With coronavirus forcing most of us to remain at home, our broadband and wi-fi connections are crucial to help us work, stay in contact with loved ones, and enjoy downtime.
But with Britain’s broadband under additional strain, some might experience issues that could interrupt a usually reliable service. Fortunately, we’re well placed to help solve many of the problems you might encounter.
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1. Speed up slow broadband
Openreach has said that the broadband network can cope with more of us working from home, but if you do find you have issues, there are things you can do to fix them.
For example, a common problem is a crowded wi-fi channel. Every router has a choice of wi-fi channels, or frequencies, they can use, and if lots of people in the area are using the same one at the same time, it can affect speeds.
Fortunately it’s easy to address this without any technical know-how: turn your router off, wait a couple of minutes, and turn it back on again. It should attempt to choose a different frequency, which could result in better speeds.
You could also adjust the layout of your home, make sure everything is connected properly, and spring-clean your computer to get everything optimised to run smoothly. For more help and advice on this, read our guide to speeding up slow broadband.
2. Fix bad broadband
If broadband has stopped working entirely, or it’s working sporadically, the problem might be a bit more difficult to solve.
Your first option should be to contact your broadband provider, or check its help pages or social media support accounts to see whether there’s an issue in your area. If problems are more widespread, you’ll waste time trying to fix them yourself.
Bookmark our guide on how to contact your broadband provider for easy access to phone numbers, links to service status pages, social media accounts and troubleshooting tips.
If there’s no apparent issue in the area, and you’re feeling confident enough to diagnose and fix things, the following pages can help:
- How to fix bad broadband includes a range of checks you can run on devices in the home
- How to fix your router can help you diagnose the warning lights on your router to identify the problem
- Use our broadband speed test to see if you’re getting the speeds you’re expecting.
3. Extend your broadband to a specific room
If broadband’s OK in some areas of the house, but won’t reach to the back room you’re now using as a home-office, a bit of additional hardware could help to solve that problem.
In this case, you can choose between an extender or a powerline adaptor. These are cheap, basic solutions, but both can work well to help boost the signal in a wi-fi dead spot.
Extenders work well to extend wi-fi, but you shouldn’t rely on them to connect multiple devices. Powerline adaptors are a little different. They’re essentially two plugs that work together to send an internet signal along your electrical wiring. Whether they work, and how well they work, will depend on the quality of electrical wiring in your home.
Three extender options to consider
- Belkin AC750 Dual Band Range Extender (£18) The cheapest extender we’ve tested, suitable if you want to connect one or two devices in a room which doesn’t usually get wi-fi.
- Netgear EX6110-100UKS (£47.60) This extender works across two frequencies, and uses technology designed to improve performance across both. It’s ideal if you have a mixture of devices.
- TP-Link RE450 (£60) At the top end of the range, TP-Link’s RE450 extender is more powerful and suited to a busier home. It also has an ethernet port and a partner app.
Read more about wi-fi extenders and powerline adaptors.
4. Improve wi-fi all around the home with a mesh network
If you’ve got a busy home, or lots of devices on your network, a mesh system is your best choice.
Each mesh point works together to replace your existing network. They’re intelligent, meaning they work to move devices around to optimise performance in the background.
They also often come with partner apps, where you can apply settings such as parental controls and create guest networks for visitors.
Three mesh network options to consider
- Google Nest Wifi Router and Point (£239) Google’s mesh system is more than just a new wireless network. The mesh point also works as a smart speaker fitted with Google Assistant. You can ask it to control your wi-fi, or give you answers to anything else you need.
- Linksys Velop Whole Home Intelligent Mesh System, Tri-Band (£130) Linksys’s mesh system is tri-band, which means you’ll get another 5GHz band to reduce frequency and spread out devices.
- Netgear Orbi RBK50 whole Home Wi-Fi System (£249.99) The RBK50 whole home system is pricey, but it has plenty of features, including parental controls, compatibility with Netgear Armour (a security service) and even has a built-in VPN server.
Read more about wi-fi systems and mesh networks.
Struggling to find stock of tech online? Read our guide to alternative tech retailers for some pointers.
5. All else failed? Try a mobile phone wi-fi hotspot
One great fall-back plan if your broadband is on the blink is your mobile phone. By using your phone to simulate a wireless network, you can connect other devices, such as laptops, tablets and computers, to use online.
This uses the data that’s provided as part of your monthly bundle or contract, so it’s important to keep an eye on how much that’s using up. Charges can be high if you run out of your regular allowance, so try to reserve this approach for things that can’t wait.
If you feel you’ll be using a wi-fi hotspot often, consider upping the data allowance on your contract if you’re on a low-data deal. Alternatively, you could pick up a short term Sim-only deal to tide you over until things settle down.
Which? real world wi-fi tests help you buy the best
Our in-depth wi-fi tests are modelled on real-life scenarios. We watch 4K Netflix, stream HD audio, dip into YouTube, transfer files and more, so our router, extender and mesh system reviews reflect a pretty typical workout in a modern home.
We also push devices to their limits, so you know how they’ll cope when many people are using them at once. There’s a stress test where we record file transfer speed for four different devices, all running at once in different locations, and our coverage test involves recording throughput speed at 19 different points in a home, giving us a map of how well the signal spreads.
We also know that you don’t want to spend any more time than necessary getting things up and running, or fixing faults if they occur. So we rate each device on how easy it is to use, from setup to configuration to associated apps.
For more, browse all our reviews of routers, mesh networks, and wi-fi extenders.