Why is my Wi-Fi slow?

One possibility that is not always thought of for your Wi-Fi to being slower than is should be.

Wi-Fi comes in a variety of flavors. There is a, b, g, n and the new ac when buying adaptors or routers for their Wi-Fi. But do you know what they are and what you need to know about them to help your own system? The most significant differences between all these standards is the speed. There are other differences but for the purpose of this article we will focus on speed. The following is the speed ranges for each standard:

• 802.11a – 11mbs with a fallback to 5.5, 2 or even 1mbs
• 802.11b – 11mbs
• 802.11g – 54mbs
• 802.11n – 100mbs with up to 250mbs with special configuration
• 802.11ac – 433mbs up to 1.3gbs with three antenna configurations

Obviously you would want the highest speed you can get but you may not be actually getting it even if you own it. Why wouldn’t you get 433mbs out of your brand new 802.11ac router? Well the first and most obvious reason is that your computer doesn’t have an adaptor that supports it. Both the router and your computer must be able to support the ac standard before you can realize the speed difference.

The other reason may not seem so simple. That is because it doesn’t have anything to do with your relationship between your computer and the router but the relationship between the router and all the other devices around it. If you have an 802.11n router and there is a printer attached to it that can only communicate in 802.11b then the router will be adjusting to the 11mbs b standard and, therefore, force the communications between your computer and itself to comply with b standards of 11mbs. Oh, and it gets worse. If there is a neighbor that doesn’t even connect to your Wi-Fi but is within range and they use 802.11b devices, then the same thing will happen since the devices will communicate even if it is only verifying that the other exists. This happens all the time over Wi-Fi. Routers are inherently programmed to cater to the least common denominator they need to keep compatibility between everything.

Ok, this sucks. But what can be done? Most routers have the ability to fine tune to just one or two of these standards. So you could set your router to only work with g and n networks, for instance, so that your minimum only goes as low as 54mbs. Your only problem with that are devices like your printer that only works on 802.11b. You need to make sure that you only exclude up to your lowest common denominator. (Honestly, what are you still doing with a printer that old anyway?) You can also upgrade your devices to more modern standards before you do this as well. That way if everything was running 802.11n then you can get those fantastic speeds you paid for just by setting your router to only use n.