Does Signal Affect Internet Speed?

futuristic wifi signal

You’ve probably tried to use the internet in an unfamiliar place, then quickly complained, “There’s no signal in here!” Does signal affect internet speed, or just whether you can connect at all? Let’s find out.

How Does Internet Service Through Wi-Fi or Mobile Data Work?

Before getting into any discussions about your internet signal, it’s necessary to understand how you get the internet through Wi-Fi or a smartphone. You’ll also need to know that a Wi-Fi signal gets transmitted with radio waves.

Every Wi-Fi router has a specific frequency band. There are smaller bands within each frequency band called Wi-Fi channels. These let wireless networks communicate with Wi-Fi-enabled devices. More specifically, each gadget contains a wireless adapter that turns data into radio signals. Your wireless router receives that information, decodes it, and then sends information to the internet via an Ethernet connection.

If you use mobile data to go online, each network contains thousands of individual, overlapping geographic areas called cells. Plus, each cell has a base station or tower. Your mobile phone converts voice, text, and data information into radio frequencies that the base stations and towers receive and send.

This process lets you connect to the internet on your phone. When someone mentions the signal when talking about their internet access, they mean the radio signals transmitted during the process.

Does Signal Affect Internet Speed Over Wi-Fi?

A poor signal can adversely affect your maximum internet speeds over a Wi-Fi connection. When the signal is too weak, it cannot overcome electromagnetic interference and noise in the environment. If that happens, data must get transmitted multiple times, which slows the overall performance.

Does Signal Affect Internet Speed on a Smartphone?

As you might imagine, the signal can affect your internet speed over a smartphone’s mobile data connection, too. During real-world conditions, radio signals only travel 22 miles or fewer from a cell tower.  Some kinds of weather can also make your signal worse.

Relatedly, the tower’s signal goes through a 50% reduction in power as you double your distance from it. That means your mobile data signal gets weaker as you move away from a tower, which can result in slower internet speeds.

How Can You Improve a Wi-Fi Signal or Speed?

A router’s placement can make a big difference in your internet experience. Ideally, you should put it in the center of your home so the signal can reach all corners of the abode.

Routers also perform better in open spaces. That’s because walls and other obstructions affect how well the signal transmits. An easy troubleshooting step is to perform a free internet speed test at various distances from your router. If the results worsen as you move away from the router, that may mean insufficient signal strength is the problem.

In 2015, federal regulators in the United States lifted wireless transmission power restrictions on routers. This change resulted in new routers being up to 20 times more powerful than older ones bound by the previous rules. If you have not purchased a router in several years, now may be the best time to make such an investment. Otherwise, moving the router closer to where you use the internet could solve the problem.

Some router designs feature external antennas. If yours has them, aim the antennas vertically. Putting the router up high — such as on top of a bookshelf — can improve the signal.

If you have a strong signal but experience slow speeds, the problem may be that there are too many people using the Wi-Fi at once. Consider coming up with a plan where people in the household stagger their most intensive internet usage, such as gaming, to occur when there are fewer users connected to the Wi-Fi.

What Are the Best Ways to Get a Better Mobile Data Signal or Faster Speeds?

If you’re shopping for a new mobile plan, one of the easiest ways to ensure you’ll have a good signal is to check the provider’s coverage map. Verify that your area has a reliable mobile infrastructure. If you travel often, check the coverage for your typical destinations, too.

Sometimes, you may notice that your phone still has a strong signal, but your mobile internet access is suddenly a lot slower. In that case, deprioritization or data throttling may be to blame.

The first issue often happens to people on lower-tier plans and using the network during peak usage. Temporarily slowing down your speeds improves the experience for other users. The best solution is simply to wait a while until the network is less crowded.

Data throttling happens to people who have used their allotment for the month. The internet remains usable, but at much slower speeds than normal. Purchasing more data — if available — should restore the quickness.

If your signal suddenly drops out when you should have sufficient coverage, try restarting the phone or toggling the mobile data feature on and off. These actions can reset the device, restoring your mobile signal and internet access.

The Signal Is Not the Sole Factor Affecting Speed

There is a correlation between the signal strength and the speed you get. However, it is not the only aspect that impacts the quickness of your internet connection. Overall traffic levels on your home or provider network play a role, and things may slow down on an outdated router or a phone that lacks the latest software.

Stand in a place where you should have a strong Wi-Fi or mobile data signal and try using the internet. If you still notice slow speeds, go through some of the troubleshooting tips explained here and elsewhere to pinpoint the cause. That’s a proactive approach to enjoying a better overall internet experience.