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How does home internet with multiple wireless users affect internet speeds?

Posted on 2014-07-24
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Last Modified: 2014-08-12
Hi,
I'm using a home DSL internet connection (from a local ISP through ATT) with several neighbors sharing the connection and connecting wirelessly.

The speed of the internet connection is rated at "up to 20 mbps" and generally when doing a speed test, I get around 15mbps speeds (from both wireless and ethernet connected mac computers). Occasionally the speed will drop to low speeds (around 2 mbps or less) for a period of time, and then come back to 15 mbps. Not sure yet whether this drop corresponds with our neighbors streaming/downloading/etc. wirelessly from their devices.

How can I determine whether the low internet speeds are caused by the internet connection itself, or by other users streaming or downloading?

In a scenario like this, does the modem/router prioritize one user/activity over another?

What other factors affect internet (& wireless network) speed  & reliability?

My wireless router supports setting up another wireless network (5G). Would using two separate networks on the wireless network (one for me, one for the neighbors) allow any benefit?

I'm trying to determine whether it would make sense to reduce the number of users on our internet (by having the neighbors get their own internet connection) or, alternately, to buy a more expensive service which promises higher internet speeds.

Any insight into this matter?

Thanks

Tom
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Question by:tommelkonian
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Accepted Solution

by:
Dave Baldwin earned 100 total points
ID: 40218610
The bandwidth for your DSL connection is shared by all of the people using the internet in your network.  Two separate wireless networks running thru the same DSL connection does not increase the available bandwidth.  Having your neighbors get their own DSL internet connection would effectively increase the bandwidth available to you at peak usage.  

Most of the time when you are measuring 15Mbps or higher, you are probably the only one using the internet at that time.  If two people tried running the speed test at the same time, it should cute the available bandwidth for each user by half.
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Assisted Solution

by:Akinsd
Akinsd earned 100 total points
ID: 40218617
Visualize your traffic as a bridge - The more cars on the road, the slower the traffic. This is more obvious with wireless. Wireless technology has no way of detecting collision so it is designed to avoid it. Literarily, users take turns to send traffic. This happens in split seconds. The more the users connected wirelessly, the longer it takes to get turns and this is results in lower traffic per second. Network speed is measured by Mbps (Megabits per second). This is similar to but not exactly like token ring in terms of taking turns.

You can monitor your network to determine the cause of slowness. Audio streaming consumes bandwidth and video streaming consumes even more bandwidth.

5G or 2.4G are just modes of connection, it will not make any difference on your speed. It's like having 2 entrances to the bridge or freeway - the entrances have nothing to do with freeway congestion but rather how many cars are on the freeway.

Prioritizing traffic may help. This can be done with Quality of Service (QoS) If your router supports it, then you can set low priority or set a cap on audio or video stream. Enterprise routers have ability to prioritize an IP over others, but I'm not aware if that exists in home routers.

There are free tools out there that you can use to monitor your traffic: The Dude; OPManager; etc

....and yes, increasing you bandwidth through your ISP may help. This is similar to expanding the width of the freeway.

The other option like you mentioned would be having the neighbors go through a separate bridge, ie getting their own internet.

I hope this helps
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Assisted Solution

by:mrroonie
mrroonie earned 100 total points
ID: 40219356
wired connections usually take priority over wireless, so anything plugged into the router will usually have a higher speed than a wireless connection.

or as said above you can also buy a router where you can specify bandwidth usage via IP/MAC address - if you do this you can prioritise the connections in your household over the neighbours. which is what i'd do - you're doing them a favour by sharing so why should you suffer slow speeds?
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Assisted Solution

by:schaps
schaps earned 100 total points
ID: 40219622
To make an accurate determination, you'd need a router that can give you detailed client information. Without knowing what you have, it's hard to say. But since you don't know how many neighbors are using it, you can only guess. Five neighbors could have 20+ connected devices. One could be connecting a bridge to your signal and spreading the signal further to 10-20 other devices.

To answer your one question, YES, definitely activate the 5 Ghz network and give it a different name and password reserved for your use. I think you will undoubtedly find an overall speed improvement. Apple devices have been able to use 5 Ghz wifi for many years, yours will probably be able to use it.

The answers before mine were all generally correct but failed to account for a very important factor: you share your 2.4 Ghz connection with neighbors, which means that some are probably connecting at very slow data rates, and that drags down the speed for all other users on the same wireless network. The greater the distance and number of walls and obstructions, the lower the effective data rate of a client connection.

