Using applications such as Skype, Netflix, YouTube, or online gaming requires a quick internet connection to run smoothly. This can be hard to maintain if you share your connection with family or flatmates who also want to download large files, stream music, or watch iPlayer while doing the washing up. Here we’ll show you how to get all, or at least a premium slice, of the bandwidth on a shared network.
Ask others to stop using the internet
Before you delve into the technical solutions for these problems, you could always talk to the people you live with. If you want to call someone on Skype, but find that the video keeps freezing because Tom in the next room is mainlining the new series of House of Cards, you can always arrange beforehand to have the connection free for a while.
Of course this works both ways, so you’ll have to stay offline at some point to pay back the favour. Do consider the fact that the connection is shared, so expecting others to keep off the internet every night just so that your ping rate on Call of Duty stays as low as possible isn’t really a great way to be a flatmate.
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- How to use an old router to expand your network
- 9 Best Wireless routers for 2015
- How to get maximum speed from BT Broadband
Switch from Wi-Fi to Ethernet
One way to improve the consistency of your connection is to plug directly into the router. Wi-Fi may well give you freedom, but an ethernet cable gives you stability and avoids the various obstacles, such as walls, which can hamper your Wi-Fi experience.To get technical, Ethernet is full duplex, but Wi-Fi is only half-duplex. In essence Wi-Fi is much slower than Ethernet.
Ideally you would connect your PC or laptop via an Ethernet cable into your router, looking to see if there is a Gigabit port marked on the unit (your manual will tell you which one - and you can Google the router type to if you don’t have the paper version to hand). It's only worth looking for a Gigabit port if your laptop or PC has a Gigabit network controller of course.
This tip won’t give you priority over other users, but will eliminate random elements in your house that could cause you to have a reduced service. Quite obviously, it's not relevant for smartphones or tablets without Ethernet ports.
Use Powerline devices to extend the range of the network
Routers aren't always positioned in convenient places, and really should be in the centre of the house to provide the best coverage for everyone. So if you can’t plug directly into the router itself you could always use powerline adaptors, which use the mains wiring in your home to communicate.
The principle is simple, you buy a couple of powerline devices, plug one into the wall socket nearest the router and the other in the socket nearest your computer, then connect each adaptor to the router or PC with an ethernet cable. Now it’s like you’re plugging directly into the router, even though you might be on the other side of the house.
Tweak your router settings for quality of service, prioritisation, and dual-band
It’s a sad truth that most of us will spend many hundreds of pounds, thousands even, on our electronic equipment and then connect to the internet via the free router that was given to us by our ISP (or was already in the house). Don't get us wrong, some are very good, but often these devices are old technology and certainly not top of the line. Getting the optimum performance out of them is essential then, and can be done with a few tweaks.
First off you’ll need to ascertain the various capabilities of your service and equipment. To check your connection speed open a browser and go to www.speedtest.com. Here you’ll be able to run a simple test that will show you how fast your net connection is. A recent report stated that the average speed for home broadband in the UK was a little over 10Mb, so if you find you’re in that bracket then you should be able to use video, gaming, and streaming services without too many issues. If you’re below 5Mb then it might be worth seeing if there are any services, such as BT Infinity or Virgin Media, that are offered in your area as there isn’t much that a router can do if the supply it receives is slow.
Ideally you’ll want to have a dual-band router, as these allow you to allocate different devices or applications to different bandwidth. For example, 802.11n can run on 2.4GHz and 5GHz: routers that support both are known as dual-band. You must get one which supports simultaneous dual-band so it can operate on both frequencies at the same time.
Assuming that your wireless devices support 5GHz (many don't) you can connect those you want to use for streaming, gaming, and other things that require low latency to the 5GHz network. Because fewer devices (including those owned by your neighbours) use the 5GHz network, it's generally less congested and faster.
Some routers, such as the Archer C9 below, let you control bandwidth to specific IP addresses. It's quite techincal but it means you can set a device on which you want lots of Wi-Fi bandwidth to a static (fixed) IP address, and then set the minimum bandwidth to high figures. Strangely TP-Link uses "Ingress" and "Egress" rather than "In" and "Out" or "Download" and "Upload". The actual number you can use might be found only using trial and error. This should improve your Wi-Fi performance.
Quality of Service settings
Another important setting to adjust is that of Quality of Service. If your router has this feature, it will allow you give priority to certain types of applications and / or specific computers. Again the interface will vary depending on your router, with TP-Link calling it Bandwidth Control.
Google once more is your friend, and a quick search for Quality of Service settings, plus your router model or manufacturer, should find a tutorial for your specific router. TP-Link has introduced an app for Android and iOS called Tether that allows you to control your settings via an easy interface on your phone or tablet, and Linksys is doing something similar in their new range.
Depending on the router and model, QoS might only deal with outgoing traffic. This is why it's helpful when playing online games which are time-critical.
Generally, your ISP will control prioritisation of data from the internet to your home, so there's little you can do to ensure you have no buffering issues when others are also using the internet.
Consider a new router
As we mentioned above, it’s very common for most of us never to even consider replacing our free routers with more advanced models. In a recent survey conducted by Linksys it was discovered that nearly 50 percent of respondents were using routers that were running versions of Wi-Fi that were at least twelve years old. This becomes an issue when the same survey reported that 84 percent of those interviewed stated that they regularly streamed movies/TV, while also streaming music, playing games, or surfing the internet at the same time.
Replacing your cheap or old router with a newer, more powerful model is an obvious choice, especially if you can convince your family or flatmates to chip-in as everyone will benefit. This part of the market is often changing, so it’s best to read up on reviews to see which routers offer the best bang for buck. Bear in mind though that to get the best out of the latest 802.11ac standard that new models offer, you’ll need to check that your computers and devices support 802.11ac otherwise they’ll behave pretty much the same way they did on the old router.
In fact, it's even more complex, since it isn't enough to merely support 802.11ac. There's also the number of antennae and streams to consider. Your whizzy new router might support as many as four simultaneous streams, but your laptop, say, won't be able to take advantage if it has an 802.11ac radio that supports only one stream.
In the next year or so we will see the introduction of advanced technologies such as MU MIMO (Multi-user Multiple Input Multiple Output) which looks set to make huge improvements to the way routers handle the distribution of information to multiple devices at the same time. Qualcomm’s new Streamboost analyses the types of data going through the router so it can automatically prioritise more demanding applications - a sort of Smart Quality of Service, and new triple band routers also offer more capacity for congested connections. These cutting-edge innovations might only be available on a handful of devices at the moment (such as the Linksys EA8500, TP Link AC3200, and ZyXEL Armor Z1), but as they become more commonplace we should see an easier way to share our digital habits in the future.