There was a time, not so long ago, when network latency was primarily the concern of online gamers. But as the number of connected devices in the average smart homes continues to increase, latency (and network performance in general) is becoming more of a concern for everyone. This is especially true for those working from home.
If you’re an ISP integrator, here’s a handy list of five simple hacks to try first (before considering more costly or time-intensive solutions) when attempting to lower the latency in a client’s home.
1. Connect Devices to Ethernet Cables Where Possible
This isn’t feasible or even desirable for most devices in a home, such as smartphones and tablets. It can even be challenging trying to connect computers and laptops to an Ethernet network especially if the router is located in another room or on different floor.
Sometimes, however, running Ethernet cable to another room or floor is easier than it appears. For instance, cable can be neatly run around the edge of a room by running it through cable protectors that blend in with baseboards or crown moulding. If all else fails, you can also try powerline adapters, which use a home’s electrical wiring to transmit internet signal with less signal degradation than Wi-Fi.
If the client’s primary issue is latency on a device like a work PC or in a home office, this might be just the solution.
2. Check the Ethernet Cables
If you’re responding to a client’s complaint that performance on their existing network is poor, it’s always a good idea to start by checking their Ethernet cables. You’ll often find that a PC or Smart TV has been connected to the router with a Cat 5 cable simply because it’s what the client had lying around. Many assume that all Ethernet cables are created equal.
Of course, Cat 5 cables are outdated and designed for speeds no higher than 100Mbps—a far cry from the Gigabit speeds offered by fiber optic connections. Try connecting the same device to the router with a Cat 5e or Cat 6 cable and then run a speed test.
3. Move the Router to a Better Location
It’s easy to overlook the most obvious solutions, especially if you’re responding to questions about network performance issues frequently. But sometimes lowering latency on a network really is as simple as moving the router to a better location in the home.
If the ISP entry point to the home is in a less-than-ideal spot (such as the garage), this may require some rewiring or running Ethernet cable from the entry point to where the router is being moved.
Generally, the best location for a router is the centre of the house. For multi-level homes, this may mean moving the router from the first floor to a second or third floor.
4. Declutter the Router’s Immediate Area
Speaking of router location, ensure it’s in either a Wi-Fi transparent enclosure or in or open and free from immediate obstacles as possible. This means it shouldn’t be tucked into a metal enclosure or cabinet. Ideally, the router should be placed as high in the room as possible as well, since Wi-Fi signals spread outward and down.
When doing this step, make sure the router has plenty of room around it for proper ventilation. None of its vents should be blocked, such as by books or a wall, and it should be placed on a hard surface so that air can flow underneath it as well.
You should also consider if any devices in the router’s immediate area might disrupt its Wi-Fi signals. For instance, cordless phones and microwaves are notorious for negatively impacting router performance, particularly on the 2.4GHz band.
5. Change the Router’s Channel
If all else fails, the router may be on a channel that’s being heavily used by other routers and devices in the area. To combat this, you can try logging into the router’s web interface or admin panel and change its channel to a less crowded one.
Before doing this, you’ll need to assess the saturation of the available channels—meaning how much traffic is on each one. You can do this with a Wi-Fi analyzer app on your smartphone. Once you’ve analyzed the area, try switching the router’s channel to a less crowded one and then run a speed test.