I know what you’re thinking. You’ve read articles like this before, and they’re never as easy as they claim. They’ll tell you what settings to change, but not how to change them.
This is not one of those articles. In fact, I personally tried to implement the tips in some of those articles and ran into several issues I had to figure out for myself, which I’ve included the explanations for in this article.
This article will walk you through every step you need to take to get the most out of your Wi-Fi—and you don’t have to be a network administrator to understand it. I’m not and I was able to use these steps to improve the speed of my parents’ Wi-Fi network by 25%.
This article doesn’t tell you how to set up a network; it tells you how to get a network running efficiently. If you haven’t set up your Wi-Fi network yet, visit our installation guides for information on how to set up a Wi-Fi network with your brand of internet service.
Now, grab a pen and paper and let’s make your Wi-Fi better.
Step 1—Understand your network.
Making changes to a system you don’t understand can cause anxiety. I know I was afraid I might break something when I was figuring out how to do this. Visualizing a water flow analogy helped me keep track of which part of the system I was tweaking, and that gave me more confidence about making the changes.
Think of your Wi-Fi network as a water supply system in a small town: it will have an internet service provider (ISP), which is like the main water source. It will have a modem, which is like the water plant that keeps track of everything going in and out of the system. It will have security protocols, which are like the filtration system that keeps harmful elements from passing through. It will have a router, which is like the main distribution center that directs the water supply to all the different locations it must go. And, finally, it will have the individual devices that connect to your network, which are like the houses and other facilities that receive the water.
Your Home Network as a Small-Town Water System
- Internet Service Provider (ISP) = Water Source
- Modem = Water Plant*
- Security = Filtration System*
- Router = Distribution Center*
- Devices (laptop, tablet, phone, etc.) = Buildings in the Town Receiving Water
When you access the Internet using your Wi-Fi, you’re essentially connecting to two networks—your home network and the internet. These are two different types of networks with different speed limitations.
Your home network is a Local Area Network (LAN). You can access this network without going onto the internet. This can be useful for in-home LAN gaming or sharing files on the network. As long as you aren’t connected to the internet, your home network is controlled by your router and can be as fast as the router and the devices connected to it can operate.
The internet is a patchwork of thousands of other networks with specific access points. For your home internet, that access point is a server operated by your Internet Service Provider, which you access through your modem. Your internet speed will be limited by how quickly information passes through this access point. It can be affected on one end by the capabilities of your modem and on the other end by your Internet Service Provider or plan.
When you use a wireless device in your home to access the internet, it will first connect to your home Wi-Fi network via your router, then connect to the internet outside your home via your modem and Internet Service Provider. Understanding this, you will see three main places causing speed issues in your Wi-Fi network and/or internet connection: your ISP, your modem, or your router. We will address each of these in this guide.
Note: Since most home-networking activities are also online activities, we’re referring to your home Wi-Fi network and your Internet Service Provider connection when we talk about your “home network” from step two and on.
Step 2—Know how much speed to expect.
Under the water supply analogy, your internet speed is like the volume of water in the system. So, just as the water supply in the town will be limited by the amount of water it can get from the source, the speed of your Wi-Fi network will be limited by the internet speed you get from your internet service provider. Before you decide that your speed is not what you’re paying for, you’ll need to find out what you expect that speed to be based on the plan you ordered.
When you signed up for your internet service, you subscribed to a package with a given number of megabits per second (Mbps). That number is the speed limit of your internet connection and therefore your home network.
Write that number down. It is the benchmark that will help you diagnose which part of your network is causing the slowdown.
Remember you can maximize the distribution and efficiency of that speed, but you can’t get faster Wi-Fi than what your Internet Service Provider delivers. (That said, see the “Additional Tips” section at the end of this article for a way to possibly squeeze a little more speed out of your internet service.)
If you’re not sure how much speed to expect from the internet package you signed up for, contact your Internet Service Provider and ask. You may also find it in the original paperwork you signed or by accessing your account online.
If you think you might need more speed than your current subscription supplies, use this easy tool to find out how much speed you need.
Step 3—Discover how much speed you’re getting.
