Troubleshooting slow network (Internet) speeds

Why is your computer so slow? That might be the wrong question to ask.

Sometimes it isn’t your computing device (computer, tablet, etc) that’s at fault. Our computing environments grow ever more dependent on fast Internet connections. This is especially true if much of what you do occurs online and not on your own computer.

Many people clued in to this when the first iPhone hit the market. For the first time, a phone shipped with a usable web browser. The hordes who bought it browsed the web from their phones much more than they used to on other phones. All that new data traffic famously clogged the networks the iPhone worked on. The phone might have seemed slow, but they weren’t the problem – underdeveloped data networks were the bottleneck.

Even today, slow networks can make computing devices seem unusable. So before you blame your device, at least try it on a different network. If performance speeds up on a different network and you still need to use the slow network where you experienced problems, read on. (Note: this post deals with WiFi networks, not cellular networks.)

Indications of a slow or compromised connection include:

  • unresponsive web browsers
  • email that doesn’t send or download
  • file transfers that pause or bog down
  • unresponsive streaming video from places like Youtube and Netflix

Check Internet speeds

You might need to check your Internet connection to ensure you’re getting your money’s worth. (I know I do – I pay good money for a fast connection.) I use Speedtest.net, both the web-based and mobile app versions. (You can find other such utilities on the web.)

Once the test is complete, compare your results with the numbers (download and upload) your ISP promises you. If you run this test three or more times and results are still slow, call your ISP to vent complain point out the issue. Sometimes the slowdown is due to a temporary problem, like an infrastructure breakdown. ISP support staff can often help you figure out where the issue lies.

Too many WiFi networks?

Do you live in close proximity to other WiFi networks? If you live in an apartment, chances are you do. Many WiFi networks compete for the same 11 channels in the 2.4 GHz range, causing crowding on those channels, and that crowding slows down people’s networks. In my case, creating a separate 5 GHz network sped up performance substantially.

An ISP support rep explained the problem to me and created the solution, so if you don’t understand what I wrote in the paragraph above, don’t worry – I didn’t either until I got the problem fixed.

Download versus upload

Download speeds are commonly higher than upload. Most people download (e.g. stream video or music, browse web pages) far more than they upload (e.g. send email, share files).

I need good upload speeds. My project management/CRM system creates a backup of its database every day. I’ve automated an upload of that daily backup to a cloud server, and I don’t want the upload to bog down my computer, so I’m glad to have the extra bandwidth in my ISP service.

Have you faced slow network performance in the past? Did you deal with the problem successfully? Share your solutions in the comments below.

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