Fact-checked and updated by Suzanne Kantra on 5/8/2023 with new recommendations.
Your connection speed can be influenced by your router – how old it is, how good its processor and antenna are, where it’s placed, how good it is at picking up wireless signals, and how many devices are using it. Newer routers may support faster WiFi technology that can do things like prioritize specific traffic streams, such as video calls or work devices, over the kids’ tablets and gaming. Luckily, there are several things that can help you get more out of your bandwidth. Here’s what you can do to boost your WiFi speed.
1. Run a speed test
First, you want to determine whether the internet from your service provider is, in fact, slow.
Test the internet connection from any device by running a speed test from a site such as SpeedTest.net at different times during the day (There can be confusing ads on this page, so don’t click on anything but the big “Go” button). If you’re doing video conferencing and other tasks that require you to send a lot of data, you’ll want to check upload as well as download speeds – video calling has comparatively high demands for both.
For a handy real-world breakdown of what your internet speeds can handle, you can also check out Comcast’s speedtest.xfinity.com. Click the “more” link to see your upload speed and latency.
The speeds should always be at least 80 to 90 percent of what your service provider promises. Take note of your upload and download numbers before you start testing our tips for boosting your WiFi – you’ll want to check whether your connection improves and what seems to do the trick.
2. Run a ping test
When networks are congested, you’ll feel it first in data-intensive applications like video calling, which will freeze or stutter due to higher latency – the delay in communication between your computer (or phone) and a particular website on the Internet.
Doing a ping test can confirm the quality of your Internet connection. (Ping is the time to the server, and latency is the time it takes for the round trip.)
Head back to SpeedTest.net, where you’ll receive a ping figure measured in milliseconds. Lower numbers are generally better, but anything under 50 is considered good, and under 100 is average. Note those numbers, so you can check in at different times of day to see when there might be less congested periods.
3. Reboot the router
So if you’ve determined the internet is indeed slower than usual – and slower than you require. Try restarting the router.
The IP connection between your device and the router or between the router and the Internet can get hung up. A restart of the router reboots all its systems, including the network processor and wireless radios.
If your router has a reset button, hold it down for a few seconds. If not, restart it by removing the cable from the power socket, waiting half a minute, and then plugging it in again.
4. Turn off Eco mode
Some routers have a power-saving or Eco mode that’s on by default. However, the eco mode can slow down WiFi, and the power savings are minimal. In your router’s settings, look for Eco mode or power-saving mode and turn it off. Also, check to see if your router has an Automatic transmission setting and ensure it’s 100 percent.
5. Check how many other devices are connected
If you have a high ping rate or are experiencing latency issues like frozen video calls, you might be able to reduce bandwidth congestion starting with your own household.
Intensive activities like streaming 4K video or file sharing can affect Internet speed. Routers can support hundreds of devices connecting, but it’s more about what each device is doing online. For example, if someone is streaming Netflix, another person is working over Zoom, and two others are gaming, that can certainly increase congestion – and latency – on your internet connection.
Each device’s distance from the router is important as well. For example, if four people are streaming video but are all stationed close to the router, you may not experience any slowdowns. So if everyone must stream video and play games separately and simultaneously, try to move the devices closer to the router with as little wall or floor obstructing the path as possible.
6. Check for interference from a nearby cordless device
Baby monitors, older cordless phones, microwave ovens, and wireless speakers are just some of the common household gadgets that can interfere with the wireless signal from your router.
Deal with the conflict by moving the router away from these devices and ensuring that no devices that could potentially interfere lie in a straight line between your router and the gadget you’re trying to get online with.
7. Move the router
You may be able to increase the speed of your connection by choosing a better location for your router. While a WiFi signal can travel hundreds of feet in an unobstructed space, walls and floors can cut that distance by half or more.
The most important thing is to place the router in a central location with plenty of open space, near where you and your family use your devices the most. If you can, put it in a high place to minimize obstructions to all devices connecting to the router.
The materials surrounding the router matter as well. Metal interferes with WiFi signals, while wood does not. Try not to place your router behind a wall with a large mirror (like your bathroom), as the mirror can reflect the signal waves. Even water, such as in a large fish tank, can interfere with the WiFi signal.
And if your router has external antennas, play with those sticks. Positioning the router’s antenna vertically rather than horizontally can also increase signal strength.
