Chances are, your home internet is under a lot more strain than normal at the moment: With schools and workplaces temporarily closing all across the globe, you might well be fighting with your family or your housemates for any available bandwidth. If you want to limit buffering and maximise speeds, we’ve got a few tips to consider.
First of all, there are all the internet optimisation tips that apply no matter how many devices you’ve got connected—we’ve covered these in detail in the past. To summarize, get your router hub somewhere central, and consider wiring up certain demanding devices (like consoles and streaming boxes) if possible, with Ethernet cable.
If your Wi-Fi really struggles to get into the corners of the place you call home, you might want to think about investing in Wi-Fi extenders or even a Powerline kit that makes use of the electrical wiring in your abode to connect up more rooms.
Walls, windows, fish tanks, and anything that uses electromagnetic radiation (like a cordless phone or a microwave) can interfere with wireless internet signals too, so you need to think about where your router is positioned in relation to all of these objects and obstacles (and maybe put Netflix on pause if you need to microwave something).
These tips aren’t specific to the problem of multiple users and multiple devices trying to get online at the same time, but they should help a little bit in easing the load. If you’re not getting a decent internet connection in the first place, then any attempts to optimise what you’ve got are going to be less effective.
Your router may offer certain on-board settings to help you manage high demand from a lot of different devices, especially if it’s a more expensive model. If connectivity really becomes a problem, you might want to consider upgrading your router (and your broadband internet package too, if you can).
One feature to look out for is Quality of Service or QoS (though it’s given several different names by different manufacturers): If your router offers this, you’ll be able to prioritise certain devices and certain types of traffic. You can make the laptop where you occasionally browse the internet less of a priority than the games console that you use to stream movies, for example.
More expensive routers are built to manage more device connections, through additional antennas, support for more bands and frequencies, and smarter network management (technologies like dynamic frequency selection, MU-MIMO, beamforming, and others). These extra features are typically found on gaming routers and mesh network routers.
We’re also seeing a growing number of new routers adopt the Wi-Fi 6 standard—that gets you upgrades in all kinds of different areas, besides an increase in the maximum supported speeds. Like 5G, Wi-Fi 6 routers should be better able to handle connections from a large number of devices, maximizing stability and efficiency.
Beyond the settings on your router, you might have to get creative when it comes to managing demand. Think about all the devices you’ve got around the home, and which ones might survive a temporary disconnection, for example, or how you can reduce the bandwidth used by the apps that you rely on every day.
The big streaming sites are already reducing default quality levels for video, and streaming quality is an option you’ll find in just about every video and music streaming app out there—it might be worth a few extra blocky pixels if it means that everyone sharing your internet can stay connected.
If you’re making video calls, do you really need your video feed to be on or can you switch to audio instead, which won’t put as many demands on your router? If someone else at home is streaming Disney films on the Wi-Fi, maybe you could make your video or audio calls on your cellular network (dependent on your data plan and signal strength).
Remember that tablets, phones, laptops and consoles are keen on downloading updates at every opportunity—if you’re planning a streaming movie night or an online gaming session then it makes sense to keep non-essential devices switched off and leave the automatic updates for overnight when you aren’t doing anything else.
In terms of managing demand, perhaps the most effective step you can take—and quite possibly the most difficult to implement—is to keep different time slots for different internet-intensive activities. In other words, early evening for the kids’ gaming sessions and late evening for the parents movie streaming (for example).
Some of this time-shifting can be done using the features in the apps you’ve got: Think about downloading the movies and TV shows to your devices so you can watch them ‘offline’. If you do this during quiet times, when your router isn’t under so much pressure, it doesn’t matter what your internet speed is like when you actually get around to watching.
Many newer and more advanced routers (including mesh routers) will let you set certain times when Wi-Fi is on or off, even down to specific devices—this is primarily intended to help you keep the kids’ internet access under control, but there’s no reason why you can’t use it to temporarily turn off devices when you aren’t using them.
Remember you might well be competing with the rest of your apartment block or the rest of the street when it comes to available bandwidth. We’re all typically creatures of habit, and like to stream video at the same sort of times—if you can switch your binge-watching to a different part of the day, or even schedule video meetings for unusual times (not on the hour), it should help.