Making Sense of Your Home Internet

This week’s tip:  Making Sense of Your Home Internet

In our department, we know that it’s not always easy to work with your ISP (Internet Service Provider).  I’m hoping to provide some insight to how to understand your network at home.  Below are just a few tips and suggestions to help you navigate around all of this Internet technology.

Internet Speeds:  How fast is your Internet and is it enough?

  • What are you paying for?  Check your bill, login to your vendor online, or call them directly to find out.  It’s usually measured in Mbps (Megabits per second) and can range from 10Mbps to 940Mbps.  For example, at my home I pay for a 200Mbps Internet plan.
  • What are you getting?  Now that you know what you are supposed to be getting through your ISP, you need to find out what you’re actually getting.  On your computer, open a browser and go to:
    • TIP:  The Internet speed on wired devices will be faster than wireless ones.  Try different devices in different parts of the house.  When you’re wireless, your proximity to the router/gateway matters.    For example:  Right now, on my computer at home (which is wired), I get 218Mbps download speed.  On my phone (which is wireless), I am pulling 205Mbps.  Those numbers differ throughout the day depending on what other people in my house are currently doing.
  • What do you need?  This is a tough question because the answer depends on how many devices you have, what kind of devices, how often they need Internet, how many people, what kind of Internet users they are, etc.  For a very rough generalization, think about 10Mbps handling 1-3 devices, 100Mbps handling 5-7 devices, and 200Mbps handling 10-20 devices.
    • TIP:  10-20 devices may sound like a lot, but you have to think of all of the individual devices that access your Internet.  Not just your computer, but your phone, Roku, Alexa devices, Car, wireless speakers, Ring doorbell, smart plugs, smart watch, tablets, pet feeders, Nest thermostats, security cameras, gaming consoles, Roomba vacuums, and more!  Even my Crockpot and meat thermometer probe are wireless.
    • TIP II:  There are devices/people who are just heavier Internet users than others.  If you have anyone streaming movies or online gaming, that will use a lot more bandwidth than someone who is just browsing the web or using a mobile app on their phone.  As mentioned above, I have a 200Mbps plan and 6 people in my house – 2 adults who are working from home, 3 children who are doing online school (and gaming outside of that), and an elderly parent who streams English soccer all day – and 200Mbps has been more than sufficient for us.

If you find that you’re not getting the Mbps you are paying for, think you need to upgrade your Internet plan, or just have connection issues with a plan that you think is fine – call your provider!  After they walk you through doing the standard “unplug your router for 30 seconds” protocol, they will likely send someone out to check out your setup.  They should be checking your external connection outside to your main equipment, the age/speed of your router/gateway, and even the thickness of your walls between your devices and your equipment.

What is a Hotspot?

A hotspot generally refers to a device that is picking up a cell signal and turning it into a wireless signal for your devices to hook up to.

Cable/Fiber from your Internet Service Provider will likely always be faster/cheaper than an external Hotspot option.  Hotspots are good for people who are unable to get the necessary cable/fiber Internet connection from a local provider.  I would not recommend a Hotspot unless there is no other option.

Before you think about using a HotSpot:

  • Investigate the Cell providers in your area.  Check your phone; what cell carrier is it activated under and what is your signal strength in your house (how many bars do you get)?  If you have a Verizon-activated cell phone, but only get 1-2 bars in your home you may want to avoid a Verizon hotspot.  A lot of cell providers have a place on their website where you can enter in your address and see how strong the coverage is in your area.
  • Check your phone.  Some smartphones already have the capability of acting as a Hotspot.  Each phone is different, but as an example (on an iPhone X) you can go to Settings > Personal Hotspot and toggle on the switch for Allow Others to Join.  Once you toggle this feature on, it will have instructions on-screen on how to connect your devices to it.  IMPORTANT:  This will use data on your cell phone plan, so standard rates will apply if you do this – please check your cell phone plan coverage before doing this.  Also, I would highly suggest turning this feature off when you are not actively using it.
  • Ask your Cell Provider.  Ask what Hotspot options your cell provider has available.  Most carriers will provide the Hotspot equipment (for a fee) and a separate data plan for it.

Other Tips

  • Extending your wireless.  If your house is mostly wireless but you have thick walls or equipment far away from where you need to be, there are kits for Mesh Wifi which will help extend the area that your wireless is covering.  Options like Eero and Orbi are recommended, but I would highly suggest calling your provider prior to purchasing anything to make sure that this is the right resolution for your setup.
  • Have you tried turning it off and back on again?  Not just an IT joke, it’s actually a valid response and your first go-to option when troubleshooting your home network.  Turn your main router/gateway off for 30 seconds and then back on again, or unplug the power cable to this device if there isn’t an on-off switch.  Reboot, not Reset.  Resetting your equipment is not the same as rebooting it, the reset button is usually only accessible by using the tip of a pen or paperclip and will reset that equipment back to factory state— every device will stop working and the router will need to be reconfigured by your ISP.
  • Software Updates.  The reason people release software or hardware updates is either to fix bugs or to keep up with ever-changing technology.  Keep your devices and software up to date and you’ll likely see better performance out of them.

Though we’re happy to provide some consultation, our department is limited in the kind of individualized support that you may need at home.  Contact your vendors and service providers to get quotes, help with troubleshooting, or equipment upgrades.   Pricing and fees are different depending on your area and service providers (though don’t be afraid to quote other service carriers in your area to see who has the best price).

If you have any questions or would like help, please reach out to the Help Desk at [email protected]

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