Homes today are full of internet-connected stuff – not just computers, but devices for playing games and streaming videos, as well as gadgets and appliances that rely on internet access to function. A good internet connection is more important than it’s ever been. Are you experiencing a lag while playing online games? Is your video buffering a lot? Does music take ages to download? It might be a problem with your setup, and not an issue for you to contact your internet service provider (ISP) about. So, before you call your cable company, here are some troubleshooting tips.
The first thing to do is pretty obvious really: is the problem with one device or more than one? If it’s not affecting all your devices, then you can pinpoint the problem and focus on the machine that’s giving you problems.
In Windows, there’s a troubleshooting tool to help you figure out what’s going on. Ensure your Wi-Fi is on and that you’re connected to right SSID with the right password. Right-click on the network icon in your system tray to run the Windows Network Diagnostic tool. This will reset the adapter, which sometimes easily fixes common problems. Also, check your network adapter settings to make sure it’s all set up correctly, and is using the correct gateway address.
Could it be a particular website that’s causing problems? Go to other websites to check there isn’t a more generalized problem. Sometimes you just have to be patient while a website is fixed. Another tip is to type the website address into downforeveryoneorjustme.com. It does what the name says – if the website is down, it’ll tell you instantly. Other ways to test whether it’s the website that’s the issue include using another browser, or accessing it via an incognito window.
A computer virus can cause all sorts of problems, including messing with your internet connection. Scan for viruses, malware and spyware, which can affect every aspect of your system’s performance, including web-surfing speed. If you’re using Windows 10 then Windows Defender is built-in and should be protecting your device. If not, there are lots of antivirus and other security programs available, either on a subscription basis or as free downloads.
How slow is your device? It helps to have some precise info, not just a sense that it’s slowed down. Websites like Speedtest.net will give you information (measured in megabits per second) on what upload and download speeds you’re getting at any given time.
You’ll also need to know what speeds you can expect from the internet package you’ve signed up for. Check your bill or the website for the details. If you’re not getting the speed you’re paying for, then you’ll need to carry on troubleshooting to identify where the problem lies.
These should both have LED status indicator lights. If they aren’t lit up then the modem or router probably isn’t connected. Unplug the devices, wait a couple of minutes and power up again. If the lights aren’t working you it may have died. Also check your power adapter or power strip.
If only some of the lights are on, or if they keep flashing, then you need to decode the information they’re giving you. If they keep flashing it could be because they can’t make an internet connection. This could mean that you need to call your internet service provider to pinpoint the issue.
If the network light on the router is on but the Wi-Fi lights are off, then you’ll need to check the manual for your router and/or modem to see how to reset your Wi-Fi. There may be a button on the unit or you may need to configure it again.
Do you know what a DNS server does? When you enter a website address into your browser, the DNS server looks it up and connects you to the IP address of that website. It’s a bit like a telephone directory. You enter the name, it supplies the number. Sometimes the DNS server malfunctions, and it’s a bit like having a working phone but no contact list with the phone numbers you need.
To check if your DNS server is the problem, enter an IP address into your browser. (Any one will do – try 22.214.171.124, which is a Google IP addresses). If the page loads as it should then it looks like you have a DNS server problem, or you need to flush your DNS cache.
Problems can arise if all your devices are working fine but a program on your computer, or another person, are using your bandwidth. You can easily check this. In Windows, press Ctrl+Shift+Esc to open the Task Manager. You can see network usage by clicking on the column headed ‘Network’. If you use a Mac, its Command+Space, to open Spotlight. Enter ‘Activity Monitor’ and locate the Network tab to see if you can uncover any issues.
It could be that one app is temporarily using lots of bandwidth – for example if you or someone else in your household is downloading a large file. To get your internet speed back to normal you’ll either have to be patient and wait for it to complete or cancel the process. If your connection isn’t restricted it could even be a neighbour using your Wi-Fi connection, so make sure your access is secured.
Many things can interfere with the speed of your internet connection. Could it be your Wi-Fi? Start your investigation by using an ethernet cable to connect your computer to the router. If all is fine when you have a wired connection then you know it’s the wireless setup that’s the likely culprit. You can check the strength of your Wi-Fi connection by checking the Wi-Fi icon on your computer.
If that’s showing too few bars, then your router may not be in an optimal location. It should be as near to the centre of your premises as possible to give even coverage to all areas. If this isn’t possible then you might need to buy a Wi-Fi extender (or if you have one already, look for a better quality one, or consider a mesh system, which is another step up in terms of quality).
Another problem is congestion, especially if there are a number of Wi-Fi networks around youor location. Check out our guide to boosting your Wi-Fi signal. One solution is to change the channel – ideally to the 5GHz band, if available, which is less congested than the 2.4GHz band.
Modems, routers and other hardware use firmware: low-level, built-in software. Like most things in computing, this can become outdated. The good news is that most manufacturers offer firmware updates that you can download and install. These offer fixes for performance issues and speed boosts, as well as providing additional features. Your router’s management console or control panel should have a firmware update tool. Check that you’re installing the appropriate version, and only download firmware from the manufacturer’s website, for security and safety reasons.
A simple reboot or restart fixes most router issues but it might be a particular setting that’s creating a fault. You can easily reset the router to its factory settings. Your router may have a small reset button on the rear of the unit; or look for a tiny hole. Insert a paperclip or similar tool to access the reset button. Hold the button down for a few seconds, until you see the LED lights start to flash. You’ll then need to log into the web interface or control panel and set it up from the beginning. With luck, any settings that were causing problems will be fixed (as long as you don’t enable the same setting).
Tech products evolve quickly and older routers (802.11b or 802.11g) are worth replacing. If you have all sorts of devices using your Wi-Fi, a new router will be better equipped to handle the demand from computers, smartphones and other internet-enabled appliances and gadgets.
Look for a dual-band router. With two bands you can use the more powerful one for clients that use lots of bandwidth (for online gaming or streaming videos, for example). If you’re ready to upgrade, check out our list of the best wireless routers.
If you haven’t solved the problem with the troubleshooting strategies we’ve described, consider the possibility that there’s an issue with the connection where it comes into your property. This is probably located outside your home, perhaps encased in a housing of some kind. Is the main cable intact and properly connected? If there’s a cable splitter, are the connections tight and properly crimped? Does it look rusty or dirty? Cheap splitters can also degrade signal strength, so if you don’t need a split signal you can dispose of it entirely.
When troubleshooting hasn’t helped and your internet connection is still causing you hassles, then your internet service provider is the last resort. It could be a problem their end, or an issue with the outside pole connection; or they may recommend an equipment upgrade.
It’s also worth monitoring when your internet connection slows down. If it’s at certain times of day (after school, evenings) then maybe your service provider just can’t deal with the excess load. Switching your ISP is sometimes worth considering. We’ve tested them for you, to find the fastest ISPs available.