Enhancing your network connectivity for work at home work

By Scott Checkoway

I originally wrote this for MedeAnalytics employees around the world who have been working at home since March 17 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Anybody working from home—and a lot of us are doing it now—can use these tips to enhance network connectivity, which will improve your streaming speed.

After purchasing internet service, depending upon the provider (such as Comcast, Spectrum, Frontier, AT&T or another provider) and the kind of connection you receive, you may receive an internet modem, an internet router or a combo-device that has both.

When it comes to the Wi-Fi piece of the router, line-of-sight makes the connection most robust in speed. Having it located near where you work in that line-of-sight typically provides the best possible performance. If your router is in a room that you cannot see, then the connection you have to it will diminish due to the structure of your walls, surrounding electronics and other impediments.

We’re going to focus on the internet/Wi-Fi router part of the system and ways to improve your speed and connectivity.

If the router is in a location where you cannot see it, move it. If there is no opportunity to connect an Ethernet cable directly from the router to your machine, there are options available to achieve the best possible performance.

These are a few ways to improve performance:

  • Wi-Fi booster/extender: This is the most common type of device to boost your Wi-Fi signal. A range extender, Wi-Fi booster or Wi-Fi extender is a device that repeats the wireless signal from your router to expand its coverage. It functions as a bridge, capturing the Wi-Fi from your router and rebroadcasting it to areas where the Wi-Fi is weak or nonexistent. This improves the performance of your home Wi-Fi.
  • Wi-Fi mesh system: Wi-Fi extenders will work although you could still experience slow speeds. This is due to a booster/extender utilizing a repeated signal through the device from your main Wi-Fi router. Mesh Wi-Fi systems, on the other hand, broadcast near-to-full internet speeds that you’re paying for all over your home. Your devices will connect to mesh Wi-Fi routers around your home automatically.
  • Powerline adapter: A powerline adapter is an alternative to running in-wall Ethernet cables or relying on possibly unstable Wi-Fi. A powerline adapter can send your music, photo, video and computer data over your household’s existing electrical wiring just like it would over Ethernet cables.

My favorite internet service improvement item is a multi-device extender. It combines the capabilities of a Wi-Fi extender and a powerline adapter. Everything I’ve mentioned can be purchased online or at your local tech store.

For the tech-geeks reading this, some additional guidance:

  • Wi-Fi bands are broken into 2.4GHz and 5GHz. The former has been around a while and most simple Wi-Fi devices use this. Because of this, you and your neighbors all likely utilize this spectrum of Wi-Fi communication. If you look to see the Wi-Fi SSID’s in your neighborhood, it’s likely a long list.
  • Wi-Fi has channels, just like your TV. So, if the Wi-Fi channels you’re using are competing with others on the same Wi-Fi channel, your signal is going to be interrupted. The internet routers have rotating Wi-Fi channel capabilities for this situation. The problem is because there are so many SSID’s broadcasting, if your Wi-Fi isn’t broadcasting as “the loudest” then you could be competing much more for your internet bandwidth than you might think.
  • There are tools, however, that can help by turning your smartphone into a Wi-Fi scanner. Mobile apps show the names of nearby wireless networks and which channels they’re using, giving you an at-a-glance look at the channels to avoid. The next step will be to login to your internet router. Typically, the Internet provider gives you a UserID and Password to enter the configuration of the router. Once you login to the system you’ll want to review the Wi-Fi options regarding the 2GHz and 5GHz channels.
  • The 2.4GHz band is broken up into 11 channels (1-11), each 20MHz wide while in the 5GHz band, there are channels ranging from 36 up to 165. Each of the channels in 5GHz is 20MHz wide. Each channel number is assigned to that channel’s center frequency (i.e., 2.4 GHz Channel 1 is at 2.412GHz).
  • In 2.4GHz, use your scanner to find the best channel (1-11). In 5GHz, the first 36, 40, 44, 48 channels are used for domestic purposes. These are considered the best channels for Wi-Fi 5GHz at home. (Channel 165 is reserved for military use and sensitive communication so even if your device allows you to try this channel, it is best to avoid using it.)

At the end of the day, nothing beats having an old-fashioned Ethernet cable plugged in direct from the Internet router to your device(s). This will provide the greatest speed without wireless interference.

Scott Checkoway is the Chief Information Officer at MedeAnalytics.