Slow Wi-Fi? You could be congested!
If you’re suffering from slow browsing speeds when connected by Wi-Fi, you may be experiencing congestion on your frequency. This short article explains how to check which channel your wireless router is operating on, plus how to see who else is sharing the channel with you, potentially causing you to slow down.
Home and office wireless networks, referred to as Wi-Fi from here on in, are short range radio transmissions. Your router or access point transmits data to your computer, and your computer transmits data back to the router again – all via radio waves.
The problem with radio transmissions is that they are prone to crosstalk. In the days of CB radios, you’d try and ensure you were on a different channel to others in the local area, otherwise if you both keyed your microphones at the same time, the person with the stronger transmitter would talk over the person with the weaker signal.
Modern digital radio networks, such as the type used in Wi-Fi devices, can cope a bit better when it comes to crosstalk. If your computer is sending information to your router and it detects someone else is ‘talking’ then it will wait until the frequency is quiet before sending. This allows lots of devices in your home to share the same radio channel and be able to speak to your router successfully.
What Wi-Fi networks don’t cope so well with, is your neighbours (and your other neighbours, and their neighbours, etc.) being on the same wireless channel.
Why? Well, because the more people you have all trying to transmit at the same time, the more waiting each person has to do for a clear transmission slot. This longer delay will quite often manifest itself in slow internet browsing, poor response from network devices, patchy internet or transmission speeds and other performance related symptoms.
When we’re called out to Wireless Network based issues, one of the first things we do is to look at all the networks we can see and then try to make sure the network you’re using isn’t going to be affected by it’s neighbours.
How to check which channels are free
I recommend a program called WirelessNetView, which is completely free.
First, you need to download the software from the link above. Once downloaded, run the WirelessNetView program. You should see a screen like this:
What this screen shows you is all of the wireless networks that are in range of your computer. Look the far left hand column to find your network – the name will likely be whatever you (or your internet provider) called it.
Once you’ve found your connection, make a note of the channel number.
Now, look down the list and see what channels other people are using. Are they on the same channel as you?
What channel should you use?
You should look to use channel 1, 6 or 11 for your Wi-Fi Network, depending on which is the clearest channel. Why? – Here’s a more technical article.
In a nutshell, all the other channel numbers overlap or crosstalk, but 1, 6 and 11 have enough separation that none of their frequencies overlap with each other.
As to which channel to pick, it’s a bit of case of trial and error – choose a new channel, with the least (or no) neighbours and see how it works.
It’s always sensible to pick yourself a wireless channel which no-one else is using, as it gives you the best possible chance of uninterrupted transmissions.
How do you change the wi-fi channel?
That’s too technical to go into on this blog, and depends on which model of Wi-Fi device you have. Most internet providers, if they provided the router, will be able to talk you through how to do this. Otherwise, one of our engineers can assist if you’re not confident.
Any other tips?
Be prepared with a LAN (ethernet) cable in case you lock yourself out of your router. Occasionally some channels just don’t work well, and you can end up losing your Wi-Fi connection – plugging in using the LAN cable gets things back up and running.