The rise in popularity of mobile devices means that Americans now spend more time accessing the Internet through their phones and tablets than they do computers. Although there are adapters that let users connect iPads and other mobile devices to Ethernet cords, most prefer to use these devices wirelessly.

By 2013, 73 percent of American homes had Wi-Fi, which, in addition to tablets and phones, connects many laptop users to the Internet. One of the main reasons for using Wi-Fi at home is convenience, but this convenience comes with a drawback: your Wi-Fi connection may not be capable of providing the speed available through your broadband connection.

Wi-Fi By the Numbers

Over time, Wi-Fi has evolved in an attempt to keep pace with increases in wired broadband speeds. The first Wi-Fi standards, 802.11a and 802.11b were developed concurrently, and followed by, 802.11g, 802.11n, and the current standard, 802.11ac. Each new standard represented an improvement in Wi-Fi speed and range.

Modern broadband networks are capable of supplying connection speeds that older Wi-Fi equipment just can’t keep up with. You’re not likely to see Wi-Fi’s theoretical speeds in the real world for a number of technical reasons. The best real-world speed you’re likely to see from an older 802.11n Wi-Fi router is about 240 Mbps, and 802.11g maxes out at 54 Mbps. That’s plenty fast, but if you have a 250 Mbps or faster connection, your Wi-Fi router becomes like a funnel: it what flows in is much faster than what flows out. And lots of people are still using 802.11n Wi-Fi: 802.11ac didn’t arrive until 2013. Your wireless router is likely labeled with its standard, so you should be able to tell exactly what you have.

Even the Newest Equipment Has Limits

The 802.11ac is capable of real-world speeds three times as fast, around 720 Mbps. That’s fast enough for all but a full gig connection, which means if you have a very fast broadband plan, you may have to choose between the fastest connection available, and the fastest wireless connection available. Connecting through Ethernet cable offers the potential for more Internet speed than any wireless connection can provide.

Where Do You Put Your Wi-Fi?

Admittedly, wireless routers aren’t much to look at, but hiding yours behind the TV or in a drawer can inhibit Wi-Fi performance. Other electronics and line-of-sight obstructions can interfere with a Wi-Fi signal, just as they can with AM/FM radio transmissions. Try to place your router in a location that will provide the clearest path for the signal. If your router has adjustable antennae, stand them straight up. And if you notice that your wireless performance doesn’t seem as good as it should be, try placing the router in different locations to see if that helps.

Distance between the wireless router and the devices it supports matters, too. Wi-Fi performance degrades with range, and although the causes of interference mentioned above impact that range, the maximum indoor range for 802.ac is around 230 feet. You can try using a Wi-Fi extender, sometimes also called a booster or repeater, to boost the signal to rooms of your home that may have poor reception. However, note that like wireless routers, extenders don’t always give you all the speed you’re paying for.

Confirm the Problem, Then Solve It

It’s easy to test to see if your Wi-Fi is slowing down your browsing: run a speed test through a site like Ookla first using an Ethernet connection, and then again with your Wi-Fi. If there’s a significant difference in speed, make sure your Wi-Fi equipment meets the 802.11ac standard. If it doesn’t, you can buy a new one that does, or likely get one directly from your Internet Service Provider.

If, when you run that speed test, your wired Internet speed is also disappointing, then it may be time for a new plan altogether. Have you shopped for broadband service in your area lately?

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