probably the most common problem with your WiFi is that it's too slow. Either you can't load the pages you want, or it just takes so long for it to happen that you might as well not bother. No matter what, this can be infuriating, and considering how expensive access to monthly internet is, slow speeds can be even more maddening.
Here are some ways you can fix this problem:
Use a Different Device
If your internet is working slowly, the first thing you will want to look at is the device you're using and how you're using the internet. For example, are you doing a lot of streaming? Or do you have lots and lots of tabs open so that you can multi-task? Are there programs, such as download managers, working in the background? All of these things can slow down your connection to a snail's pace.
Older devices with less RAM (random access memory) and slower processors are going to have a harder time dealing with heavy internet use, such as streaming and multi-tasking. This means your slow internet might have nothing to do with your internet connection. Instead, it might be the device you're using to access it. And if this is the case, you will probably want to upgrade the device or use something else you have that is better equipped for the way you use the internet.
To see if this is the issue, run a speed test for your internet connection. You can do that by using this free tool. It will tell you the upload and download speeds for your current connection.
After you do this, compare it to what you're paying for and what you're getting on other devices. If you are supposed to be getting 35 Mbps per second but you only get it on your new work laptop and not your five-year-old personal one, then the issue with your internet is likely to be an issue with your device.
If you aren't getting that speed, or something close to it, then the issue is probably with your internet connection, so you'll want to take a look at some of the following things you can do:
Move Closer to the Router or Extend Its Range
One simple fix is to move closer to the router to see if you can get a better connection. WiFi signals get weaker as you get further from the router, and they are also disrupted and weakened by thick walls and other barriers, especially if they are dense or contain lots of metal.
If you typically access the internet, or find slower connection speeds, in a room that's far from the router and/or separated from the room with the router by a thick barrier, move to an area where your device can directly communicate with the router and then perform another speed test. If things are going faster, it's because you're not getting a strong enough signal from where you normally access the internet.
The only two solutions to this are to either change your spot or get a range extender. Changing your spot is a free and immediate solution, but if the room where the internet is slow is a space where you frequently want fast internet, such as in your office or living room, then a range extender is a good idea.
These devices can be plugged into outlets in between the router and the area where the signal is weak, and they will provide a boost to the WiFi to hopefully make it easier to browse at high speeds from all-around your home.
Change the Router and/or Modem
Another issue might be the router you're using. When routers are manufactured, they are designed to handle the internet speeds of the day. But since the internet is getting faster and faster all the time, these devices slowly become obsolete. This can lead to a situation where you are using an older router that's rated for up to 100 Mbps to distribute a connection speed of 150 Mbps, which is wasting a third of your bandwidth for no reason.
When experiencing a slow connection, take a look at your router's specifications and check to make sure it can handle the speed you're paying for, and if it can't, consider changing it. You may even want to contact your ISP. If the device is theirs and it's terribly out of date, they may change it for you at no cost. After all, you rent the equipment from them in most cases, and old equipment on their networks slows everyone down, so they have an incentive to help you.
If you do call your ISP, the customer service agent who helps you should be able to tell you if the equipment you have is adequate for your service. In a perfect world, this would happen before the router is so out-of-date your internet access basically gets cut off, but that's not usually how it works.
Still, if you call, you may be able to sort your WiFi problems without too much hassle.
Upgrade Your Internet Package
Your internet may be running slowly simply because you're not paying for the connection you need. ISPs offer multiple different service options that provide varying levels of speed, with slower and cheaper connection plans that give you around 15 Mbps and super-fast connection options that deliver up to 250+ Mbps. How much you get depends in part on the type of internet connection you have and what's available in your area, as well as how much you are willing to spend.
It's important to note, though, that the maximum speed advertised by an ISP is rarely the actual speed with which you surf the internet. The speed of your connection depends on many things, such as the distance from your ISPs nearest hub, as is the case with a DSL connection, or how much bandwidth is available in your area, which matters for those with cable internet.
