As we all depend more and more on our Internet access, it is important to try and achieve high-quality network results. So it is important to understand that network quality problems generally fall into three areas:
- Line – DSL or cable lines, often shared with other services
- Router – The traffic cop of your network
- Local network / WiFi – Coverage and quality are common issues
Some technologies, like DSL, that share their line with telephones, or cable modems, that share with the cable TV, can often suffer from signal issues that cause high-variability in connection speed and state. But unless users constantly monitor the modem line statistics, they might be completely unaware of where the source of the problem lies. One of the benefits of the IQrouter is that it is constantly measuring the line for signs of instability, the service will notify the user of an unstable line and suggest they review their wiring or engage their ISP to look at the issue.
As much of our other materials discuss, the router itself is a critical part of maintaining good Internet Quality, as it is the main point of traffic coordination, and if it fails to do so, then high-latencies due to bufferbloat can creep in. Most stock ISP-supplied router do a poor job at managing traffic; partially because they want to deliver the ‘highest speed’ possible from the line. The ISP sells you different ‘speed’ packages, and wants you to be able to measure that speed, irrespective of how bad it actually is in terms of quality (ie. very high latencies are allowed). As we outline in our fast vs quick article, as a user, we’d rather have quick, high-quality Internet, than a 'fast' raw speed result along with poor actual performance.
An IQrouter automatically configures itself and then continually tunes itself to the actual capabilities of your line over time to ensure you get the quickest, lowest-latency results possible.
Local Network / WiFi
The last few feet are often the ones to suffer from some of the worst networking issues, especially with WiFi. We’ve all experienced the frustrations of a marginal WiFi signal while trying to do something with our smartphones. Whether at the coffee shop or at home, the problems stem from several fundamental characteristics of WiFi:
- It is shared spectrum. All devices connected to a WiFi access point must ‘wait their turn’ before using the radio to send/receive data, so the more active devices, the less throughput and higher the latencies when doing something.
- Connection quality and speed varies tremendously based on location, a few inches can make significant differences in rate or even if one has a signal or not. The further you get from or the more obstructions there are between you and the access point, the lower the throughput and latencies grow worse.
- Like most radio, it is subject to interference which can be other WiFi stations nearby or other domestic electronic devices such as Bluetooth mice and keyboards, cordless phones and many other things in the home.
To mitigate these issues, we recommend that most mission-critical devices, like desktop/laptops used for work be connected via Ethernet directly to the router (or through a switch). That allows applications like VoIP, VPN and others to work as reliably as possible without the vagaries of WiFi interfering. Same goes for streaming devices, for two reasons: first, that constant traffic on WiFi will interfere with any other device trying to use the same WiFi access point, secondly the lower latencies of wired connections allows steady streaming.
But since so many of our devices these days rely on WiFi (often exclusively), we need to ensure our home has good WiFi coverage. And for that, the best strategy is to have multiple, well placed and configured access points. In the average American home, rarely will a single super-strong access point do the job, as the radios in portable devices do not have similar strength radios to connect at a distance. So one or more slaved access points enable devices to more easily reach them and have a solid signal.
One word of warning: WiFi to WiFi extenders often create more problems than they solve, especially from a latency standpoint. The smaller / cheaper ones essentially cut whatever speed they provide in half, as they use a single radio to talk to the main access point and re-use it to talk to your devices. That also adds latencies. Only a few higher-end extenders feature dual radios to reduce some of those issues.
The ideal way to deploy additional access points is to run an Ethernet cable from the router to the location where the access point is to be deployed.
If running Ethernet is not possible, then either use of exiting coax or the use of powerline extenders to bridge the two locations can be used. We discuss the various options to use Coax on this page. For Powerline, modern AV2 powerline adapters (see our recommended list below) can also be used to bridge in streaming devices or other remote PCs as well.
Configuring additional WiFi access points to not compete with the main routers channels is also something to watch for. There are plenty of guides out there on this topic plus the Access Point instructions typically cover it as well.
In summary, an ideal local network has all critical applications (work PC’s, streamers, etc.) wired via Ethernet to the router. WiFi coverage has been mapped out and addressed with additional access points where needed to ensure portable or WiFi-only devices can receive a good signal with low latencies.
A typical American multi-level home would have a recommended deployment as follows, with additional access points fed via powerline and using powerline adapters to wire up critical desktops, like the one on the third level:
So we recommend that you carefully consider how WiFi performs in your home and to follow some of the recommendations on how to obtain the best results.
In summary, achieving good internet quality requires ensuring that the line, the router and if using WiFi, the coverage are all optimized to deliver the lowest-latency, consistent results.