15 Things You Didn’t Know About Your Internet
The internet is the background noise to our busy lives, making it easy to overlook how remarkable it is and how much untapped potential it still has.
Here are some internet tips and trivia you might not know.
Plugging in to your router is faster than Wi-Fi.
Wi-Fi networks are typically a bottleneck in your connection. For example, if you have a gigabit connection in your home but don’t have a wireless router that can handle gigabit speeds, you won’t be able to take full advantage of your ultrafast connection.
Even if you do have a good router, broadcasting your signal over Wi-Fi adds one more step on your information’s journey, which can slow it down. If you play online games or livestream, you should always plug directly into your router.
You can check your actual internet speed online.
If you suspect that you’re not getting the speed you’re paying for, the first step is to take a speed test. To get the most accurate results, plug your device into your router and test your connection at several different times throughout the day.
You can get internet service without a physical cable to your house.
Fortunately, there are other internet options if your neighborhood isn’t wired for high-speed internet like cable or fiber.
Many providers are offering wireless 4G home internet and some are even expanding their 5G networks to homes. Additionally, some areas have access to fixed-wireless networks, which are often offered by local providers.
For more rural areas, satellite internet can provide wireless broadband speeds almost anywhere in the US.
Cable internet connections experience slowdown.
Cable connections share bandwidth within neighborhoods, which means your connection will slow down during peak usage hours—usually in the evening when everyone gets off work and sits down to relax. Although slowdowns can happen on any connection, they’re far more likely to happen on cable for this reason.
You don’t need to sign up for a yearlong internet contract.
Many internet service providers (ISPs) offer no-contract internet plans that you pay month to month with no long-term obligations. If you decide to move, upgrade, or switch ISPs before the next month’s bill, there are no penalties.
Although you can often save money by signing a longer contract, some no-contract plans are even cheaper per month than those that come with a contract.
You can change your Wi-Fi channel in crowded areas.
If you live in an urban area, you’ve probably seen your neighbors’ Wi-Fi networks pop up when you try to connect a new device. This isn’t normally a problem, but in densely populated areas, like a large apartment complex, these overlapping Wi-Fi signals can interfere with your own home network.
If you’re running into Wi-Fi problems, you can switch your router to a different channel. Routers will normally choose their channel on their own, but you can do it manually to find one that’s less crowded.
You can boost your Wi-Fi to get coverage all around the house.
If you want to extend the reach of your Wi-Fi signal or fill a dead zone, buy a Wi-Fi extender. These boost your signal to the farthest corners of your house. They’re especially handy if your router has to be placed in an inconvenient location away from your devices. You can also extend the reach of your sigal by buying a long-range router.
Every device on the internet needs its own address.
Information on the internet is sent in packets. And, like a package in the mail, every packet needs a shipping address and a return address in order for two-way communication to occur. These addresses are called “IP addresses,” and every device on the internet needs one in order to communicate.
This also means that any time you visit a website or send an email, your IP address is broadcasted for all to see, even if you’re browsing in incognito mode. IP addresses don’t pinpoint your exact location, but they do give a pretty good idea of the city you’re connecting from.
Your IP address changes all the time.
Your IP address can seem like a pretty personal piece of information, but it’s not permanent. While some web servers and large companies have static IP addresses that don’t change, most IP addresses are dynamically assigned by your ISP and change every few weeks. This constant reshuffling allows ISPs to make the most efficient use of the addresses that they control.
If you’re using a mobile device like a phone or laptop, your IP address also changes every time you connect to a new Wi-Fi network. Your home, your work, and the coffee shop down the street all have different networks with different ISPs, which means there’s a different pool of addresses to pull from.
VPNs can get around location restrictions.
Although IP addresses don’t pinpoint your exact location, they do give sites enough information to restrict the content you see based on the country you live in. Netflix, for instance, offers different shows to viewers in the US than it does to viewers in the UK. One way to get around these restrictions is to use a virtual private network (VPN).
VPNs establish an encrypted connection between your device and one of the services’ remote servers. You connect to the rest of the internet through that server, using its IP address. In other words, if you connect to YouTube through a VPN server in Canada, all YouTube knows is that a device in Canada wants to see some videos.
