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How to improve your internet connection during lockdown

As we're relying on it more than ever before. Here's how to make sure it keeps working

Andrew Griffin
Thursday 25 June 2020 13:19 BST
TalkTalk and Virgin Media customers have had problems over the the past few months
TalkTalk and Virgin Media customers have had problems over the the past few months

As people across the world stay at home in an attempt to stop the spread of coronavirus, many are finding themselves especially frustrated by troubles with internet connection and wifi dropouts.

Relying on the internet for working, studying and entertainment can very quickly exacerbate any issues you might always have had with the speed or reliability of your internet connection, and with many Virgin Media and TalkTalk customers struggling with on-going problems, it can make working from home near-impossible.

But there are some changes you can make that might make your connection quicker and more dependable.

A number of things decide your internet speed, which you can't do anything about. If you're a long way from the telephone exchange, for instance, there's very little you can do apart from move house or hope that the infrastructure is updated.

But there's plenty more besides that that you can actually do something about. Especially when it comes to your device's connection to your router – rather than your router's connection to the world – some small tweaks can make a world of difference.

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The dream fix for a bad wifi connection is not to rely on wifi at all, as much as possible. If you can, try plugging in through your ethernet connection rather than wirelessly – that will do away with any problems of interference and should speed up your connection to the router.

In many cases, however, that won't be possible. Many times it is impossible to drill through walls and run cables all around your flat or house, and many devices – such as phones – don't have anywhere to plug in an ethernet connection anyway.

In that situation, the best response is simply to ensure that the wifi signal can get to your device as cleanly as possible.

In order to do this, the first thing to do is to find anything that might be interfering with your wifi signal. This can be just about anything: certain kinds of lamps, dimmer switches, speakers, power cords and especially microwaves can get in the way.

Anyone else trying to use the wifi will also be fighting for your connection, so see what you can do to limit that as much as possible. Put a password on your router so that strangers are not able to squat on your network and borrow your bandwidth, and ensure that anyone doing heavy work on the computer – such as downloading large files or playing games – tries to do so at times when the demand isn't too high.

If all of that doesn't work, then it might be time to add some new hardware. By giving your router a boost, you should be able to improve the connection and speed you get, in turn meaning you can work, stream and do anything else on your network more quickly.

Improve your router

Most people are now using the router that came from their internet service provider. That is usually a sensible decision, given the extra controls which comes with having a standalone unit are largely unnecessary.

But it does mean that there's relatively little you can do if you want to improve your network, since you are at the behest of whatever your internet service provider chose to give to you.

There are a whole host of third-party routers available on the market – from cheap solutions like this TP-Link unit (£12.34, Currys PC World), to hulking, speedy machines that can cost hundreds of pounds and tend to resemble alien spiders, such as Netgear's Nighthawk range (£208.96, Amazon).

Many routers now offer the option to have a mesh network around your house – meaning that the different units will speak to each other and share out the network. Such options include the Eero routers that are now owned by Amazon and Google's Nest WiFi (From £129, Google Store).

Replacing your router is a good idea if you're going to be using it for high-performance situations where it needs to be reliable, such as intensive online gaming. But it might be more bother than it is worth if you are simply finding yourself frustrated with your coverage, and there may be simpler solutions.

Your internet company might offer something similar, too. Sky, for instance, lets you buy boosters that will connect to your router and help fling the wifi connection further across the house.

Or give it a boost

If you'd prefer to keep your existing router – because it is mandated – then another solution is to help it out. With wifi boosters or powerline extenders, you can keep your existing router but add extra points for your phone, computer and whatever else to connect.

Wifi extenders come in a variety of shapes, sizes and prices, but the principle is largely the same – they plug into the wall, usually attaching themselves to the socket, borrow the same wifi connection and settings and push it further out into the house. You can find them relatively cheaply online.

Powerline allows you to borrow the cables that are already around your house, and send your browsing data through them. It can be a perfect solution in houses that are larger or have thick walls, where a wifi extender might not be able to reach. The connection is not always as quick as that sent through a dedicated cable, but it is far easier to put together.

Powerline connectors can be bought for relatively cheap, though it depends on how many extenders you want. The Independent has had good success with TP-Link's adaptor (£78.49, Amazon) which comes in a range of different sets depending on your setup.

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