Having a stable internet connection in your home is becoming increasingly important. Having a problem arise with your connection at any point in the day can range from an inconvenience to a disaster, especially if someone in your family has schooling or work that is reliant on the internet (a common prospect in these times).
So, if something does happen, that means you need to work on the problem right away. And given the number of causes for a poor or unstable internet connection, that means troubleshooting. While this can be a daunting process, especially for those who weren't born into a world filled with computers, you can do it with a bit of patience and the right guide.
You provide the patience, and the guide is right down below:
A Few Notes Before Starting
- Given the complex nature of internet troubleshooting, we would be remiss not to mention the following caveats and notes:
- Ultimately only you know the layout of your house and the nature of your internet connection and devices. If you know for a fact that a step below is not the problem, then skip it according to your judgment.
- We would ask you to practice safety first. While there is no inherent danger in most of the steps listed, you will be working with electrical devices, and perhaps looking at cables in a few instances. Please do not try anything dangerous unless you are a professional and call your ISP or a professional if it seems warranted.
- The below steps might look a little different for everyone depending on the type of internet service you receive and the equipment you have. While we will try to go into each possibility, someone working off DSL internet might have a different process than someone with a cable internet connection.
- In general, we tried to move forward in a logical order of operations with these steps. If in the odd instance where a later step would be incredibly easy to perform and an earlier step would be harder or impossible, we recommend you try what makes sense.
- There are still anomalies when troubleshooting the internet. They will pass, and the next day everything could be back to normal for months. Power outages and freak accidents to cable lines occur, and all you can do is wait them out. What we are focusing on here are long-term problems.
Main Troubleshooting Steps
While you may do these out of order if you have your suspicions, you should start at step one and move forward in most cases. As a general rule, we recommend keeping your credit card sealed away until absolutely necessary. You should be able to do everything below with resources you already have or should have regardless of internet quality.
1. Use Other Devices and Networks to Test the Nature of the Problem
The first question you should ask when troubleshooting your internet problems is, "Is this my computer, or is this my general internet connection?" There are a few key ways to do this:
- Try connecting your device to a different network if one is available. If it works just fine, then there is something wrong with your modem or general network setup. You can work mostly on troubleshooting steps related to those items. If not, then it might be more device-specific.
- Ensure that it is not just your device that is having an issue by connecting multiple devices to the same network, ideally from the same general physical location. If there are only connection issues with your one device, then there is something wrong with your ethernet cable, WiFi receiver, settings or firmware on your computer, or another computer or device-specific problem.
- One last thing you might wish to try is to set up multiple devices in the same location and see if the WiFi just isn't working in one particular area of your home. If things are otherwise OK, then you may need to set up elsewhere, improve the signal, or find a way to remove whatever is blocking the signal.
Other homes may require more specific tests, but working with the above three inquiries will usually provide you with the information you need.
2. Perform an Internet Speed Test
A speed test is the second of two crucial information-gathering steps. Performing a speed test on your home network will almost certainly not solve the problem, but it might narrow down the cause of the issue.
To do so, you can use a speed test site (there are plenty available, just pick one that you think works the best for you) and perform multiple tests. There are also programs and apps available, but we find them mostly unnecessary. For more accurate data, we recommend the following:
- That you do so on multiple devices in your household, perhaps as part of the testing you did in the previous step. We recommend you use the same speed test provider for the sake of consistency.
- If it's a lingering problem, test at multiple times per day, preferably under the same conditions. Some ISPs have difficulty providing their advertised speeds at all times of the day, especially during peak hours. This sort of testing can tell you what service you're really getting.
- If there are discrepancies, and regular ones, then it is more likely the problem lies with your ISP (or something your ISP controls) and not you or your equipment.
- Perform a few tests in a row and make sure they are consistent. We recommend this whenever and wherever you test if you have the time (and tests usually don't take longer than a minute).
- If you can find a test to help measure your ping rate as well as your download speed, this will be helpful. This is particularly relevant if your internet problems are affecting your online gaming or video chatting activities. Bandwidth is important, but so is latency.
So what do you do with the information you collected?
- If the results are consistently slower than you expected in all places and at all times of the day, you should look more into equipment failure, either on your end or on the end of the ISP. It's also possible your internet connection is being deliberately throttled, which you should look into as soon as possible.
- If there are only problems on one device, then that's further confirmation that something related to the device is the issue.
- If there are only problems at a particular time of day (and its consistent), you can probably rule equipment out of the list of potential causes.
- If you can't even run the speed test in the first place because the connection isn't working, then the problem is severe, and there should be something you can do about it. As mentioned earlier, this is certainly the case if all of your devices present this issue consistently.
3. Check Your Settings and Perform a Virus Scan
The other main step you should take is to check your security settings and perform a virus scan on your computer using a reputable security suite. If it is free and isn't part of your original OS package, like Windows Defender, it probably isn't the most reliable option. It might take a few hours at most, and realistically you should be performing one regularly anyway. Remember to remove what the scan recommends removing.
However, a virus scan isn't the cure-all for viruses, malware, and problematic programs. If you let the malware in and give it permission, then that's the equivalent of having a home security system and giving a burglar the security access code and a plate of chocolate chip cookies. In these cases, you will need to investigate the programs you are using and deleting or uninstalling the offender, which might be disguised. Some common types of culprits include:
- Some types of malware will hook up your computer to a botnet, using its processing power and internet connection to perform tasks for a host, with some being rather internet intensive.
- Certain types of ransomware may block your internet connection partially or wholly until you pay to have it "removed." Remember never to give in, as they will just want more.
- General viruses and malware, among other problems, may mess with your connection.