I. Turn off your device’s Wi-Fi.
Turning off your Wi-Fi will eliminate interference during the speed test. This is important because before we can improve the speed of your Wi-Fi network, we need to know how fast your internet is on its own. To get the most accurate results, you need to eliminate all other potential interference on your computer, including your Wi-Fi, to ensure you’re testing the purest possible internet connection in your house.
Click on the Start menu, click Settings, then Network & Internet, then Wi-Fi, and switch the toggle to “off.”
(For Mac users, the path is Apple menu→System Preferences→Network.)
II. Connect your computer to your modem with an Ethernet cable.
The modem is a piece of equipment usually acquired from your Internet Service Provider upon installation of your internet service. It is the box plugged directly into your wall, and will sometimes contain a router, too.
An Ethernet cable looks like a phone cable, but it has bigger connections on each end. Your modem or router will usually come with an extra one.
III. Run a speed test.
Once you connect your computer to your network directly through the modem, click the button below for a speed test. Then go to the new tab and click on Start Test. The test may take a few seconds.
When the test is complete, you’ll see two numbers: an upload speed and a download speed. We’re going to focus on download speed in this article, but the suggestions in this guide should improve both speeds. The image on the right is an example of what the speed test/results will look like.
Internet speeds fluctuate slightly from moment to moment, so run the test two or three times until you get a few similar scores. The scores likely won’t match exactly, but this will give you the approximate speed you get from your ISP.
IV. Write down that speed score.
We’ll refer to the results of your speed test throughout the next steps, so you’ll want to keep it on hand.
Step 4—Diagnose your modem.
If the speed test from Step 3 comes out roughly the same as the speed you expected based on your subscription, then your speed issue likely does not stem from your modem.
If the speed test comes out significantly slower than what you’re paying for with your internet subscription, either your modem is causing speed issues or your ISP is underdelivering.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll assume your ISP is delivering as promised. If you follow all the steps we recommend and you still aren’t getting the speed you expect, contact your ISP to find out if it can boost your speed from its end.
Step 5—Clear the pipes.
If the speed test from Step 3 showed your modem is the source of your low speed, you may just need to reset it. With the water analogy, this would be like cleaning out any blockages from the main line.
Some modems have a small reset button. If yours does, press it and hold it until the lights on the modem turn off, then release it. The modem should reset itself. If your modem doesn’t have a reset button, simply unplug the power cord, wait ten seconds, then plug it back in. This should accomplish the same thing.
After resetting your modem, check your speed again.
If your speed is higher than it was before the reset, you’re on the right track. If the restart didn’t solve the problem, don’t worry because we have plenty more things to try. Either way, the next step is to schedule periodic automatic restarts on your modem. Think of it as hiring a cleaning crew to come in and clean the pipes every so often to keep the flow steady.
To set up scheduled restarts and to change other settings in later steps, you’ll need to log in to your modem.
Step 6—Log in to your modem.
Logging in to your modem is different than logging in to your network. Logging in to your network allows you to get online and access the internet. Logging in to your modem lets you change the settings associated with your modem. Think of logging in to your modem as visiting the water plant for an inspection.
Use the following steps to log in to your modem.
I. Find your modem’s IP address.
The IP address is the Internet Protocol address. Basically, your modem’s IP address represents its location on the internet. It is a number that looks something like 10.0.0.1, 188.8.131.52, or 192.168.0.1.
You can find your modem’s IP address in several ways. It is often on the printed materials that come with your modem, or it may be on a sticker on the bottom of your modem. You can also find it by going into your network settings and selecting View Properties. If you are connected directly to your modem and not your router, the modem IP address will be listed as the “gateway.”
II. Access your modem’s firmware.
Firmware is basically the software that operates your hardware.
With your computer still plugged into your modem via Ethernet cable and your Wi-Fi off, open a browser tab and enter your modem’s IP address. This should take you to your modem’s login screen. If this doesn’t work, do a Google search for “adjusting settings on a [your model] modem” for additional help.
III. Sign in.
Once you access your modem, it will ask you for a username and password. Much like the modem’s IP address, you can find the login and password for your modem with its original paperwork, on the bottom of the modem, or by searching for its model number online. Usually the username is something like “admin,” and the password will vary from model to model.
