June 12, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Need to Increase Your WiFi? Read This First!

With everyone at home due to social distancing restrictions, the WiFi you used to have that might have been “a little spotty,” that your college-age kids might have kvetched about, all of a sudden became an urgent issue to fix.

Most homeowners, until recently, even me, were OK using the ISP’s (internet service provider) WiFi router/modem connection from Verizon or Optimum. But with five to seven consistent users with streaming, Zoom and telecommuting needs, did it suddenly seem that your WiFi just doesn’t cut it?

Let’s explain the ISP’s bandwidth as a road’s highway. On a usual day, a highway will have enough room for the cars without much traffic or “slowdown.” But let’s say it’s New Year’s Eve or Thanksgiving weekend: All of a sudden it seems the highway is full all day.

General slowdowns like these are rare occasions, and on these days we aren’t seeing townships building and running extra lanes for a 10-day-a-year occurrence. But let’s say they shut down a really important central highway for six months. Then the highway with just a bit of traffic all of a sudden becomes gridlock city.

That’s kind of what happened to the ISPs. Their usual bandwidth will peak on weekends usually with light internet traffic and some streaming. Never did they anticipate three months of such high usage.

My hat is off to Optimum and Verizon, who I see outside fixing a few morning or late-night minor outages. They seem to have kept up. But this was a temporary fix. The ISPs have been rushing with a skeleton staff to increase “the highways.”

Not that each user is not important, but users who own homes who are trying to figure out why their wait is a week and an apartment building is one day, just look at the numbers. When one homeowner calls the call center, that’s one call; when an apartment building calls, that’s 50 calls a day. The streaming needs are higher in apartment buildings, and a slowdown in service there affects more people.

But to increase your own WiFi power, there isn’t truly much you can do without some investment. Save your money on cheap extenders. They are a lot more trouble than they are worth. If you are blessed to have Cat 5 or 6 network lines in your home, I would recommend the Meraki Go line and the Ubiquiti WiFi access points with a cloud key. I’m talking from a MSP side, so this is not useful for most homes.

We tech guys always want cloud accessibility. Truth be told, my company shies away from house jobs. We are not “above the work,” but workplaces are more tolerant than families in many cases. We’ve seen it a thousand times: A CEO of 500 employees is brought to his knees when his teen says, “Dad, my bandwidth isn’t good enough.”

Recently we did do some homes. This was a large challenge with social distancing. If my method works for you, great, but I would not advise running more lines unless your work helps others. Here’s how we helped home clients: We had our clients take a sea of pictures of everything: modem, jacks, wires, routers and modems. We then ordered the WiFi access points, POE injectors (power to the higher-end WiFi access points) or a POE switch. All were sent to our own homes. Since these brands are all cloud-based, we then dropped off the hardware fully configured, and via Zoom, walked our clients through the hook up.

For sure there are some very long, cumbersome ethernet network wires running sloppy in these homes, which would not have looked like that if we had been able to go in, but safety first. These hookups were not a walk in the park. Even with the best professional in his/her field, give them a router and it’s like the grandma conversation. “Yes the yellow wire, that’s it, is it on?” and so on. But since we have cloud access we know the hardware is working.

So let’s say you don’t have a wired home, meaning most of your technology runs on WiFi, nothing is wired. Spending more on improving the router can be successful about 50% of the time. There is a higher-end WiFi access point option, like Meraki Go or Ubiquity. This works best with homes that can’t have line-of-sight to the router, or there are basements or other rooms that don’t get sufficient WiFi service. Let’s say you are able to add four access points. Once configured, even if one is not connected to the internet, the other three can talk to the disconnected fourth via a mesh. Mesh is really what you want if you need to connect multiple rooms to WiFi in a house that isn’t getting the signal through. If you really can’t afford this solution, you can purchase a Raki Go access point, and connect the WAP to your current router. That will for sure increase the signal.

If all else is not available to you, increasing your bandwidth by paying more from the ISP per month is a proven method, but it comes with a caveat. I have heard from ISP techs, but again I would verify this fact, that ISPs can guide the bandwidth in certain directions during peak usage periods. During the height of the COVID-19 crisis, I understood that bandwidth was being throttled toward the hospitals to provide them with the connectivity they urgently needed. I will say this is to even the load, and throttling likely only happens in specific circumstances. I do not think our ISPs force clients to upgrade for no reason. That’s a myth. With bandwidth, I still feel the highest you can afford is necessary at this point.

So how can you check your bandwidth? A little caveat is when you are using WiFi, most routers from any brand will provide a set amount of bandwidth per channel. If you need more than 250 MB you beat me. But if you are directly connected, try this app: SpeedTest.net. If you’re disappointed, please don’t call your MSP, tech guy or ISP kvetching, “I paid for 100 MB up and down and only getting 90!” A lot of factors come into play. If you are using a beat-up laptop from the Bush administration, no level of bandwidth will help you. You really need a device that is three years old or newer.

A few personal notes:

  • No person under 20 has a device that is new enough.
  • No teen has ever said, “Hey, Tatty, my bandwidth is too fast. Please lower it.”
  • ISPs are helping doctors, first responders and hospitals. Before you complain, think first: Is it that important that you can stream “Good Times” at lightning-fast speed?
  • Expect outages from both Verizon and Optimum. Know that they are essential workers and heroes, out there day and night, working to provide service for us and our neighbors.
  • Remember your tech and ISP techs have families just like yours.
  • A great app I recommend is Evernote; it’s taking notes but ten times better. There is a cost, but with two fewer Starbucks coffees a month and you have this paid.

I want to extend my gratitude to all my fellow thankless tech colleagues who have spent nights and after-hour calls helping clients connect from home.

Most of all to all the Verizon/Optimum staff, top to bottom, who kept and continue to keep all of us connected. The Lord should continue to keep you safe.

By Shneur Garb

 

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