5 things that will slow your Wi-Fi network

Wi-Fi networks can be slowed by use of old protocols, overlapping channels and low data rates, and here’s how to fix these and other performance problems.

Wi-Fi is quite fickle. The contention between Wi-Fi devices and the dynamic communication medium of the airwaves makes it a sensitive technology with many settings and situations that can slow it down.

And even if you aren’t using high-bandwidth devices and applications, faster Wi-Fi is always better.

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Here are some things to avoid that can slow down your Wi-Fi:

Old wireless and security protocols

Using the older security protocols on your Wi-Fi network significantly reduces performance. This is regardless of the access point’s highest supported standard and its promises. For instance, 802.11ac can support data rates over 1,000 Mbps. But if you have WEP or WPA security configured, the data rates will be limited to 54 Mbps. This limitation is due to those security types using the encryption method of Temporal Key Integrity Protocol (TKIP).

So, to ensure old Wi-Fi security methods aren’t slowing your network, enable WPA2-only security using Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). Don’t choose WPA/WPA2-mixed mode or WPA2-TKIP.

If there are older Wi-Fi clients that don’t support WPA2-AES security, see if there are firmware updates that add that capability. Next, consider adding a USB or PCI based Wi-Fi adapter to the computer or device to give it modern Wi-Fi connectivity. If those adapters aren’t supported, consider a wireless bridge for devices that also have an ethernet connection. Consider creating a separate SSID with older protocols enabled for legacy devices or replace the old Wi-Fi client devices altogether.

Under-utilizing the 5GHz band

The 2.4 GHz frequency band has 11 channels (in North America), but only provides up to three non-overlapping channels when using the default 20 MHz wide channels or just a single channel if using 40 MHz-wide channels. Since neighboring APs should be on different non-overlapping channels, the 2.4 GHz frequency band can become too small very quickly.

The 5 GHz band, however, provides up to 24 channels. Not all APs support all the channels, but all the channels are non-overlapping if using 20 MHz-wide channels. Even when using 40 MHz-wide channels, you could have up to 12 non-overlapping channels. Thus, in this band, you have less chance of co-channel interference among your APs and any other neighboring networks.

You should try to get as many Wi-Fi clients as you can to use the 5 GHz band on your network to increase speeds and performance. Consider upgrading any 2.4 GHz-only Wi-Fi clients to dual-band clients. Additionally, utilize any band-steering functionality on the APs to increase the chances of dual-band clients connecting to the 5 GHz access instead of 2.4 GHz. If you have full control over the Wi-Fi clients, and you’re confident your 5 GHz coverage is good, maybe even see if you can disable 2.4 GHz on the clients.

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