One of our customers has been having problems with his home wi-fi network for about six months. Between us and the phone company, we tried changing the wi-fi channel, moving the router, replacing the router, moving the router, adding in signal boosters, replacing the router again, and moving it again. Whatever we tried doing, it seemed to make no difference – after a few hours, the wi-fi would just crash, leaving them without Net access until they restarted the router. Since they work from home, this was disrupting their business, as well as making it impossible to watch a movie on Netflix.
Eventually we solved the problem (we think!) by switching from modern WPA authentication to old-style WEP. This isn’t normally recommended. WEP is much less secure and easier to hack. It’s also supposed to be less reliable, but in this case, the customer’s wi-fi has held up for over two months now – a huge improvement.
Overloading the wi-fi network
One of the problems may have been the number of devices trying to connect via wi-fi. There are four members of the family, each with computers, tablets, smartphones, and games consoles, plus there’s the home office. Excluding regular visitors, this adds up to the following:
- Four smartphones
- Four laptops
- Two desktops
- Two tablets
- Three games consoles
- One printer
That adds up to sixteen devices, all trying to go through the wi-fi. It’s not surprising they were having performance and reliability problems. But it’s not that unusual in a modern family – with phones, tablets and laptops, many of us have three or even four personal wi-fi devices, and that doesn’t even take into consideration the fixed devices around the house.
One of the things the customers are now doing to alleviate this overloading is to shift the most bandwidth-hungry devices onto ethernet instead of wi-fi. The three games consoles and one of the two desktops are mostly used for video streaming, and the other desktop computer is doing a lot of uploading and downloading throughout the day. Moving these five devices will free up the load on the wi-fi considerably. The devices still on the wi-fi network will get better performance, and the devices on ethernet will see even more improvement.
Until a few years ago, ethernet was how almost all computers were connected. Wi-fi gave us the freedom to put our computers wherever we wanted, and not worry about finding a cable to plug into. Nowadays, we often think of wi-fi as the only way to connect. It’s quick, it’s easy, and it’s totally flexible.
However, we forget that ethernet is considerably faster, more reliable, more secure, and, frequently, cheaper. While they’re not convenient for portable devices, if you’re dealing with computers or devices that won’t be moved often (if at all), then it’s certainly an option worth considering.
- If you’re streaming video, you’ll get a more solid service.
- Gamers will see better ping times. If you’re doing big file uploads or downloads, your transfer times can be reduced by up to 80%.
- Ethernet cables cost very little. You can get a 100-foot cable for as little as $7, and shorter cables can cost a dollar or two. Compared to the cost of a wireless adapter, that’s nothing.
- There’s no setup, you just plug the cable in and it works.
The only real problem you have with ethernet is the installation. To get cables into all the different rooms of your house, you either have to have them snaking along corridors, up stairs, and down the sides of walls, which isn’t attractive, or else you have to start making holes in walls and ceilings to conceal them. That can involve expensive, messy work. However, for devices close to the router, it’s usually an easy and cost-effective option.
Ethernet’s not always necessary for home users, as this article from Digital Trends points out. If you don’t have many people in the house, and you’re not putting much demand on your bandwidth, then wifi is probably perfectly adequate. In some cases, though, ethernet may be worth considering. If you’re having wireless issues, maybe you should look at the old-school alternative?