Summary: What causes slow internet? From data caps to internet throttling to limited bandwidth on shared cable internet, there are several culprits that could be ruining your speed. Let’s take a look at how you can hit the gas on your high-speed internet to move from slow to go-go-go.
With more of us working — and schooling, gaming, scrolling, and relaxing — at home than ever before, the internet has become a key connection to the outside world. Whether you’re working on a school project, finishing a presentation for your job, or trying to have a family game night over Zoom, a lagging connection can leave you feeling disconnected.
But how do you know if you’re experiencing blocked WiFi signals, internet throttling, data caps — or you just need better high-speed internet service? Let’s take a look at how you can test your internet speed and determine what may be slowing you down.
Is My High-Speed Internet Slowing Down?
If you’ve started to see lags in your downloads and uploads, start by running an internet speed test, and compare it to what you’re supposed to be getting with your high-speed internet plan.
You’ll want to test your devices in different rooms of your home and at varying times of the day. If the test indicates that you’re getting half (or even less) than the speed you get when you’re close to the router, you’ll want to boost the signal in that area. If the test indicates that things are still slow when you’re standing next to your router, then you should call your internet service provider. Your internet should be at least 95% of the speed you signed up for. If you’re not sure what speed you signed up for, you’re in good company: 42% of American adults don’t know their download speed.
Troubleshooting Slow Internet
There are a few reasons your internet speed could be slowing down — and not all of the solutions require calling your internet service provider. Let’s take a look at several ways you can troubleshoot slow internet once you’ve run a speed test.
Did You Turn it Off and Back On?
Start with your hardware. Is everything plugged in properly and working? If so, resetting your modem and router might do the trick. Take a moment to also check that all of your devices are feeling the need for speed, and it’s not just one computer. If turning things off and on again doesn’t work, you can consider upgrading to a newer modem or router to ramp up your speed.
Is My WiFi Signal Blocked?
While you might be using an ethernet cable for your desktop, it’s likely that you’re primarily using WiFi to connect to the web. Depending on where your internet hookup is, your signal might be getting blocked or absorbed, making it hard to stream videos in certain parts of the house.
Concrete, brick, or wood walls in your home — even a nearby stack of books — can make it tougher for WiFi signals to get through. And, if you live in an apartment complex, your neighbors’ high-speed internet could actually be blocking yours. Instead of rearranging your furniture, there are two boosters you can install yourself to make your internet work better for you.
If you have wireless home internet, try moving your device to a window to get a stronger signal. Pro tip: you can try out different windows (or areas) in your home to find the best spot. Because this type of internet relies on surrounding cell towers, location can make a big difference.
First, you can use a WiFi extender to amplify the signal from your router (no matter where you have it plugged in) and extend it. The extended signal may not be as powerful as the original one, it’ll be stronger than it was before.
|You have to manually switch between the two networks
|Good for apartments or smaller homes
|May slow down the system
|Performance is geared toward speed
|Software requires updates
WiFi Mesh Network
However, depending on the size and layout of your home, a WiFi mesh network could be a better option. WiFi mesh uses multiple access points — called nodes — that you place around your house to envelop it in a wireless network. With a mesh system, you can cover almost every corner of your home by adding more nodes.
|Nodes can be easily added as needed
|You’ll need to keep routers plugged into outlets in multiple rooms of your home.
|Performance is geared toward range
|Network types are less customizable
|Fewer dead zones
|Can be expensive to implement
Do I Have a Data Cap?
Some high-speed internet providers have data caps — a restriction of how much information can be transferred over the internet. Your daily activities like streaming, gaming, working, video chatting plus your smart home devices all add up and get you closer and closer to the data limit on your internet. If your internet provider does have a cap and you reach it in a month, they can slow your speed — that’s the internet throttling you’ve probably heard about — until the next billing cycle or charge you a hefty fee.
Data caps vary by ISP and plan, but you can always check if your internet use is restricted by checking your account online or your bill.
Slow Internet Due to Your Connection Type
Your internet could be slow for different reasons depending on your internet type (think fiber, cable, or satellite). Here’s an overview of the factors that could make your internet slow.
