Is Your Home Network Cheating You?

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Internet access is a necessity these days. Whether you have DSL from CenturyLink or get cable Internet from Xfinity, you probably received a wireless home network in the bargain. Either provider rents or sells you the modem to connect to the Internet, and the vast majority of these modems come with a built-in wireless access point. 

Getting the maximum performance out of the vendor-supplied equipment can take some time. If you want to get all the speed you are paying for, here are some tips and tricks to help you.

First off, you need a way to measure your Internet speed, so you can quantify the steps you’ll take to optimize things. A good tool is Ookla’s Speedtest (www.ookla.com/consumer)—you can run it either in a web browser on your PC or Mac, or as an app on your phone. Run it once before changing things around so you have a baseline measurement. Also, check your monthly bill to see how much speed you’re supposed to be getting. This will be expressed as xx Mbps download and xx Mbps upload, the former higher than the latter. 

Remember that your Internet speed will never be faster than where it enters your house. Even if your wireless access point can handle a gigabit per second, it will be hampered by the speed your ISP provides you. If the speed shown in Speedtest is within 15 percent of what you’re paying for, that’s acceptable. Certain variables beyond your control can impact this figure. However, if what you’re paying for and what you get is off by more than 15 percent, here are some things to try.

First, try cabling a computer directly to the Ethernet jack on the back of the DSL/cable modem. If that improves your results, then the wireless signal is the next place to look. No improvement? Call Xfinity or CenturyLink as this may be a fault in their infrastructure.

Ideally, the wireless access point in your DSL or cable modem should be centrally located in your house—on a middle floor, equidistant from all four walls. More often than not, this isn’t the case. If you can run a longer cable from the wall jack, try that to maximize the placement of the access point. Cable modems use a standard coaxial cable, and DSL modems a regular modular phone cable.

Try moving the wireless router physically higher up—either to a second floor or up on a bookcase. WiFi antennas generally work best when they can route the signal down, so moving it off the floor might also help.

Still no improvement? Consider a separate wireless access point, with technology that gives you better coverage than your ISP’s modem. This can be a stand-alone wireless point connected to the DSL/cable modem, or a newer “mesh” network. A mesh network is several smaller access points that you place throughout your house, and which communicate amongst themselves to deliver a consistently strong signal to all points.

Networking is more of a black art than a science, but with enough trial-and-error, you can make sure you’re getting what you’re paying for. 

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