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What’s blocking your home Wi-Fi?

30-08-2016 00:00:00

What’s blocking your home Wi-Fi?

Check your home broadband and Wi-Fi

Is your Internet so slow?

Here are the best tests to find out where the problem lies

 

It's an all too common problem: your broadband just isn't as fast as you think it should be. Perhaps your Internet Service Provider (ISP) promised you 20Mbps, but you are barely managing half of that? Or maybe your speed fluctuates throughout the day, and stutters if you move to a different room.

Thankfully, there are several excellent tests and apps that will tell you what speeds you're getting, and why these might be slower than you'd hoped. These are even worth trying even if you're happy with your broadband speed and Wi-Fi - you never know when you might need this kind of information.

Run a broadband speed test

Before you do anything else; find out how fast your connection really is via a broadband test. It's best to first do this using a cable connected directly to your router, rather than by Wi-Fi.

Numerous online services claim to test your speed, but their accuracy varies. One site whose results we trust is Speedtest.net, which is run by the Seattle-based company Ookla. In its tests  it automatically chooses its nearest server to you. Because this is likely to be a similar distance to your ISP's server, it should provide the most accurate result. To double-check the result choose a different server (one that is further away) by clicking the 'New Server' button.

Ookla runs the same speed tests offered by many other sites, including USwitch, so look out for the Ookla logo before running multiple tests to make sure you're not wasting time comparing results using the same tool.

Another test you should try comes from Thinkbroadband , a broadband news and information site. Unlike Speedtest.net it also shows your average speed over time, and your `burst' speed, which is the very fastest you could have received at that particular time.

Testing Speedtest.com and Thinkbroadband back at my flat on a weekday afternoon produced similar results of around 14.5Mbps. My ISP claims I should be hitting 17Mbps, but I've never achieved this despite living near an exchange in central London, where speeds are typically very good.

Speeds will change throughout the day, and in the evening mine often falls to around 11Mbps as more people log on to use the network after returning home from work.

Check what's blocking your Wi-Fi

Your ISP may not be responsible for slow speeds; the blame could lie with your Wi-Fi. Perhaps you're getting interference from your neighbour's router, or the walls in your house are blocking the signal. If your desktop PC reaches the speed you expect, but your laptop, phone or tablet fall short, it's a safe bet your Wi-Fi is at fault. If you can, check this using Android apps, which are better than their basic iOS equivalents because Apple doesn't allow these to access data stored on iPhones and iPads.

My own flat is the ground floor of an old two-up, two-down cottage that's been doubled in size with an extension at the back. As cosy as it is, it means that a one-time exterior wall runs through the middle of my flat, blocking my signal. I certainly don't need a Wi-Fi-checking app to confirm the problem, because the connection stops dead as I step from the hallway into the kitchen. I fixed this some months ago with a Wi-Fi extender (Netgear's EX6100 - £40 from Amazon), meaning I can now happily stream and browse while sitting at the kitchen table.

I thought it would be interesting to see what the Wi-Fi-checking apps would make of my setup. Ofcom's new Wi-Fi Checker for Android is easy to use, but we didn't find it particularly helpful. It quickly reveals whether your Wi-Fi is hampering your Internet connection, but if there is a problem it says that it doesn't have enough of a signal to give you the full details. It was sensitive enough to pick up interference from an operating microwave, but couldn't display the full report identifying the problem.

There are better options, one of which is Ookla's free Speedtest.net app for Android. Usefully, it shows how your speeds vary during the day. Ours ranged from 6.1Mbps to 14.48Mbps, depending on where we stood, and whether the electric heater - which tends to chew up the signal - was switched on or off. Yes,

I'm willing to risk chillblains to bring you these results.

OpenSignal for Android (free from here) tests download and upload speeds as well as mobile broadband connections, and gives your Wi-Fi a rating out of five for different tasks. This helps you find out whether you need to switch to a fixed connection when you stream video or use Skype. However, it gave us different speeds for tests taken just minutes apart, which undermined our faith in it somewhat.

Are your neighbours to blame?

You should test your Wi-Fi in different rooms, and with electrical appliances turned on and off, to see if it fluctuates. If it doesn't alter much, your problem may be caused instead by interference from your neighbours' signals.

One way to overcome this is to use a dual-band router, which offers you 2.4GHz or 5GHz on the Wi-Fi spectrum.

If everyone else in your street is on 2.4GHz, you can avoid interference by switching to 5GHz - and vice versa. You can also avoid interference by switching to a different channel on that spectrum range. Some routers now do this automatically.

Use the free Android app Wi-Fi Analyzer (see screenshot above) to check whether your neighbours are using the same spectrum or channel. On my street, it revealed a dozen other wireless connections using 2.4GHz, but only one on SGHz. It also shows which channel each connection is using, so if you're stuck with a single-band router, you can still find a less busy spot for your own Wi-Fi.

You can use a heatmap tool to find out where the signal is strongest in your home. We recommend Ekahau's Heatmapper, which lets you build a heatmap on your laptop as you walk from room to room. Click the grid every step or two you take to map out the shape of your home, and then hover over your router to see the coverage map - green is where your signal is strongest, red is weakest.