Why is my Wi-Fi so slow?

Exactly what is the distance limit for an 802.11N router, do you figure? I took my handy dandy iPhone around the house tonight to figure out why the internet felt so sluggish around the house sometimes. What I found is probably not surprising, but does raise some annoying problems.

I used the SpeedTest app for the iPhone, which also has a web counterpart.

My cable modem and router are plugged in upstairs, in the “home office.” I live in a townhouse, so there’s also below that a main level and a basement that’s the “home theater”/play room for my daughter.

My computer is plugged directly into the router, so let’s start with that as a baseline:

  • PING: 29ms
  • DOWNLOAD: 1.76 Mb/s
  • UPLOAD: 2.07 Mb/s

Uploads are faster than downloads? Isn’t it usually the other way around?

That established, let’s now go on wi-fi and move just outside the room with the router set up in it:

  • PING: 89ms
  • DOWNLOAD: 347.7 kB/s
  • UPLOAD: 255.5kB/s

Please note that the download and upload speeds are now in KILO and not MEGA, which is why the numbers look higher, but aren’t.

Now, one floor below:

  • PING: 84ms
  • DOWNLOAD: 316.5 kB/s
  • UPLOAD: 276 kB/s

We’re slowing down a tad, but no big deal. Heck, uploads are faster!

Then, we go to the basement:

  • PING: 181 ms
  • DOWNLOAD: 53.2 kB/s
  • UPLOAD: 3.8 kB/s

Things got bad in a hurry. Latency is twice as bad. Download speed is cut by something like 80%. Ditto the Upload speed.

So I tried turning off Wi-Fi and going to 3G and found this:

  • PING: 473ms
  • DOWNLOAD: 84.1 kB/s
  • UPLOAD: 11.5 kB/S

Latency shoots up drastically, but once the connection is made, uploads and downloads are faster than with the wi-fi 802.11N router.

So, what’s the solution? Is this just a matter of being stuck too far away from the router? Of being underground? Or do I need a new router that’s better at pointing directionally down? The current router doesn’t have antennae on it like the old LinkSys did, so I can’t point things in the right direction.