My Home Network – Understanding the Basics

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Your Home Internet

The Internet has become a basic need for almost any home today. No matter what you use the internet for (web browsing, work, gaming, streaming, etc.) without internet at home your life would be very different, and let’s face it, for many of us, quite paralyzing.
However, most homes still have unreliable internet with slow navigation, dead spots, and flaky connections, and most of the time blame it entirely on the service provider. I cannot count how many times I’ve heard people asking for recommendations on a better or faster provider just to find out that once they switch providers the result is not much better than what they had before.
So, let’s break it all down and discuss why we face these challenges and how to make sure we get the experience we need using the internet at home. After all, without a stable fast network at home, all our smart devices and technology will not perform well leading to a frustrating experience.

Wireless Router

Great, so What do I need?

This is perhaps the most basic question we should ask ourselves when starting to think of our home internet. As basic as it sounds, we all have different needs and knowing exactly what you are going to use it for will help you make sure you get the right provider, speed and reliability you need while saving money (don’t pay for what you are not using!).

We all like to think we need the fastest internet possible to be able to stream movies, play games, browse through the web, and so on, but in reality, most of our broadband is wasted. Applications don’t need endless speed,  which means we are paying for something we don’t use.

Let’s get more concrete on what exactly we need. For this example, I’ll consider a family of 4 simultaneously using your home network.

Person 1 is heavily browsing while Person 2 and 3 are watching different Netflix 4K shows and Person 4 is having a skype call for work. In this example we have a very heavy Internet usage (probably a lot more than your average household at any given time), however looking at the table below we can see the average bandwidth needed would be (4 + 25 + 25 + 8.5), which means at this given time the internet connection would need to be at least 62.5Mbps.

Application

Peak Usage

Average Usage

Web Browsing/Email (Light)

1 Mbps.25 Mbps

Web Browsing/Email (Moderate)

2 Mbps

.5 Mbps

Web Browsing/Email (Heavy)

4 Mbps

1 Mbps

Apple Facetime Video Call (HD quality)

.7 Mbps

.7 Mbps

Skype Group Video Call (7+ people)

8.5 Mbps

8.5 Mbps

Netflix Video Streaming (HD Quality)

5 Mbps

5 Mbps

Netflix Video Streaming (Ultra HD Quality)25 Mbps

25 Mbps

That is a lot smaller than you might have thought, considering many service providers are now offering speed of up to 1000Mbps. So, for this example if you did purchase the 1000Mbps, you would probably be wasting quite a bit of the bandwidth. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are many valid cases in which you might need significantly higher speeds (You need to upload and download large files constantly or have a large setup of security cameras constantly recording 4k etc.), but what I want to illustrate is the fact that higher speeds don’t necessarily mean you’ll have a better experience.

Why is My Internet Slow?

If what I said above is correct, and I’m not using all those devices/services at the same time why is my internet so slow? This is where most people start blaming their service provider and looking for higher speed, but to answer this we need to look at several potential culprits. Let’s break it down in steps:

First of all, let’s make sure we know exactly what speed we get at the point of origin (It should be close to what you purchased from your provider).

What does that mean? Let’s test your speed directly at your modem/router with a wired connection. There are many tools out there that can help you determine this. I like www.speedtest.net.

Once you know you are getting what you are supposed to (this is when to call your provider if you are not getting what you paid for) we can move to test your wireless speed. This will typically be less than your wired but if standing by the modem it shouldn’t be much lower (If it is, this might be the first reason why you have a slow internet around the house and might need to explore what is causing that drop. A few quick things to check might be:

– Old wi-fi router/access point – You might even be entitled to an upgrade from your provider, so give them a call if you’ve had this router for a long time.

– Old Wi-Fi Connecting device (Laptop, phone, etc.) – Old devices have slower hardware and won’t be able to take advantage of higher speeds and new Wi-Fi standards.

– Too many competing signals on the same channel – Channel saturation is a big cause for slow internet. It may be your neighbor’s Wi-Fi signals using the same channel, or some other device in your home, but you may want to change the channel your router is using.

– Too many devices connected – Basic routers such as the ones provided by your internet provider are not able to handle a large number of devices connected to them and this will significantly impact the performance.

Each one of these factors may be the cause or contribute to slow and inconsistent speeds, so it is important to eliminate each one of these factors to determine which one(s) is causing the issue and solve it. We will go into more detail on the signal traffic and conflict as well as how to solve it in another post.

I've Got Dead Spots!

Wifi Dead Spots

Dead spots around the house are also one of the most common issues when discussing the internet at home. Most homes tend to have a room or a section of the house where the signal is so low it’s almost unusable. This leads to frustration and questions on why it happens and how it can be solved. So, without getting technical here, the first thing to think about it the fact that a wireless signal has a specific power, however every time it encounters an obstacle (think a wall or big piece of furniture) it will “crash” into it and lose power. Considering that any home has multiple walls, doors, and furniture, the further away we get from where the Wi-Fi router is located the more obstacles the signal will have encountered, weakening the signal to the point where it becomes unusable.

With that in mind, you also have to consider that most modems with Wi-Fi capabilities provided to you by your internet company tend to be very basic with limited processing capacity (how many simultaneous devices can connect to it) as well as antennae power, which means you will probably not be able to get too far away from that location.

There are many ways to get around this challenge (we will cover them more in detail in another post), but for now we can think of more powerful Wi-Fi routers, more access points, or mesh networks, each one of them solving the problem in different ways.

Should I go Wired or Wireless

Well the answer is not a straight simple answer. I would say neither! The best option would be a combination of wired and wireless depending on your home floor plan, the overall design of the network, the possibility of having a wired solution, and of course the device you are connecting (you’d probably never want to connect your mobile phone in a wired connection).

Ideally, you’d want to connect high usage, static devices in a wired way, as you’ll guarantee that they’ll have a stable connection directly to your router without any wireless interference or loss of signal. That will also help the wireless devices have access to more of the router’s resources, improving the overall performance.

At the same time, you’d want a full coverage Wi-Fi network for all your mobile devices. Balancing a wired and wireless throughout your house will provide a stable and powerful home network, but if that’s not a possibility a well-designed wireless network will allow you to enjoy the internet across all your devices!

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