What you can do to boost your Wi-Fi bandwidth

Patrick Marshall answers your personal technology questions each week.

Q: I have a tenant in a cottage behind my house who says she’s having trouble connecting devices to the internet and doing such things as streaming video. My Wi-Fi router, which is located near the back of my house, previously delivered adequate internet speed to the cottage. Do I need to install a router in the cottage? Is there anything else I can do?

— A. Vogt

A: There are actually quite a few things that could be limiting bandwidth back in that cottage and, therefore, a number of potential ways to boost that bandwidth.

The starting point is the bandwidth that is being delivered to your house. If you’re receiving 5 mbps (megabits per second) service from your ISP and it gets reduced by 50 percent by factors I’m about to list, your tenant will find service too slow for, say, streaming video. If, on the other hand, the service coming into your house is 100 mbps, the user in the cottage might not notice the 50 percent drop-off.

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In short, find out what service you’re paying for. And you can test what service level you’re actually receiving by going to www.speedtest.net. (To run the test, you’ll want to use a computer connected to the cable modem via Ethernet cable.) If there’s a big difference, contact your ISP.

So what can cut into the bandwidth that’s being piped to your cable modem? First, Wi-Fi itself cuts into bandwidth. If you’ve got 100 mbps service at the cable modem and you’re connecting via the Wi-Fi router and you’re sitting right next to it, even with a high-end Wi-Fi router you’ll likely see 60-70 mbps.

Distance from the router is also a factor. Generally, the farther the Wi-Fi client gets from the Wi-Fi router, the less bandwidth will be available. The degree to which performance is reduced depends on the protocols used by both the router and the client….

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