Some modems have a quick timeout that will automatically log you out after a set amount of time. If this happens, don’t worry. You can just log back in without any issues.
Step 7—Dial in your modem settings.
Think of changing your modem settings as changing the filters and adjusting the valves at the water plant. Once you’re logged in to your modem, you’ll see all kinds of abbreviations, numbers, and codes, most of which you likely won’t understand. It can be intimidating. You’ll probably only change a few small settings, but first you’ll want to make sure you can get back to the current settings if something accidentally gets changed that shouldn’t. So, open a Word document, and copy and paste all the original settings into the document. I recommend doing this for each tab of settings.
Now that you have a reference for your original settings, follow the steps below to get the most out of your modem. Each brand of modem will have a different layout, so we can’t tell you exactly where to find each field you need to change. You’ll have to look around for them, but don’t worry. You can always go back to the original settings.
I. Update your firmware.
Most equipment will tell you if firmware updates are available, but you may need to initiate a search for firmware updates with some brands. You should see something that says “firmware update available,” “check for updates,” or simply “firmware.” If you find any firmware updates, download them. The modem will likely restart to install them. If this happens, just log in again the same way as before.
If your modem gives you the option to automatically update its firmware, we recommend doing so.
II. Schedule a restart.
You may have to look around the different menus to find the place to schedule automatic restarts for your modem. Look on tabs like “maintenance,” “management,” or “advanced settings.” It may take a few minutes to find, but be sure to read through the options on each tab carefully.
Once you find an option for scheduling a restart, choose a time when people in your household likely won’t be using the internet. Sometime in the early morning works well for most people. Once you set the time, you may have to click an “apply” button.
III. Increase your transmission speed and power.
Check if your modem is in power-saving or data-saving mode. This can affect its performance. In our water analogy, this would be like having your valves partially closed. If you need more speed, let’s open those—full blast.
Check under the “Settings” tab for your transmission settings. If it is set to anything less than 100%, you will likely improve your performance by changing it to 100%. This still applies even if it is set to “automatic,” as the automatic setting may throttle your throughput to save you data.
Also, make sure your modem is not running in economy mode or eco mode. This setting may be under a tab labeled something like “Power Settings” or “Transmission Power.”
WARNING: In most cases, when a modem is set to less than 100%, it is to slow down data usage to help customers with a data limit on their internet plan. So, if you have a data cap on your internet service, recognize you may reach that cap faster if you turn it up to 100%.
If you’ve followed these steps and your speed is still not what you expect from your ISP, you may need to upgrade your modem. If you got your modem from your ISP, you might be able to get it replaced. If, after all this, your modem still doesn’t deliver the speed you ordered from your ISP, you may want to switch providers. To see Internet Service Providers in your area, enter your zip code in the box below.
Now on to your Wi-Fi router. . .
Step 8—Dial in your router settings.
Hopefully by now you’ve got your modem working to deliver the speed for which you subscribed. Let’s get your router doing the same thing. Fortunately, the steps for doing this are almost the same.
Your router is the hub of your home Wi-Fi network. It is a plastic or metal box, usually with at least one antenna. If your modem has a Wi-Fi logo on it, this means your router is inside your modem.
I. Diagnose your router.
Unplug your computer from your modem.
If your modem and router are separate pieces of equipment, plug your router into your modem with an Ethernet cable. If they are housed within the same piece of equipment, they’re already connected.
Connect to your network wirelessly and stay in the same room as your router.
Run a speed test as described before.
If your speed is still where it should be, then your router isn’t causing a slowdown in your internet speed, although you still may be losing signal strength from a distance. (We’ll address that in Step 10.)
If you are experiencing a slowdown from the wired connection to the wireless connection, your router is likely the source of the problem.
II. Adjust your router settings just like your modem settings.
If your router and modem are a single unit and you followed the instructions above, you already adjusted your router settings because they’re the same as your modem settings. Good job!
If your router and modem are separate units, stay connected to your network wirelessly and repeat steps 5 through 7 for your router. Since you’re now connected wirelessly, your “gateway” will now be your router’s IP address instead of your modem’s.