Here's how you can think of this: imagine a group of three fast talkers at a table having a conversation. This is analagous to you alone at home using your internet connection. Now imagine a slow-talking guy (we all know one or two) joins the conversation. To be polite, the fast talkers wait for the slow talker to finish his sentences, but it definitely slows the pace of their conversation, but only when the slow talker is talking.

Wireless technology works the same way, only one client can be talking at one time. Every client on your 2.4 Ghz connection outside your house is a "slow talker." If you had just one, you'd probably not notice. A lot of them can definitely drag down the speed you experience, even though you are close to the router. Getting yourself on the dedicated 5 Ghz network should make sure that your connection to the router is maxed. Now, since your ISP speed is still quite a bit slower than your wireless speed, your experience will still be affected by the total bandwidth being used at any one time by your 2.4 Ghz neighbors, but I have no doubt your speed experience will improve overall.

If you're sharing this connection at no cost, I think it would be reasonable for you to require these neighbors to register the MAC addresses of their devices with you so you can track who is connected at any one time. For the security of your network, you should have them on a separate subnet firewalled off from your data, but that's a topic for a different question.

P.S. I am sure you know that most ISP's have strict rules about sharing connections with neighbors, so be careful
P.P.S. Open-Mesh makes devices for this type of usage. If you kept your router connection for yourself, bought one Open-Mesh device for the base and required these neighbors to buy their own Open-Mesh bridge to spread the signal, you could track the users and bandwidth using the free cloud-based interface and free smartphone apps and even set usage caps by user: http://www.open-mesh.com
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by:pgm554
pgm554 earned 100 total points
ID: 40221515
Wireless A B G and N on the same wireless connection can cause speed issues because a client connecting with a older protocol (B) will slow the wireless down.

That means the G and N clients will take a speed hit until it quits talking on the network because the AP goes into legacy B mode.
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Author Comment

by:tommelkonian
ID: 40242439
Thanks for all your comments.

One last question: I'm using a Netgear n600 modem/router. Its software dashboard shows all attached devices, but does not show how much bandwidth each device is using.

Is there software I can install to get more detailed info on bandwidth usage? Or do I need to use a different modem/router to get this kind of information.
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Expert Comment

by:Dave Baldwin
ID: 40242543
I have used Linksys, Netgear, Comtrend, and Actiontec routers and none of them shows the bandwidth used by each device.  Maybe one of the business grade Cisco routers would do that.
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Author Comment

by:tommelkonian
ID: 40242616
Thanks. I was wondering if. using my existing router, there might be software available to install on my system and get that info.
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LVL 10

Expert Comment

by:schaps
ID: 40242671
I doubt it, unfortunately. The open-mesh routers I mentioned can do it, but I've never seen any other consumer-grade routers capable of tracking that information.
Have you tried connecting to the 5 Ghz radio to see if the speed is better when the network is being used heavily?
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LVL 30

Expert Comment

by:pgm554
ID: 40242695
You can try this:

http://www.solarwinds.com/lp/network-bandwidth-analyzer-pack.aspx

I know there are firewalls that have the ability to track bandwidth usage by IP or mac address,but no cheapie routers.
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Expert Comment

by:Akinsd
ID: 40242856
Most monitoring tools will give you bandwidth usage data
eg OPManager (10 devices free) , What'supgold, PTRG (10 devices free) , The Dude (Free), Solarwinds

http://superuser.com/questions/94499/how-to-monitor-bandwidth-use-of-each-device-on-wifi-network

http://www.experts-exchange.com/Networking/Network_Management/Network_Analysis/Q_26538296.html
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LVL 10

Expert Comment

by:schaps
ID: 40243846
@Akinsd - I don't believe any of those tools work without some additional equipment: a business-class router/firewall or a linux box with two NICs, etc. The OP clearly wants to use his existing router and asked about software he could install.
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LVL 18

Expert Comment

by:Akinsd
ID: 40244721
The monitoring tools are standalone and can be installed on any computer. He will need to enable SNMP on the router for the tools to connect. Once connected, He can navigate to the tool options of the Monitoring Application as needed.
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LVL 10

Expert Comment

by:schaps
ID: 40249426
He will need to enable SNMP on the router for the tools to connect.
Are you certain this works on his router or just speculating? I was able to find very little information regarding SNMP options on that router.
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Author Closing Comment

by:tommelkonian
ID: 40256539
I appreciate all you information/feedback. Thanks
Tom
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