8. Check your frequency
Most of today’s WiFi routers support at least two frequencies: 2.4GHz and 5GHz. The 2.4GHz band tends to reach farther but can be more congested than the 5GHz band because it is used by more types of devices, including smart home devices and baby monitors. On the other hand, the 5GHz band has faster throughput – but can’t travel as far because its shorter waves are less able to get through walls and floors.
If you have a router that supports two bands, it may have automatically created multiple networks when you set it up. In this case, on a computer (or other device) that requires a strong internet connection, try switching to the 5Ghz network from the wireless network icon in your toolbar.
Here’s how you can check what frequency your network is on:
On a Mac, hold down Option and tap the WiFi icon to see details about the network you’re currently connected to, including the frequency and channel.
On a PC, head to Settings > Network & Internet, click on the SSID name, and scroll down to Properties.
9. Check to see if you’re on an overcrowded WiFi channel
Within the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, there are multiple channels through which a signal can travel. Slow speeds can be down to interference from your neighbors trying to connect via the same WiFi channel.
Many routers default to channel 6, which means your neighbors’ routers might also be running on the same channel, causing bandwidth congestion that impacts your internet speed. You can try to increase your WiFi speed by switching to a less busy channel.
Some routers automatically change channels depending on internet traffic, but you might want to check if there’s a better channel anyway. For a free option, we recommend the WiFi Analyzer app (Android and Windows 10 and 11) to identify which router channel has the best bandwidth, allowing for faster connections and better calls.
Although there’s no free equivalent for iOS, Mac users can take advantage of a built-in tool to scan for the best channels. Hold down the Option key and click on the wireless icon to open Wireless Diagnostics. Ignoring the window that opens, click “Window” in the toolbar, then select “Scan.” You’ll see a summary that notes the best channel for 2.4GHz and the best channel for the 5GHz band. (Newer routers should be able to switch between both automatically to access all available channels.)
10. Switch to a different channel
Once you’ve identified whether there’s a better channel you can use, head to your router admin page by entering your router’s IP address in your browser toolbar. You can find this address in your manual, on the back of the router, or by googling the router brand and model (it will look something like 192.168.1.1), then enter your credentials. If it’s your first time, these may be the default login and password (again, findable online – which makes an excellent case for changing it ASAP to prevent others from accessing your router).
Select wireless settings to see what channel you’re on. You should be able to change to the optimal channel found by your WiFi scan – though if your router was set to choose the best channel automatically, it might already be using the optimal one.
Note: Avoid tampering with settings here unless you know what you’re doing, as changing the basic configuration, such as the SSID (network name), can affect how other household devices connect to the internet.
11. Change your DNS settings
When you browse the web, the URL you type in must be translated into the website’s IP address to see the page. A Domain Name System (DNS) serves as that translator. Each time you connect to the internet, your ISP assigns you to DNS servers in its infrastructure, but if those servers aren’t fast and stable, it could bog down your internet experience.
In that case, switching to a third-party DNS server might boost your internet speed. Many third-party DNS providers exist, but one of the most popular free options is Google Public DNS. You can use its address (126.96.36.199 or 188.8.131.52) to update your DNS settings.
To do that, log back into your router admin, and open the LAN or DHCP server settings, and look for a DNS field, then fill in the address of your new DNS server.
12. Get a WiFi extender
In homes larger than 3,000 square feet, getting a good WiFi signal from one corner to another can be a challenge. Multistory houses also pose an obstacle if the router isn’t plugged into the broadband line somewhere in the middle. In these cases, you could benefit from using a wireless extender. A signal extender plugs into any outlet to rebroadcast and boost your WiFi signal across the home, from your garage to the front garden.
When choosing an extender, you’ll want to match your router’s WiFi protocol and speed. You will likely have a WiFi 5 (802.11ac), WiFi 6 (802.11ax), or WiFi 6E (802.11ax) router. (If you have a WiFi 4 router (802.11n), see our recommendations below on investing in a new router.) You’ll see the speed listed as AC (for WiFi 5), AX (for WiFi 6), or AXE (for 6E models), followed by numbers. The numbers indicate the theoretical maximum throughput across all router bands, so AC750 would be 750Mbps, and AXE3000 would be 3000Mbps.
