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How to boost WiFi performance when everyone’s at home
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How to boost WiFi performance when everyone’s at home

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If you think you’re losing some dollars and cents over your WiFi signal, PennyGem’s Justin Kircher has some ways to save.

Mom is Zooming for a work meeting. Dad’s on Netflix. And Junior is gunning down bad guys on one screen while streaming his biology class on another. As the COVID era drags on, can there possibly be enough bandwidth?

In the interest of household harmony, we present a guide to getting the most out of your internet connection.

Yes, you can upgrade your service plan or your equipment, but first try these low- or no-cost tips, which we assembled with the help of wireless communications expert Kapil Dandekar, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Drexel University.

Let us pause to acknowledge that this is a problem of privilege. Plenty of people cannot work from home. And many do not have high-end broadband connections. All the more reason to make the most of what you’ve got.

Speed

Internet speed is typically measured in Mbps — megabits per second — for two numbers: download speed (the rate that data enters your house) and upload speed (how fast you can transmit). Some service plans are asymmetrical, with higher speeds for download than upload, which is fine for most applications.

But in the videoconferencing era, with users receiving and transmitting video at the same time, a good upload speed is important, Dandekar says.

The speed you need depends on how many household members are online at one time, and what they are doing. With four devices running at once, a download speed of at least 25 Mbps is recommended by the Federal Communications Commission.

Also look for low numbers in latency, which is a measure of lag time in handling the signal. Too high, and videos may look glitchy. For regular streaming, less than 100 milliseconds should be fine.

To check your current speed, use an app or website that measures it in real time, such as speedtest.net.

Router

A router converts your incoming data stream into radio waves and beams them throughout the home, like a sprinkler distributing water from a hose, Dandekar says. And like a sprinkler, the router should be in a good spot.

The greater the distance and the more walls in between the router and end user, the weaker the signal.

Try to place the device in the middle of all possible spaces where you want people to have access.

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The speed you need depends on how many devices could be online at a time.

In a two-story dwelling, that could be on top of a high bookcase on the first floor, or maybe near the floor of the second story. In a three-story dwelling, experiment with different locations on the second floor.

If the device has adjustable antennas, try aiming them in different directions to improve performance.

And never put your router on or next to a large metal object such as a filing cabinet. Metal is death to a WiFi signal.

Easy fixes

It may seem almost too obvious to consider, but check that the cable is in good shape and is securely plugged into the back of the router. And make sure it’s not pinched underneath a piece of furniture.

And don’t forget software updates. Routers need them, too, though if it’s the kind you rent from your internet service provider, updates may happen automatically.

New equipment

When all else fails, it may be time to spend money. That could include buying a new router, though anything less than 5 years old should be OK, Dandekar says.

Another option is a device called an extender or repeater, which receives the WiFi signal from the router and generates a copy of it. The cheapest versions cost less than $50, but check product reviews to see if you get what you pay for.

Extenders should be plugged in midway between the router and the farthest point where the user wants to extend the signal.

One wrinkle: the signal emanating from the extender will have a different network name. Your need to enter that name into your WiFi-enabled device along with the name of the original network, assuming you want to switch back and forth.

A fancier option is a mesh network, which consists of multiple access points working together collaboratively, all under one network name, Dandekar says.

Remember that while internet access is a linchpin of modern existence, it does not have to be a source of strife.

RELATED: How to help family members embrace unfamiliar technology — at any age

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