Fiber internet is the most reliable wired connection — so it shouldn’t be slowing you down often. If your speed isn’t up to par, it’s probably not an issue with the lines. Out-of-date hardware could be to blame (that’s what we always recommend renting your router and modem) or it could be due to a blocked WiFi signal like we mentioned above. Of course, if you’re on a slower fiber internet plan (such as 50 or 100 Mbps) it could be that you simply don’t have enough speed for the number of devices in your household. We’re all online more than ever, so we all need more speed than ever before. Instead of searching “Why is my fiber internet slow?” try moving your router to a different area or reevaluating if you’ve chosen the right internet plan.
Wireless Home Internet
Wireless home internet connections may be slowed down due to weather or network congestion. When a large number of people are trying to access the network at the same time, it can lead to slower speeds and frustrations when your web pages are left buffering. While this internet connection might experience some trouble during storms, it’s far less likely to go out on you than satellite. But if the cell towers go down, your wireless home internet will, too. If it’s a sunny day and your speed is still slow, you may have data caps. Like cell phone plans, this type of internet typically has a data limit associated with it — so if you’ve hit your limit, you’ll be experiencing slower speeds. You should be able to check your data usage on the provider’s app or web portal. If you know it’s not due to a data cap, try moving the device around your home. Different locations — windows work especially well — can offer stronger signals, and sometimes even faster speeds.
Cable internet is a popular wired connection, but there are a few reasons this could be slow. It’s more likely to have outages (or go down due to weather) compared to fiber internet. But it could also be slow due to data caps or peak usage hours. Peak usage hours are exactly what they sound like: a time when a large number of people are online. Cable uses shared connections, so your whole neighborhood could be trying to fit through the same doorway to get online. That leads to pushing, shoving, and slower movement. Historically, peak usage hours were in the evening (think: after dinner and before bed) but now they’re almost all the time. If fiber internet is available near you, we recommend switching today and enjoying a better internet experience.
Satellite internet uses the same basic technique as wireless home internet. Instead of a wired line running to your home, a satellite positioned on or near your home sends signals to a satellite in space. While it only takes about half a second, it’s quite the journey to get online. It’s possible your satellite internet is slow due to bad weather (think: rain, extreme heat, snow buildup, or even high winds) or that your dish itself has been knocked out of alignment. If your dish isn’t aligned properly, it will be harder to send and receive the data, so you’ll need to call your provider to diagnose the problem and send a technician to fix it. Or, you may have hit your data cap. If you’re only experiencing slower speeds when you’re uploading something — including live gaming, sharing large files, or participating in a video conference — that could be due to ping (or lag) times. Satellite has a longer delay than any other connection when sending information because it has so far to go. Wireless home internet may be a better option for you.
If you’ve ever asked, “Why is my DSL slow?” you’re not alone. Unfortunately, DSL is simply a slower connection because it’s older technology. It’s widely available, and may still be the best option for rural areas, but faster internet should be coming thanks to the broadband internet infrastructure bill. If your DSL internet connection is slower than usual, though, it could be thanks to an outdated or poorly-placed modem or router. You can also try updating your router’s firmware before buying a new one. This is basically a software update that can keep things running smoothly. You could also have too many devices connected to your network. The more devices connected, the more speed you’ll need. If you currently have DSL and fiber isn’t available, wireless home internet might be the solution you’re looking for.
Do I Need Faster Internet?
The way you use the internet has likely changed over the years, so if you’ve got a strong signal and have ruled out internet throttling and data caps as the culprit for your dragging speed, it could be that you simply need a faster plan.
If your entire household is now doing everything from home rather than heading off to work or school, you might have too much data traffic for your bandwidth — and that’s slowing your connection. Trying to participate in a Zoom webinar while your roommate plays a video game online will likely lead to lags, buffering, and frustration for both of you.
The right internet plan for you depends on two things: how many devices you have in your home, and how you’re using the web.
For example, if you just use your phone and your laptop, and you mostly browse social media, check emails, and stream TV, 25 Mbps is probably right for you. But, if you’ve got a smart home and family members with a dozen devices gaming online, streaming in HD, and video conferencing, you’ll probably need closer to 500+ Mbps. The plan you had before might be cramping your current lifestyle, so find the internet plan that’s right for you right now, where you are.
We hope this article has helped you discover what’s disrupting your internet connection and find a solution. If you’re realizing you need to upgrade your internet plan, or even change your high-speed internet service provider, remember EarthLink home internet offers the internet you deserve at the price you want. Plus, with more coverage nationwide than any other provider and no credit checks, we can meet you where you are.