Wireless Internet Connections

Is your wireless internet connection a lot slower than you would like?

The maximum speed of your internet connection is limited by the type of connection you have and the contract you have with your Internet Service Provider (ISP). Fibre optic connections are much faster than ADSL (“normal” broadband). The specific fibre optic plans with Zen Internet, for instance, offer speeds of up to 38Mbps and up to 76Mbps, whereas ADSL broadband connections are more likely to be “up to 8Mbps” or “up to 16Mbps”.

However, these figures are only “theoretical” maximum speeds, and they could be further reduced by your own hardware and connection type.

I’m not concerned here with the different plans offered by different internet providers, nor with the abilities of different routers, or their positioning in relation to your computer(s). Although these are all relevant factors in the speed of your internet connection, I’m only concerned here with a simple, and relatively cheap, way that you may be be able to give your internet connection speed a significant boost.

TP-Link TL-WN821N Wireless Adapter
Better than the internal wireless adapter, but this sticks out 7cm from the edge of the laptop
What I’m talking about is possibly the most common way of achieving a wireless connection from a laptop to a suitably-equipped wireless router. This involves just taking it for granted that the inbuilt wireless adapter in your laptop is going to do the job properly. But that is not necessarily going to be the case. In my own case, my “main” laptop is usually connected wirelessly to a mid-range Asus RT-N66U router in the same room. My contract with my internet provider delivers me “up to” 38Mbps. However, in practice I used to achieve only about 5Mbps. Occasionally it would go through a purple patch and deliver 7-8Mbps but that was it. In fact, it made it pointless having a fibre optic connection at all. A standard ADSL connection would deliver the internet just as fast. If I connected an ethernet cable the speed would shoot up close to the maximum of 38Mbps.

The laptop in question is a Samsung RF511 that is 3.5 years old. There is plenty of life left in the machine yet, and I even fitted a SSD to it recently and promised myself I’d make it last for at least five years. It’s a good laptop that I’ve always been happy with. But then one day I decided, out of curiosity, to check the wireless speed of my 5.5 year old MacBook Pro and was astonished to find a regular and reliable 36Mbps. I was just as surprised to see that my Microsoft Surface achieved 38Mbps wirelessly.

TP-Link Nano Wireless Adapter
TP-Link Nano Wireless Adapter protrudes about half a centimetre when connected and delivers 30Mbps
The only thing that made reasonable sense was that the wireless adapter in the Samsung wasn’t doing its job very well. I found one on eBay for less than £10 and my previous 7-8Mbps went up to about 15Mbps. So, for less than £10 and half an hour spent taking the case off, replacing the adapter, and replacing the case, I had doubled the speed. But it was still less than half as fast as the MacBook Pro and Microsoft Surface.

Then I tried attaching a USB wireless receiver. I enabled it (in Windows Control Panel, go to “Network and Sharing Centre” and then “Change Adapter Settings”), disabled the internal receiver, and got a boost up to about 20Mbps. The problem with this, though, is that the adapter sticks out 7cm from the laptop and I think it was in danger of getting bashed. So, off to Amazon where I found a TP-Link “nano” wireless adapter that only sticks out about 0.6cm from the side of the laptop. Although this device’s theoretical top speed is only 150mbps (compared with 300mbps for the rest of my equipment), in practice it manages 30Mbps.

Wireless Download Speeds
The “nano” adapter achieves almost 30Mbps, but the Mac and Surface still do a bit better
So, cutting out all the intermediate tests and steps, the final result is that an outlay of only £6.78 provided a means of increasing my download speed by five or six times. The only technical knowledge needed was how to enable the new device (via Windows Control Panel as detailed above). If you want to try this solution but need help setting it up, then I could help via Teamviewer (but we we may have fun losing and re-gaining the Teamviewer connection as we make the switch to your new wireless adapter). See this link for my charges for offering computer support via Teamviewer.

I think I need to add two small caveats here:

  • All “actual” speeds mentioned above are approximate and can vary from test to test. I certainly can’t predict with any certainty what speed boost you could achieve by adding a USB wifi adapter. However, I think the general conclusions are valid, and the outlay is not high.
  • If your internet speed is also slow using a wired connection, then it might be that your router is getting past it. When they are 3-4 years old they can start to deteriorate in performance – especially if they feel hot to the touch.

All speed tests were carried out at www.speedtest.net.