Speeding up your Wifi

Faster Internet speeds are here, so I expect people will be wanting to speed up their wifi to take advantage of it. This article explores the main wifi standards and speeds, and includes a hint to boost your wifi speed.

First, a side note about units. For simplicity, all speeds are listed in Megabits per second (Mbps). Network speeds can also be stated in Megabytes per second (MBps = Mbps ÷ 8), Gigabits per second (Gbps = Mbps ÷ 1000), or Gigabytes per second (GBps = Mbps ÷ 8000).

Until about 2007, the fastest Internet speeds were slower than the slowest wifi speeds. The table below shows the main wifi standards we have in Canada, when they were released, their theoretical speed (*wiki “IEEE 802.11), and the Internet speeds at the time they were released (**google “ncta internet speed history 2016”):

IEEE Standard Release Date Max Wifi Speed* Max Internet Speed**
802.11b Sep1999 11 Mbps 0.256 Mbps
802.11g Jun2003 54 Mbps 4 Mbps
802.11n Oct2009 600 Mbps 50 Mbps
802.11ac Dec2013 1300 Mbps 500 Mbps
802.11ax 2019? 10,530 Mbps 1000 Mbps

The beauty of wifi is that it is backwards compatible: for example, you can connect a 802.11n laptop/phone to a 802.11b router, and vice-versa. However, that compatibility comes at a price: if your modem/router is set to 802.11b compatibility (which many are, by default) the fastest wifi you can get is 11 Mbps.

So, if you are finding your wifi speed isn’t anywhere near your Internet speed, the easiest fix is to change the wifi setting on your modem/router to 802.11n or higher. Beware that any old 802.11b/g devices you have may stop working, but that equipment is at least 10 years old and probably needs replacing anyway.

Finally, a quick note about Internet/wifi speed: as mentioned in my previous article, there is limited value to higher Internet/wifi speeds. Netflix in UltraHD takes about 25 Mbps/channel (HD content only takes about 5 Mbps/channel), so even if you are streaming multiple 4k channels at once, you are likely using much less than 100 Mbps.