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ISPA: Slow Internet Often the Result of Bottlenecks in the Home Wi-fi Network

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Until fibre to the home (FTTH) became a reality for South Africans, slow Internet was usually the result of the link between the home and the Internet Service Provider (ISP). 

Now, delivery of super-fast broadband Internet to South African homes via fibre optic cable has become so prolific that slow download and browsing speeds are today most often the result of Wi-Fi bottlenecks within the building.

That’s the word from the Internet Service Providers’ Association of SA (ISPA) which reminds users that the limit of home Wi-Fi is determined by a multitude of factors that vary over time.

“If you think your Internet is slow, it might actually be that the Wi-Fi connection between your device and your home network router or access point is slow. This could be because you have exceeded the range of the technology or there is a concrete, steel or obstacle obstructing the radio signal,” says André van der Walt, ISPA’s Chairperson.

Faster Internet is always in demand but fast won’t be experienced as fast by the home user, says ISPA, if lightning fast fibre optic Internet slams headlong into a Wi-Fi bottleneck.

Fortunately, South Africa’s draft National Next Generation Radio Frequency policy explicitly references Wi-Fi and prioritises making available additional spectrum.

Furthermore, with the advent of the next generation upgrade that is Wi-Fi 6/6e and 7, consumers should see faster speeds experienced by supported devices in the home.

Wi-Fi, however, remains a wireless technology and to get the best from fibre-based Internet essentially piped into the home, it’s best to integrate dedicated Ethernet cabling into one’s home when it is built or when renovating later.

“While the Internet works well without wires, it works best with wires,” confirms van der Walt.

It is indeed exciting that the greater availability of spectrum will deliver a much-improved home Wi-Fi experience, however there is no such thing as wireless fibre.

It’s important to remember that Wi-Fi uses radio waves and they diminish as one moves away from the source.

ISPA provides the following tips to help eliminate home Wi-Fi bottlenecks:

·        If the Wi-Fi signals received by the connected devices located around your home are weak, first try changing to a different wireless channel then, if necessary, reposition the router. Place it in the centre of the dwelling, away from thick walls, tin roofs and structural steel.

·        Remember that older routers have a shorter effective range than newer devices. Also, anything using radio waves to function, like microwave ovens and baby monitors, can impact your home Wi-Fi signal.

·        Consider tweaking the angle of the router’s antennas by consulting user guides on the internet if you’re not getting the signal strength you need. Here is an example: https://www.tp-link.com/us/support/faq/455/

·        It’s useful here to walk around the property watching the Wi-Fi signal strength icon on your smartphone while someone adjusts the antenna angle.

·        Remember that a Wi-Fi signal weakens every time it encounters an obstruction and that steel and brick have more impact than wood or glass.

·        If none of the above helps and you have Wi-Fi routers or access points that are more than 5 years old, you could consider upgrading them.

·        Remember ‘cable is stable’ so consider improving a weak Wi-Fi signal by extending the Wi-Fi coverage with a cabled in Wireless Access Point. Where possible, avoid using wireless range extenders that use radio waves to extend the signal, rather cable the extender in. Powerline network adapters may also be an option, but it is advisable to get qualified outside assistance when going this route.

·        If you’re connected to your Wi-Fi network at acceptable signal quality and speed but your Internet speeds remain slow, you may want to double-check what data package you chose from your ISP.

·        Testing your Internet speed using web based tools like Speedtest.net should be done from a device like a laptop plugged directly into the router with an Ethernet cable and not via Wi-Fi.

A recognised Industry Representative Body (IRB), ISPA has helped shape the ICT sector since 1996 by providing regular submissions on relevant legislation and the pursuit of Competition Commission complaints which have fundamentally changed the Internet access landscape in South Africa.

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