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Computers

This is why your internet sucks

On your phone, at home or in public, there are countless reasons why your internet speed may be unbearably slow. Here are some of the most common culprits.

Jesse Tyler Ferguson Spring 2018 Cover

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Mark Mann

When we first got access to the internet, it wasn't uncommon to have to wait five minutes or more to make a connection. Today, though, our eyes bulge in frustration when a website won't load in a matter of seconds.

When there's little or no signal, it's obvious why web pages are slow to load or you can't post a photo to Facebook. But what about when your Wi-Fi signal is supposed to be strong, but pages still load achingly slowly? Here are some of the most common reasons your internet sucks.

At home

You have an outdated plan that delivers slow speeds. If you haven't changed your service for a few years, call your internet service provider and check that you're on the best plan for your personal needs. With fiber technology and gigabit service plans becoming increasingly common, you may be surprised by what's changed since you first signed up.

You're too far from the router. For many households, a single router hidden in a corner is not enough. Placing your router in an elevated, centralized location should help, and you may want to consider network extenders or upgrading to a mesh network.

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It may be time for a router upgrade.

Josh Miller/CNET

You have an outdated router. While routers can wear out over time, it's more likely that an older router can't take advantage of new standards, such as 802.11ac, which can handle faster speeds. Check your router's specs and consider an upgrade if it's a few years old. Not sure where to start? Refer to our router buying guide for help. 

Interference, in most cases, is out of your hands. Many electronics around your house, such as Bluetooth devices, smart home gadgets and even microwaves, operate around the same 2.4GHz frequency as your router. If you live in an apartment complex, you're likely also getting interference from other wireless networks nearby. Fortunately, many modern routers come equipped with the less commonly used 5GHz band and will use the channel with the least interference upon rebooting. Try power cycling the router if your Wi-Fi is at a crawl or use a Wi-Fi analyzer tool to check for the best channel and then set it manually using your router's admin portal.

On your phone

Just because the icon shows you're in a strong service area doesn't mean you can watch that YouTube video without buffering. Before throwing your phone in frustration, consider the following culprits for a pokey connection.

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Your phone's signal meter doesn't always tell all.

Taylor Martin/CNET

You're in a poor coverage area. Your phone's wireless signal indicator isn't always accurate. For a better picture of your signal strength, you'll need to read it in dBm, or decibel-milliwatts. But don't stress, this is easy to find, at least on an Android phone. It's usually under Settings > About Phone > Status, though the exact location will vary somewhat by manufacturer. Your signal reading will vary between -50dBm and -120dBm, and the closer it is to -50dBm, the better your signal. Sorry, iPhone (£1,149 at Apple) users: In iOS 11, Apple removed the dBms reading from the Field Test mode.

You're in a crowded area or at a big event like a concert. When this happens, wireless traffic can be routed through a single tower, creating a bottleneck. It's the same reason that you can never make a call at a festival to find a lost friend. Other than leaving the area, there isn't much you can do to get around this problem.

You're being throttled by your carrier. This is increasingly common with the reinvention of "unlimited" data plans with fine print to read. If you exceed a certain amount in a single billing cycle, your carrier reserves the right to throttle your speeds until the next billing month.

On public Wi-Fi

You go to the local coffee shop to work or study, only to find the internet is unbearably slow. It never gets less annoying, and there are a few reasons it could be happening.

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Taylor Martin/CNET

There are simply too many users on the network at once, especially if the coffee shop is crowded. It's similar to the bottleneck you experience at a crowded event, and there's not much you can do about it other than trying to find a less-popular shop.

The shop just has a slow connection. You'll find this more often in smaller shops since business internet plans are generally pretty expensive. Add in a lot of people on an already weak network, and you have a recipe for abysmal internet speeds.

You may be too far from the access point. Just like at home, this will severely reduce your speeds. Try moving around until you find a better connection.

  • This story appears in the Spring 2018 edition of CNET Magazine. For more magazine stories, click here