We recommend Netgear’s Nighthawk EAX15 dual-band AX1800 WiFi 6 Extender ($139.99, on sale for $118.53). It is easy to set up and plugs directly into a wall outlet for easy placement. For a higher-speed model, our pick is the Netgear Nighthawk EAX80 dual-band AX6000 WiFi 6 Extended ($199.99), and if you’re on a budget, the dual-band TP-Link RE215 provides a much more modest maximum AC750 connection speed but costs just $29.99 (currently on sale for $25.99).
If you bought a router or rent through your internet service provider, you’ll want to see if they offer an extender. For instance, Comcast offers Xfinity xFi Pods extenders ($119 for one) which are configured for its routers.
Or, you can use a powerline adapter, which plugs into wall electrical sockets and receives a signal through your home’s existing wiring with Ethernet ports allowing for wireless and wired connections to devices. The transmitter must be on the same circuit as the receiver for the adapters to work. Our pick for a powerline adapter is the TP-Link AV1300 Powerline WiFi Extender Kit ($119.99, on sale for $107.99) with AC1200 dual-band WiFi and three 1GB ethernet ports.
13. Start fresh with a new router (or mesh WiFi system)
If you’re experiencing slow internet speeds, it may be time to consider upgrading your router. Older routers or those provided by your Internet Service Provider (ISP) may not support the latest WiFi protocols and can limit your internet speeds. For example, older routers may only support 802.11a/b/g/n protocols, which are slower than the newer WiFi 6 or 6E (802.11ax) protocols.
By upgrading to a newer router that supports WiFi 6 or 6E, you can take advantage of additional spectrum, including the 6GHz band, which is not available on older standards. This can significantly reduce signal interference and increase your home network’s capacity, making it suitable for high-load activities like gaming or virtual reality apps. We recommend a router with speeds of at least 3,000Mbps or higher (AX3000) for most people, but you should consider your internet needs and household size before purchasing.
We recommend investing in a router that can be part of a mesh WiFi system. Mesh WiFi routers work with extender nodes that piggyback on one another using an internal mesh network that blankets the home for better coverage than if you added stand-alone extenders. In addition, a mesh-compatible router doesn’t cost more, and you’ll be future-proofing your purchase.
For a mesh WiFi System, we like the Eero 6+, which offers AX3000 connection speeds, easy setup, the newer WPA3 security protocol (which is compatible with older WPA2 devices), and a built-in smart home hub for controlling compatible Thread and Zigbee devices if you own Alexa devices. You can start with a single unit that covers up to 2200 sq ft. ($139.99), or if you have a larger home, a three-pack ($299.99) will cover up to 4,500 sq ft. If you’re interested in parental controls, we recommend the TP-Link Deco X55 two-pack (AX3000, $199.99 for two, on sale for $167.72), which also covers homes up to 4,500 sq ft.
For a standalone router that can be used in a mesh system, we like the TP-Link Archer AXE75 (AXE5400, $199.99). It works with TP-Link OneMesh-compatible extender nodes, comes with free anti-malware and parental control software, and supports WPA3 security. If you want to max out, go for the ASUS ROG Rapture AXE 16000 quad-band WiFi 6E Gaming Router ($699.99, on sale for $599.00), which works with AiMesh extender nodes and provides tons of network controls, including security, parental controls, VPN, and traffic control.
For small spaces, our budget pick is the TP-Link Archer AX21 (AX1800, $99.99, on sale for $79.99), with its easy setup and support for WPA3 security.
Note: Before upgrading to a WiFi 6 or 6E router, be aware that to take advantage of the higher speeds, your devices need to support WiFi 6 or 6E.
14. Buy a USB WiFi adapter for your computer
If you want to work on your computer in a location that doesn’t get good WiFi, you can invest in a USB WiFi adapter to increase your reception range. These plug into a laptop or desktop USB port, overriding the computer’s in-built wireless function, and can increase the speed and stability of the connection, especially for older computers that might not support newer WiFi standards.
We like the Netgear Nighthawk A8000 ($99.99, on sale for $79.00), which is a tri-band AXE3000 WiFi 6E adapter. You can plug the adapter directly into a USB 3.0 Type-A port or use the included dock to place it for better reception.
[gaming desktop via Smartmockups]
Natasha Stokes has been a technology writer for more than 10 years covering consumer tech issues, digital privacy and cybersecurity. As the features editor at TOP10VPN, she covered online censorship and surveillance that impact the lives of people around the world. Her work has also appeared on NBC News, BBC Worldwide, CNN, Time and Travel+Leisure.