It also matters how you use the internet. If you have four people who stream videos and music and who are also often online simultaneously, you may find your standard connection of 35 Mbps to not be enough, especially since your actual speed will be much less than that.
What You Need to Know About Upgrading
All this means that to solve your WiFi problems, you may need to upgrade your internet package. Not ideal, as this means increasing your bill, but if the slow speeds are a real problem, it may be your best and only option.
Here is a quick breakdown of internet speeds and uses to help you determine if you have enough:
- 35 Mbps is good for light surfing and streaming, so just one or two people bingeing Netflix, listening to Spotify, and watching YouTube videos.
- 35-80 Mbps is designed for slightly heavier use, i.e. more people, more data-intensive activity such as streaming and downloading, and light video calling.
- 80+ Mbps is needed when you have a lot of users doing a lot of streaming and downloading. The more speed each person needs, the faster the connection you need. You can find plans that offer up to 250 Mbps if you want to be sure everyone can surf at lightning speed.
To find out if it's time to switch, do a speed test at the times of day when most of your problems occur. If everyone is getting slow speeds at the same time, it's because your network doesn't have the bandwidth to support all that activity.
But if the slowdowns occur at different times for each person, or there's no real predictability to when they happen, then don't jump to enlarge your monthly internet bill. Try other things out first to see if the issue can be solved without spending more money.
Problem 2: No Connection
Although less common than slow connection problems, dropped or lost connections can be equally frustrating, and if you were relying on your WiFi to work or communicate with someone, this situation can create a real hassle.
In the event you find yourself without an internet connection, here are some of the most common causes and how you can fix the problem:
Make Sure Your Device Is Not the Problem
The first thing you will want to do is to check to see if the issue is coming from your specific device or if it's an issue with your internet service. The easiest way to do this is to simply try and access the internet from another device. So, if you can't connect on your laptop, grab your phone and see if you have the same problem.
If that second device also can't connect, then you know the issue is with your connection, so you'll want to follow some of the troubleshooting steps we've outlined below. But if it does connect, then the problem is with your device and not your service. Try some of the following steps:
- Check to make sure you don't have WiFi turned off or that the device is in airplane mode.
- Restart the device to see if that resets it.
- Ensure there are no passwords or other security controls set up that might be preventing you from connecting.
Reset Your Router and Modem
If you can rule out the issue being a device-specific one, then the next place you should look is your router and modem.
For those who don't know, the modem is the device that brings the internet connection into your home. It's usually connected to the cable line, or if you have DSL, it will have its own phone line connected. The router is the device that takes that connection from the modem and "routs" it around the home. You can usually connect to the router either via WiFi or by plugging in an Ethernet cord.
To see if the issue with your connection is coming from the router or the modem, plug a device into the router with a cord. If you're able to connect to the internet, then the WiFi issue is one related to your router. A good place to start to try and fix this is to simply unplug the router, wait 30 seconds, and then plug it back in. This resets it and will often resolve the connection issues you are having.
If this doesn't work, or if you can't connect when you plug in an Ethernet cord, then the issue is probably with the modem. You can usually reset this by doing the same thing: unplug, wait 30 seconds, then plug back in.
After this, the next place to look if you still don't have an internet connection is the cable leading into your home. This is usually outside as it comes from the street. Check to make sure nothing has come undone or disconnected.
If none of this solves the problem, you may want to contact your internet service provider (ISP). There may be a service interruption in your area, or the issue may be more complicated. For example, you might need a new router or modem. But, hopefully, you can figure out what's happening before reaching this point, especially since we all know how much fun it can be to deal with cable companies&
How to Decode the Router/Modem
You can skip some of these steps if you learn how to decode the various lights that flash and blink on your router.
Typically, there will be a steady light next to the word "online" or "internet." If it's not solid but is either off or flashing, this means the device is not connected to the internet, so you will need to follow some of the steps above. But if it is solid, then the issue is probably with your device.
