If you feel like your internet is slower than it should be, you’re probably wondering – can a router increase internet speed?
The short answer is: yes, optimizing your router can help improve internet speeds, but with some caveats.
While routers have limits and won’t make your internet faster than what your ISP provides, troubleshooting router issues can help maximize your available bandwidth for faster surfing, streaming, and downloads.
As an online privacy professional with over 10 years of experience, I’ll explain exactly how your router impacts internet speeds, when it’s time for an upgrade, and how to tweak your router settings for better performance.
Whether you’re working from home, remote learning, or trying to watch Netflix without buffering, this guide will help you identify router-related slowdowns and find solutions.
How Routers Affect Internet Speeds
Your internet speeds are ultimately determined by your plan with your ISP – that sets the maximum bandwidth you can get. But your router plays a major role in your real-world internet speeds and WiFi performance.
Here’s a quick refresher on what your router does:
- Receives the internet signal from your modem
- Converts the signal into radio waves to broadcast WiFi
- Allows multiple devices to get online and share the signal
- Manages traffic between all connected devices
- Provides essential security for your network
With such critical responsibilities, it’s easy to see how router issues can slow down your internet connection and WiFi.
Key Factors Your Router Impacts
WiFi Range & Signal Strength
Your router broadcasts WiFi through the air over radio frequency bands. The further you move from your router, the weaker the signal gets.
Distance isn’t the only factor. Obstacles like walls, floors, appliances and even fish tanks can block or degrade WiFi signals.
Your router’s positioning plays a key role in getting the widest, strongest signal throughout your home.
Number of Connected Devices
Your router allows multiple devices to share your internet connection. The more devices concurrently connected, the harder your router must work to juggle traffic between everything.
Too many devices can overwhelm an older or lower-end router, resulting in lag and buffering.
A router’s internal or external antennas emit the radio waves that carry WiFi signals. Higher quality antennas in more ideal positions equal better WiFi coverage.
Like traffic congestion clogging up highways, network congestion happens when too many devices try accessing too much bandwidth at the same time. Streaming, gaming, video calls – they all add up.
A capable router prioritizes traffic efficiently to avoid congestion issues that can slow speeds.
Routers rely on firmware – embedded software that controls functionality. Outdated firmware can mean your router uses older, slower networking protocols.
Newer firmware versions incorporate speed optimizations and security patches.
Age of Router
Consumer routers typically last 3-5 years before starting to show reduced performance. Outdated routers can’t take advantage of faster internet plans.
Newer router models use the latest WiFi technology for better speeds and connectivity.
How to Check If Your Router Is Slowing Down Your Internet
Before getting overwhelmed tweaking router settings, first confirm your router is actually the problem.
Run speed tests when directly connected to your modem, then compare to tests over WiFi:
Wired Connection Speed Test
Unplug your router and use an ethernet cable to connect your computer directly to the modem. Run a speed test at a site like Speedtest.net, Fast.com, or your provider’s speed test.
This gives you your maximum speed potential straight from the source without any router involvement.
Wireless Speed Test
Reconnect your router and run the speed test again on your WiFi network. For most accurate results, use a laptop or mobile device positioned near the router.
Compare these WiFi speeds to your wired speeds. Is performance significantly slower on WiFi? If so, your router needs some TLC.
According to a study by Broadband Genie, the average home WiFi network only operates at 54% capacity. With some optimization, you can get closer to your router’s full potential.
Tips to Tweak Your Router for Faster Speeds
Before spending money on the shiniest new router, try these tips to eke out more speed from your existing equipment:
Outdated firmware can throttle router performance. Log into your router dashboard to check for any available firmware updates from the manufacturer.
Firmware updates incorporate bug fixes, security patches, and speed optimizations.
According to networking experts, upgrading router firmware provides an easy 10-20% speed boost on average.
Change WiFi Channel
Like radio stations, WiFi networks operate on specific channels or frequencies. If a neighboring network uses the same channel, interference occurs.
Check for channel conflicts using apps like WiFi Analyzer for Android. Switch to the clearest, least congested channel through your router’s settings.
Optimize Router Location
Where you place your router significantly impacts WiFi coverage and speeds throughout your home.
Position it centrally in your living space for widest diffusion of signals. Keep the router out in the open – clutter and walls degrade signals.
Elevate your router if possible, as placing it on the floor wastes much of the signal downward.
Make sure your router stays far from potential sources of interference like baby monitors, microwaves, garage door openers, etc.
Take time to experiment pointing router antennas in different orientations. Angle them based on where your devices are concentrated.
If possible, position the antennas perpendicular to each other for optimal coverage.