The internet and the World Wide Web are not the same thing.
Although the internet and the World Wide Web are often used interchangeably, the Web is only one part of the internet. The World Wide Web was developed by Tim Berners Lee in 1990 and was a system for sharing information using web pages and web browsers.
Before that, the internet—the physical network of servers, cables, and other devices—had been used for purposes like email, bulletin board systems (BBSs), Usenet forums, and internet relay chat (IRC).
While the World Wide Web has exploded since the early ‘90s, new uses of the internet are appearing every day. There are mobile apps, messaging services, online games, and smart gadgets that all make use of the internet, while not having a presence on the World Wide Web.
The internet has been around since the 1960s.
While most people learned about the internet when the World Wide Web took off in the ‘90s, the internet has been around since 1969. The foundation of the internet, then known as ARPANET, began as a network between just four universities: UCLA, Stanford, UC Santa Barbara, and the University of Utah.
As other networks popped up and wanted to connect to each other, new protocols for “internetworking” were adopted. As discussions of internet protocols and internet transmission became more common, the entire network of networks became known simply as “the internet.”
Because of the Cold War, our data doesn’t go in a straight line.
While the internet is similar in many ways to traditional telephone networks, connecting to a website doesn’t give you a direct line to the server. Instead, the server sends out packets in all directions.
Because each packet has the IP address of its destination, routers along the internet will try to find a path to that destination. Since packets can take any path between your device and the server, they often arrive out of order and have to be sorted before your data can be reconstructed.
The idea behind packet switching came about during the Cold War. It was designed to create a completely decentralized communication system that wasn’t vulnerable to nuclear attack. There are no central hubs in a packet switching network, so it can remain fully functional even if large portions of the network are destroyed.
Fiber-optic technology is older than DSL.
Fiber is hands down the fastest and most reliable way to connect to the internet. Fiber-to-the-home has taken off only in the last few years and ISPs are currently scrambling to increase their fiber offerings to keep up with demand.
Surprisingly, fiber is actually a relatively old technology. The first commercial uses of fiber-optic communication began in the 1970s, almost 20 years before DSL would take off as a high-speed alternative to dial-up internet connections. At this point in time, much of the core infrastructure of the internet was already using fiber-optics while homes and businesses connected mostly through slower DSL and dial-up connections.
The big difference now is that fiber is reaching all the way to people’s homes. While technologies like DSL and cable are reaching the physical limits of how fast they can transmit data, fiber still has plenty of untapped potential. It’s been the best for nearly 50 years, and it doesn’t look like it will have competition anytime soon.
Satellite internet is slow because it travels at the speed of light.
Unfortunately, the speed of light isn’t so fast when you’re looking at things on an astronomical scale. Satellites in geosynchronous orbit, like those used for satellite internet, orbit 35,786 km above the surface of the earth.
Light actually travels about 31% slower in fiber compared to the vacuum of space, but it still gets your data to its destination faster. A signal sent over fiber might just travel a few hundred kilometers, while a satellite signal will always be travelling tens of thousands of miles, no matter where the server you’re connecting to is located.
For a signal to travel there and back, it takes 239 ms—and that’s just one leg of the journey. This is why satellite connections have high latency. It’s also why low-Earth satellite constellations like Starlink could have such an impact on improving satellite internet speeds.
Author - Peter Christiansen
Peter Christiansen writes about satellite internet, rural connectivity, livestreaming, and parental controls for HighSpeedInternet.com. Peter holds a PhD in communication from the University of Utah and has been working in tech for over 15 years as a computer programmer, game developer, filmmaker, and writer. His writing has been praised by outlets like Wired, Digital Humanities Now, and the New Statesman.
Editor - Cara Haynes
Cara Haynes has been editing and writing in the digital space for seven years, and she's edited all things internet for HighSpeedInternet.com for five years. She graduated with a BA in English and a minor in editing from Brigham Young University. When she's not editing, she makes tech accessible through her freelance writing for brands like Pluralsight. She believes no one should feel lost in internet land and that a good internet connection significantly extends your life span.