Every router and modem is a bit different, so if you're unsure what the lights mean, consider looking at the user manual to help you. Or, go through the steps outlined above as they will get you to the same spot, eventually.
Check You've Paid the Bill
If you've tried some of the tricks we've mentioned and you still can't get a connection, it's probably time to call your ISP. However, before you do that, check to make sure you've paid your last bill. Cable companies will shut off your service if you're too far behind with payment.
You may have forgotten to pay, or perhaps the credit card you had on file expired and you forgot to change it.
One way to quickly check if this is the issue is to see if you still have TV and phone service, assuming you get your internet as part of a bundle. Cable companies will shut off service to all three for lack of payment. You can also check your online account or emails, and you can also just call customer service.
If you do find this is the issue, the solution is really simple: pay your bill. You may need to do so from a mobile internet connection, or by calling on your cellphone, but companies usually can restore service moments after you pay the bill, meaning you can still save your Saturday night.
Problem 3: Security Breaches
The third most common problem you can experience with your internet is a security breach. If someone hacks your internet connection or one of the devices you use to access it, the best thing that could happen is that internet speeds slow down. The worst-case scenario is that someone gets a hold of your private information, which can lead to stolen credit card numbers and possibly even full-on identity theft.
However, it's unlikely a cybercriminal is going to sit near your house and spend the time to hack into your WiFi and personal life. But it is possible someone hacks in to be able to download movies or simply get internet for their home without having to pay for it.
Security breaches can also take place on the devices you use to access the internet, which can also have similarly disastrous effects. And because most of these threats are brought on by us clicking on something or falling victim to a scam, they are much more likely to occur.
Here are some of the ways to tackle this issue:
Scan for Viruses and Other Malicious Software
Hopefully, you are using some sort of anti-virus software, and if you are, run a scan on your computer to see if there are any malicious programs on your computer. These get downloaded when you click something by accident on an email or website, and as they infect your computer, they slow down its ability to function.
If you don't have an anti-virus program on your computer, there are free programs you can download that will do a basic search for malware (virus and other destructive software) and then remove them, although these programs won't help you get rid of every threat.
After you've deleted the infected software from your computer using your anti-virus software, check to see if the internet is running faster. If it is, you've solved your problem. If it hasn't, try this:
Reset Your Computer
Sometimes a piece of malware that's been on your computer for some time, or that has been coded in a certain way, doesn't delete when you do a basic anti-virus scan. At this point, for those who don't have very advanced computer skills, you have two choices: take your computer to a professional or reset your computer.
When you reset your computer, what you're really doing is restoring it to a previous point. Ideally, that previous point will be before the malware was downloaded so that it will be gone when the computer resets.
You can do this and keep your files, or you can do it by deleting your files. If you haven't backed up your files, try it without deleting them and see if that erases the malware. If not, then take it somewhere to have someone with the know-how to disinfect your computer without wrecking your data (assuming it's not infected too).
It's less likely for this to occur with smartphones and tablets, but it is possible. So if you're getting a really slow connection on one of these devices, you can reset it and see if that changes anything.
This might seem drastic, but it's one of the best ways to free your device from dangerous software that can not only slow down your internet connection but also put you at risk.
Change the Password
Lastly, if you're confident your devices are clean but the problem persists, it's possible someone has hacked into your connection and is taking from your bandwidth.
The simple solution to this problem is to just change the password on your WiFi (if you don't have one you most certainly should - here's a resource on how to set one up and change it). This will boot anyone mooching off your network to the side, and if your internet speeds up, you'll know why.
You should always be careful about who you give your WiFi password to anyway, and if you don't think someone got your password that you gave it to, you may want to change the password regularly and maybe even alert the authorities.
Ideally, if you try all of these things, your WiFi problems will be solved. You'll identify the problem and implement a solution that brings faster, more reliable WiFi to your home. If they don't improve things, contact your ISP, or consider changing ISPs, to ensure you get better access to such a vital utility.