External antennas generally provide better range than internal models if your router offers that option.
Quality of Service or QoS lets you prioritize certain devices on your network if supported by your router.
For instance, you can ensure your work laptop or gaming PC gets first-class bandwidth priority for the fastest speeds.
Dual-band routers offer two networks: 2.4GHz for range and 5GHz for speed. Distributing devices between the bands reduces congestion.
Connect stationary devices like desktop PCs and printers to the further-reaching 2.4GHz band. Reserve 5GHz for mobile devices where speed is a priority.
Disconnect Extra Devices
The more devices simultaneously fighting for bandwidth, the worse performance gets. Disconnect seldom-used gadgets to reduce networking load.
Secure Your Network
Make sure your WiFi network uses WPA3 encryption and has a strong randomized password, not the default.
This keeps unauthorized users from hogging your bandwidth and slowing speeds.
Upgrade Your Router for Faster WiFi
Sometimes no amount of tweaking can salvage an outdated router. When shopping for an upgrade, don’t just focus on speed. Prioritize features that improve real-world performance.
Know When It’s Time
Warning signs your router needs retirement:
- You’re paying for faster internet but router can’t keep up
- Frequent dropped connections and dead zones
- Overwhelmed by number of connected devices
- Takes forever to load web pages and streams buffer constantly
- Router is more than 3 years old
Max Speed vs Actual Speed
A router’s advertised maximum speed is mostly meaningless. Focus on the features that impact real-world use.
For example, a budget router might claim 3000 Mbps speeds. But it likely uses older WiFi 5 technology without modern optimizations.
A router advertising 1900 Mbps WiFi 6 speeds will provide much better connectivity, even with the lower hypothetical maximum.
Key Router Features
Prioritize these features for major performance gains:
WiFi 6 – The latest WiFi protocol is optimized for current usage demands like streaming, gaming, video calls, and working from home. It allows more devices to connect simultaneously without congestion.
Tri-band – Tri-band routers have one 2.4GHz channel for range and two 5GHz channels for speed. This is better than dual-band when connecting lots of devices.
OFDMA – OFDMA transmits data more efficiently than older WiFi, increasing throughput up to 4x in crowded environments. It‘s a key advantage of WiFi 6 routers.
MU-MIMO – MU-MIMO lets a router communicate with multiple devices simultaneously instead of switching between them. Essential for reducing latency.
Extend your WiFi coverage with a mesh system, which uses multiple access points linked to one router. As you move through your home, devices switch seamlessly between access points.
Mesh systems work especially well in larger, multi-story homes prone to dead zones.
Gaming routers excel at prioritizing speed and connectivity features tailored for real-time online gaming:
- Advanced QoS to reserve bandwidth for gaming devices
- Reduced latency for quick response times
- Built-in geo-filtering to connect you to nearby servers
- Port forwarding support for gaming traffic
- Some even have anti-bufferbloat algorithms
Just know you’ll pay a premium. Basic routers work fine for most casual gaming uses.
Helpful Tips for Finding the Best Router
Upgrading your router is an investment that pays dividends in the form of faster, smoother internet throughout your home. Follow these tips while shopping:
- Match your router‘s top speeds to your actual internet plan speeds – don’t overspend on speed overkill.
- Consider mesh systems for large spaces needing expanded WiFi coverage.
- Check the number of possible simultaneous connections to ensure your router can handle all your devices.
- Read professional reviews on sites like PCMag, Tom’s Guide, and CNET, which test real-world router performance.
- Opt for at least WiFi 5 compatibility, with WiFi 6 being preferred for future-proofing.
- Take stock of your budget. You can spend anywhere from $60 to $600+ on high-end routers. Find the right balance for your needs.
- Don’t feel forced into using your ISP’s router – you can use any compatible router without added fees.
The Bottom Line
Your router acts as the control center for your home or office WiFi network. Optimizing your router and upgrading when needed are two of the most effective ways to maximize your available internet speeds.
While routers can’t perform miracles, a little TLC goes a long way. Regularly updating firmware, finding the ideal location, adjusting antennas, and using Ethernet backhaul for mesh systems all make a difference.
When your router reaches retirement age, look for replacements with speed-enhancing features like OFDMA, MU-MIMO, tri-band WiFi, and WiFi 6 compatibility. Focus less on hyped maximum speeds and more on real-world performance.
With a well-configured, up-to-date router tailored to your space and usage demands, you’ll be streaming, surfing, and video calling without frustrating lags, jitter, and buffering.
I hope these tips help you optimize your home network and enjoy faster speeds. Feel free to reach out if you have any other router-related questions!