A question I’m regularly asked is “how can I improve my Internet at home?”, so I thought I’d explain some of the common problems and solutions.

First of all, is your actual Internet connection.   You’ll have what’s called an Internet Service Provider, or ISP for short.   For example, if you get your Internet through Bell, then Bell is your ISP.   Internet connections come in a variety of formats – both wired and wireless.

If your Internet comes over the phone line, you’ll have a modem/router.   A modem converts the telephone signal into something your computer will understand.   If you want to get techie, it’s a Modulator/Demodulator (hence MoDem)!

Other types of connections will just have a router.   A router protects you from the Internet with what’s called a “Firewall”.   A Firewall lets your computer “talk” to the Internet but blocks anyone from Internet from getting to your computer.   In simplistic terms, it’s an ingenious device that looks at who you’re communicating with and only allows them to send information back.

A router gives you your own private, secure network.  It’ll generally have a few ports on the back where wired computers can plug in, and it’ll usually have antennae that provide wireless connectivity too.    Any devices on this private network can talk to any other devices.  This is why your computer can talk to your wireless printer – they’re both on the same network.   However, you can’t talk to your neighbour’s printer as it’s behind their firewall.

OK, so now you understand what a router is – I’m often asked, should I get a faster router?   The fastest routers can reach speeds of thousands of Mbits per second!   What’s important to note here is the speed of the router is how fast your computer can talk to the router.  It has nothing to do with how fast your Internet speed is, which is usually going to be around 5-10Mb/s.    Think of it this way – your 10Mb/s internet connection is going to run at 10Mb/s regardless of if you have a 50Mb/s router or a 1000Mb/s router.

So why spend more on a faster router??   There’s only one scenario where this makes a difference – if you have two devices at home that need to talk to each other – rather than over the internet.   For example, if you’re copying files from one computer to another, these higher speeds can help.   I very rarely see this with home networks though.

Oh, and don’t believe any devices that claim to be able to boost the speed of your Internet connection.   They’re just a scam.   If your Internet provider could provide a faster connection, they’d happily sell it to you!

The second thing to consider with your home network is range.   This is one of the most common issues I see – where a router at one end of the home doesn’t have sufficient signal to reach the other end of your home.

Routers have what are called Omni-Directional antennae on them which sends the signal out in all directions.  Ideally, you’d have the router at the center of your home, and the signal emitted from it would cover the whole building.   This often isn’t the case though, as your Internet connection will be at an external wall.

To improve the signal, you have a couple of options.   Some routers have better coverage than others – with more antennae and a more powerful signal.   However, these routers also tend to be quite expensive.

Another alternative is to buy a “booster” or a “range extender”.   These two terms describe the same device.   It’s a device that picks up the signal from your router and re-broadcasts it to another location.   What’s key with a range extender is that it needs to be within range of your router.   It needs to pick up a good signal itself in order to rebroadcast it.   So ideally it needs to sit somewhere between your router and where you want to boost the signal.   Find somewhere that you get a good signal with your computer, and this will be a good place for the booster.

Taking this a step further are a new type of device called a Mesh Router.   You place several of these Mesh Routers around your home and they all communicate together to provide much better coverage (albeit at a cost!).

Ok, so you now that your network setup and covering your home, in the next article I’ll discuss what you can do to see what’s going on and protect your family from dangerous websites.