How to Fix Slow Wireless

By Joe Teagno

Wireless networks are an attractive option for Internet access. Wireless cards are standard equipment in new laptops and free WiFi hotspots are ubiquitous. But their convenience comes at a price: wireless networks are slower than traditional wired networks. With interference from too many wireless networks or other devices, such as microwaves or cordless phones, your network's performance can drop to frustratingly low speeds.

Things You'll Need

  • Wireless router
  • Wireless-capable computer

Step 1

Clear a path between the wireless router and the computer. The wireless networking standard 802.11g--the most common in 2010--estimates the range of an indoor wireless network as 125 feet. Wireless radio waves must travel through whatever objects are in their way. Walls, furniture, people or electronics can all impede a wireless network's range and limit its speed. Shortening the distance and clearing the path to the router can both increase throughput.

Step 2

Enable the wireless router's "RTS/CTS" handshake mode. The RTS/CTS feature, short for "ready-to-send/clear-to-send," improves wireless performance under heavy interference by waiting to send data when other computers are transmitting something.

Step 3

Switch to a different wireless channel. The 802.11 wireless specification supports 11 wireless channels. In practice, however, only channels 1, 6 and 11 are used, since these channels do not overlap with each other. Set one of the un-used, non-overlapping channels on the wireless router to see if your performance improves.

Step 4

Enable the wireless router's fragmentation threshold. If the wireless router needs to send a large chunk of data--common when downloading files--it runs the risk of having its transmission jammed by another computer. When the router is configured to use a fragmentation threshold, it must break up large chunks of data into small pieces. Because these small pieces are less likely to be jammed, using fragmentation results in faster speed in busy networks.

Tips & Warnings

  • Even a well-tuned wireless connection is slower than a traditional wired Ethernet network. If you need speed at any cost, consider augmenting your wireless network with wired connections.
  • Some parameters work counter-intuitively under heavy interference. While testing wireless settings, try setting configuration options to both high and low values.