Step 9—Adjust additional router settings.
In addition to the settings from the previous sections, you should change a few other settings on your router as well. Just like the other settings, you can change these when you log in to your router.
I. Change your password.
You should change your default passwords for both your Wi-Fi network and your router. Otherwise hackers could use those passwords to syphon off your internet bandwidth and/or change your connection settings to invite further trouble.
After you change your password on your router, you’ll need to change the connection settings on all your devices that connect to your network so they use the new password.
II. Set your router channel(s).
If you have a 2.4 GHz router, change your channel to 1, 6, or 11 because they generally have less interference from other wireless frequencies than other channels.
You can test your speed on each channel and pick the one that works best for you.
If you have a 5 GHz router, make sure it’s set to select the channel automatically. The added capacity of a 5 GHz router lets it access more channels, and it can usually find one with little interference.
You can find the GHz capacity of your router in its original paperwork, on the router itself, or online.
Step 10—Find the best place for your router.
Now that you’ve got your network secure and operating on the right channels, you’ll need to find the best place to put your router. Back to our water analogy, this is like selecting where to put the distribution center to deliver water to the whole town effectively and efficiently.
Ideally you should put your router as close to the center of your home as possible. However, if your signal reaches all the places you need it to, you can get by with placing it wherever is convenient. The following steps will help you determine if you need to move your router.
I. Test your range and speed.
Leave your router plugged into your modem, then take your laptop or tablet and go to the room in your house farthest away from the router, but in which you still want to connect to the Wi-Fi network. Conduct the speed test there.
NOTE: When determining which room in your house is farthest from the router, remember most routers send Wi-Fi signals in all directions. So, while walking to a room downstairs may take longest, if that room is directly underneath the room with the router, it may not be the farthest away. Additionally, some walls can weaken signal strength, but we’ll address that later.
II. Diagnose your router.
If the speed test from the far room returns similar results to those from the previous wireless test, your router’s signal is fine.
If you can’t access the internet from the farthest room or if the speed test results from that room are significantly lower than the results of the previous tests, either your router isn’t sending a strong enough Wi-Fi signal to accommodate your network needs or you need to move it and/or redirect its signal.
You can also buy aftermarket antenna upgrades that boost your signal or change the direction the signal travels from the router. You can even find Wi-Fi boosters that plug into the wall. Keep in mind that any of these boosters could make the strength of your Wi-Fi signal stretch farther, but they won’t increase your internet speed beyond that which comes directly from your Internet Service Provider.
If your router is old or cheap, you might want to consider an upgrade.
Be aware of metal interference with your Wi-Fi signal.
Large amounts of metal can interfere with your router’s Wi-Fi signal, so avoid placing your router near metal filing cabinets or reinforced concrete walls. If you can’t avoid such placement, you might need to use one of the aforementioned boosters to bounce the signal around the obstacle.
Eliminate multiple Wi-Fi signals that can interfere with each other.
If your modem has a built-in router, but you also have a separate, more powerful router, we recommend turning off the router inside the modem and keeping your more powerful router connected directly to your modem with an Ethernet cable. When both routers are transmitting wireless signals, they can interfere with each other and thus slow down your network. If you must keep both signals active so your second router can operate from a remote location, remember that your signal will only be as fast as your slowest router.
Get the most speed out of your internet service.
You might increase your internet speed by setting your modem to access a different DNS server than it does currently. DNS stands for Domain Name System, and a DNS server is the internet directory that connects your device with the host server of your desired webpage. Some of them are faster than others, and your modem may not be directed to the best ones. You can download and use this Google plugin to find the optimal DNS servers for your connection. Once you find the IP address for the DNS servers, you can go back into your modem/router to set them as your default DNS server options.
If after following these steps your internet and home network connection are still too slow, you may just need a higher internet subscription to supply you with the speed you need for your online activities. If you’re not sure how much speed you need, use this easy tool to find out. It will ask you a few questions about your household and how you use the internet and then recommend an appropriate speed.
If you found this guide helpful, please share it with your friends. Good luck and good speed!