If you secretly suspect your parents invited you home for the holidays to not only see your darling face but also because they’re waiting for you to move the last 12 months of photos from digital camera to computer, you are not alone. Adult children of baby boomers are frequently tasked with tech support and the holiday season is the perfect time for your parents to capture your attention.
While this may seem like a chore because the internet feels so obvious to you, you’re probably rocking some untapped skills that could save your family a lot of time and frustration. If you want to give your family the gift of faster internet this season (and maybe show off a little), try this simple DIY home internet audit at the old homestead.
Houston, do we even have a problem?
Before you dive in with fancy fixes and shiny new equipment, it helps to get the lay of the land. Visit Speedtest.net for a free, quick assessment of how fast your parents’ internet speeds actually are. Or, connect to their Wi-Fi and then run our mobile Android or iOS app. The average download speed for the US is just over 50 Mbps for broadband connections. If you’re looking at speeds within 10 Mbps of that, you’re golden. If you’re not, you might have a little work to do. Check out that link above to see more precise city and state averages to find out what’s achievable in your hometown.
Step 1. Find out what type of service they’re paying for
If your parents’ internet bill says “dial-up” anywhere on it, you’ve just found the source of slow speeds. Infrastructure matters and even the fastest internet service provider (ISP) in the world is limited by the infrastructure your family is connecting with.
Whether you ask your parents to pony up for better service or you decide to pitch in to get them a faster plan, you’re already on the road to improving your family’s connection to the internet.
Step 2. Search out their modem and wireless router
Chances are that your parents have a modem/router combination that’s leased from their ISP. Many, many people do. If this is the case, you’re looking for one device. If not, you’re looking for two that are likely in close proximity to one another.
Whether one device or two, you want a modem and router that are:
- New(ish). While it is technically possible to use the same modem and/or router for five or more years, it’s a terrible idea if speed is at all a concern. Most modems and/or routers really only have a two- to three-year lifespan, and if your parents have waited longer than that to upgrade their equipment, those devices are probably slowing whatever speeds they are paying for waaaaay down. The latest routers operate on the 802.11ac standard. If your family’s computer is compatible with that, a new router makes a great holiday gift. Especially if you set it up for them. If you don’t know what to look for, check out PC Mag’s “Best Wireless Routers for 2016.”
- Centrally located. Your parents’ modem is probably close to where service comes into the house. Or it’s in an office or a closet. The location of the modem doesn’t really matter because it’s just translating the service into something your parents can actually use. What does matter (and this matters A LOT) is where the router is located. If it’s out of range of where your family members actually use their Wi-Fi, they’re likely to suffer from slow speeds and dropped connections. Don’t put a router in a basement closet. That’s where your childhood trophies live. Even if a router is located near the computer, make sure it isn’t obstructed by objects like doors, chimneys or thick plaster walls that might weaken the signal. And if your parents still live in the big family home, consider setting up a wireless repeater for them.
- Password-protected. Bandwidth matters. And while your parents probably aren’t streaming Netflix while playing a PlayStation game in one room and uploading 1,000 photos at a time in another, if their network isn’t password-protected, they might be inadvertently providing internet to the neighbors. Sharing may be caring, but it’s okay to expect everyone on the street to pay for their own internet. Especially if there’s a bandwidth hog on the block.
Step 3. Check the age of their computers
Computers, tablets and phones are a little like race horses, once they reach a certain age, they’re never again going to set any records for speed (particularly when it comes to supporting modern Wi-Fi standards like 802.11ac). It’s perfectly okay if your family is happy plugging along in a bygone age of internet speeds, but if that were true you wouldn’t be reading this article. If all the devices you come across are of a certain age, it might be time to upgrade at least one to the modern era and designate that laptop or tablet for any internet use that requires speed.
Step 4. “Have you tried turning it off and on again?”
You’ve probably heard this line any time you’ve reached out to a tech support professional for anything. That’s because it works! Turning a computer, router or modem off and then back on can sometimes clear up lingering issues present on the network. Simply unplug the power from both the modem and the router. After 60 seconds, plug the modem back in. Give it a minute or two to fully reboot, after which you can plug back in the router. If the internet’s running faster, you’ve already won.
Step 5. If all else fails… Call the ISP
If you’ve gotten this far, you have done an awesome job troubleshooting your family’s internet speed woes. But some things you just can’t fix on your own. So if you’ve discovered slow speeds despite a rocking router in a central location, newish devices and a squatter-free network, it’s time to call in the pros. Take heart that you’ve done your due diligence and see if you can schedule a service window before you skip town.
Step 6. Download the Speedtest app
Congratulations! You’ve probably just improved your family’s internet speeds by leaps and bounds. You’ve certainly made them feel loved. If you want to build on all this good work, download the free Speedtest app for your parents’ Windows and Mac computers. That way they’ll have a quick measure of internet speed to reference the next time they need your help. If your dad’s like mine, he’ll present you with a spreadsheet of results graphed out over time so you can really dig into the data. Yay.
For extra bonus brownie points
If your family is still experiencing internet issues, or if you just want to pay your parents back for the lifetime of free storage they’ve provided for your childhood mementos, go the extra mile with any (or all) of the following tech-y projects:
- Uploading and cataloging photos
- Installing and running antivirus software
- Deleting toolbars
- Creating a family email distribution list
- Choosing one internet browser
- Managing passwords
- Printing address labels for their holiday cards
- Removing cookies
- Clearing the cache
- Blocking pop-ups
Happy holidays from the team at Speedtest by Ookla, and cheers to a speedy 2017!