The modern family home is more connected than ever to the Internet, and these days that includes everything from multiple computers, tablets, gaming systems, 4KTVs, even network-controlled lights and thermostats. Yet many households fail to realize their expanding collection of hardware – growing to an average of nearly eight connected devices each this year – strain home networks, producing sluggish connections and a real need to free their speed.
The good news is that setting up home network to support all your connected devices is simpler than you thought. Here’s how to free your speed.
Start with your high-speed Internet connection
Not all broadband connections are the same, especially when you’ve got a family of avid gamers or lovers of streaming movies. You’ll want to ensure that the Internet coming into your house is fast enough to support what you’re looking to do.
To start, you’ll want to see how fast your existing connection is. You can do this by visiting our Geek Squad Internet speed test page. This tool measures your connection in Mbps (Megabits per second).
How fast should your incoming connection be? For basic streaming video, we recommend at least 3 Mbps or higher. For HD quality video, 5 to 10 Mbps is recommended. You’ll want to compare what you’re actually getting to what your Internet package provides and contact your Internet service provider if you need to upgrade.
Now that you have your Internet sorted out, it’s time to consider what router works best to free your speed.
Newer routers are more powerful routers
If you have an older router, it may not be able to handle the number of connected devices you’ve added and all the new streaming music, movies and games you’ve started using. Now may be a good time to upgrade. When you’re looking at new routers, you’ll want to consider several features to free your speed.
You’ll come across an alphabet’s worth of letters describing wireless networks. You may have heard of “Wireless G” and may be wondering what the “N” and “AC” you’re seeing on boxes means.
Those letters describe what wireless standards the router supports (for example 802.11n or 802.11g). For a long time, Wireless G was the standard for most routers, but this has been largely replaced by the faster, more capable Wireless N. For the latest and greatest, though, you’ll be looking for Wireless AC.
A new router will support more than one standard, usually whatever it’s rated for and the older ones. A Wireless AC router, for example, will support AC, N, and G. That’s important because not all of your connected devices will support the latest standards. A Wireless AC router, however, gets you the most compatibility for all devices, and best performance for Wireless AC compatible devices.
The wireless portion of your network isn’t the only part of the router that affects speed. Inside every router is a processor or CPU that acts like a traffic cop, processing incoming and outgoing data through the network firewall and then transmitting to and from your computers.
The faster the processor, the less time that information spends inside your router and the faster your overall network speeds. Newer routers (and higher end routers) have powerful processors that sort data packets quickly and efficiently.
A router that supports the latest wireless standard and has a good processor will easily handle all your existing devices as well as any new connected tech you bring home in the future.
Keep your wireless router up to date
Modern routers use firmware in the same way that your computer uses an operating system like Windows. Most current routers will be set to check for updated firmware automatically.
Firmware updates may improve how well your devices connect to the network and the router’s overall performance. These updates can also correct security flaws as they’re discovered. You’ll want to log into your router’s administration page occasionally to ensure the firmware is up to date.
Keep your devices up to date as well
Computers and connected devices use software to control their network hardware. Computer operating systems like Windows or Mac OS X will check for software updates automatically, but if you do run into issues with your network, make sure to check for updated network drivers from the computer’s maker as well. This is especially important after an operating system update, including Windows 10.
Tablets and other connected devices may have updated firmware to improve network performance and security, so it’s important that you’re checking for the latest updates there as well.
If your devices support it, connect to your 5GHz network
Most new routers are “dual-band” in that they support both 2.4GHz and 5GHz radio bands. The older 2.4GHz band is like a crowded highway, as you not only have your neighbor’s router running on it (important in an apartment building), but also older cordless phones, wireless mice and keyboards, Bluetooth, etc. In some cases, even Microwaves and faulty lamps can put out 2.4GHz “radio noise.”
When switching a device to the 5GHz network, there are fewer devices and more “channels” to choose from, meaning your device can transmit and receive without as many interruptions. There is one downside – 5GHz signals don’t have the range of a 2.4GHz signal.
This isn’t a problem for most homes, but if you have a larger house, there are options to overcome this such as wireless repeaters that work with your existing router.
With amount of wireless traffic generated in the average US household growing by leaps and bounds, your Internet experience can be limited by just how much “attention” your wireless router can share between devices. Applying these network tips we’ve shared will help provide you with my bandwidth to support your always-on, totally-connected family.
Agent Derek Meister has been a member of Best Buy’s Geek Squad for over ten years, helping clients reduce their techno-stress in-store, in-home and remotely as part of the Geek Squad Online Support team. When he’s not talking technology with his clients, he enjoys finding new ways to combine tech with a bicycle habit.