If the problem is a virus, it will probably seem as though something else in addition to your internet connection is wrong so that you may notice it quickly. If the connection is good and remains solid after you remove some malware and perform a scan, then you might have just solved the problem.
4. Check Your Modem
How often have you heard the words "reset your modem" when you are working on fixing your internet? Probably more than you would care to remember. In some cases, hitting the reset button on the modem will do the trick, and you will have your internet working again after a minute or two.
The real issue is when you must do this every couple of hours or even more frequently just to maintain a connection—constantly resetting means that you cannot maintain a sustained connection for things such as video calls. This is unacceptable, and you should still consider your internet as not functional if this is the case, no matter what your ISP might tell you.
There might also be other problems with your modem. You should investigate the lights and other signals coming from it to determine the issue, as explained in the instruction manual. If you no longer have the modem manual with you, you can almost certainly find it online for troubleshooting purposes.
If it is a particular area of your house with problems and you have a modem plus routers, the issue might be with a single router. In that case, effectively do the same steps above for the router, and perhaps prepare to replace it if you know it is not working.
5. Check Your Firmware and Settings
This may not be a common issue when it comes to internet problems, but it is by far one of the most frustrating and, in some cases, most challenging to deal with if you don't know this could be a problem in the first place. Fortunately, now you know. As for what firmware is, you can consider it deeper level programs that allow your hardware and devices to work at a more fundamental level.
If you're interested in updating it, you should probably look up the model of your modem, wireless receiver, and/or router, and find the firmware for it. It should be available on the manufacturer's site, try to avoid other websites saying they have it. After that, carefully follow the installation instructions until the update is complete.
As for settings, there are a few culprits. For starters, make sure that your preferred network is the default network, and there are no auto-connect settings to the contrary. Otherwise, auto-connect may make it appear as though you're getting a slower or no connection at random intervals. Additionally, you need to consider whether your modem, computer, or other devices recently installed an automatic update that affected your settings or functionality. It is unlikely but possible.
There are also firmware settings to consider. These can be complicated, so if you're in doubt, we recommend that you either reset them to the default or leave them alone and get additional, more specific, help.
6. Improve Your Signal or Equipment
Sometimes to get the most out of your internet service or get it to start working properly, you might need to invest in some new equipment or put in some work to optimize your signal. We recommend the following to do this, and you can test out each individual tip as it might be most relevant to your setup.
- Your wireless receiver could be broken or due for an upgrade. This could be a likely candidate if your computer isn't receiving internet, but other devices in your household don't have any issues. Thankfully, they are relatively inexpensive, easy to plug in, and easy to setup. Just make sure to disable or disconnect the old one and make sure to get one that can utilize all your bandwidth.
- Your signal may be blocked in the area of the house that you're trying to pick up a signal. The solution could be one of or a combination of the following:
- You could use a new modem if you think that yours is old or needs a boost. This is especially helpful, and you should do so anyway, to get the most out of the service you pay for. You should also know that your ISP may replace it for you.
- You could check if anything is blocking the setup, and rearrange a few items around your device or modem/router.
- Sometimes you will just need a new modem, especially if yours is old. If you got it from your ISP, call them up, and explain the situation. If not, or if the ISP doesn't help, you can look up options and pick out a model that will suit your price range and needs.
- Don't throw your old one away. You may be renting it from your ISP, in which case you should return it for a reduction in your bill.
- If you need new routers, the same principles and general steps apply, although you're less likely to be renting a router from your ISP. Alternatively, you might want to add a couple more routers if you have a large house. However, the specifics will vary from household to household.
7. Check Your Wired Connection
By this, we don't mean check your ethernet cable, although if you haven't already, you should. You should be able to tell easily if your ethernet cable is the issue. Instead, we mean the wires and connections going into your house.
Naturally, if the lines are cut off in any way, you'll know quickly as there will simply be no service. Still, there will also be connections, outlets, and other equipment that might be compromised and affecting your connection. A loose wire is an easy fix, but if there are other issues, it is wise to call the appropriate professional, lest you put yourself in danger, or make things worse.
8. Call Your ISP
If you aren't sure where to turn to next or are confident that the way to fix the problem is out of your hands, you should call your ISP for assistance. Call either through a customer assistance number or a troubleshooting hotline available to you. Note that there might be some numbers for existing customers that will mean the time you spend holding for the next available representative will be much shorter, and you will be talking to someone who can help more directly.
By calling them, you might at the very least be able to get an answer. However, you should know that you might not be able to entirely trust the answer given on some occasions from some providers. If their answer makes you think "how could they possibly know this," then know that what you hear might be a guess, if an educated one. If they offer to send someone out, that is the best you can hope for, unless they can reset the connection to fix the problem on their end.
9. Upgrade Your Internet Service
After a certain point, if you are unsatisfied with your internet speeds and consistency and you've tried everything else, the answer might just be to switch providers, because it is the provider that is the issue. Even if the issue is out of their hands, that shouldn't be your problem, and you should take a better offer if it is available.
There are other guides on this very site if you're looking to see if a different provider can offer you a better deal. Before you take this step, you should make sure that it's nothing related specifically to your home. You'll just become more frustrated in the long run if you still run into the same issues after putting in the effort of changing companies. If you have a bad wire in your home, that will need to be addressed first.
Troubleshooting your internet isn't necessarily a hard task, as none of the steps involved require too much effort or technical know-how. The main problem is in the order of operations and the many potential issues that could be the cause. We hope that with this article, we have assuaged many of the fears associated with that. We hope you fix your problem as soon as possible (if you haven't already) and encourage you to save this article for future use.