The resources below provide tips and guidance, compiled by IT experts across the university, to improve your home network experience. Every home setup is different, so please consult with your Internet Service Provider (ISP) for specific details.
We understand that optimizing your home internet can feel overwhelming, and there is a lot to consider. Not sure where to start? Try these steps:
- Check your gear. Whether you own or rent your modem and router, consider updating your equipment.
- Check your plan. Are you paying too much or too little based on your needs, and is your ISP providing you with their latest options? Need help paying for broadband? There are resources that can help you cover the costs of getting or staying connected.
- Check your ISP options. Broadband can be delivered by fiber, cable, phone line, fixed wireless, cellular, and satellite systems. The availability of new options is expanding, and there are easy ways to find out what might work best for your service address.
- Browse our Home Networking Reference for information on the basics of home networking and the details behind these recommendations.
- If you rent a gateway (combined modem/WiFi router) or individual network components from your ISP, contact your ISP to ensure they are providing you with the latest supported equipment and exchange any outdated gear if not.
If you own your home network hardware, consider updating it. Below are listed several types of network hardware with suggestions for making choices about each. New brands and models are regularly reviewed by technology publications to help you find quality products.
These products are widely available where electronics are sold, and some may be available from the U-M Tech Shop.
- Cable Modem
A cable modem connects to the TV cable jack in your home and provides internet service to your home network from a cable ISP like Comcast Xfinity or Charter Spectrum. If your cable modem is more than eight years old, it is likely no longer supported by your ISP. If it is more than three years old, it likely cannot use the latest technology that your ISP has deployed. We recommend investing in a DOCSIS 3.1 cable modem.
- Unmanaged Ethernet Switch
An unmanaged switch allows you to connect Ethernet plug-and-play wired devices to your network. The switch requires no setup or configuration to use.
- WiFi Router
If you don’t use a gateway (combined modem/router) from your ISP, a separate WiFi router connects to your modem and broadcasts a WiFi signal throughout your home. We recommend Wi-Fi Certified 6 routers.
- WiFi Mesh System
If you live in a larger home (i.e., 1,500 sq. ft. or larger), you might consider a "mesh" WiFi product. Mesh systems include a main router plus one or more satellite devices that you place around your home to distribute the WiFi signal better. We do not recommend using WiFi "range extenders," which can diminish network service and cause radio interference.
- WiFi Adapter for Older Hardware
If the WiFi radio in your laptop or desktop is not capable of at least WiFi 5 (802.11ac), you may experience slower speeds or other connectivity issues. One way to fix this without buying a new computer is to disable the integrated/existing WiFi radio and use a USB adapter with newer technology. If your computer is located on the floor, in a metal enclosure, or in another space that creates conditions for poor reception, consider using a USB cable to elevate the WiFi adapter for better performance.
- Cable Modem
- Are you getting the most for your money? As technology improves and ISPs offer faster speeds for similar prices, they do not necessarily upgrade their existing customers. Review your plan and cost against your ISP's (and other ISPs') current options. If there's a gap, contacting the "retention" department of your ISP can help you get a faster plan, often for the same or lower cost.
- Do you have a data cap? A data cap is an ISP-imposed limit on the amount of data allowed over a network. Not every ISP has a data cap, and going over your data cap can mean paying extra fees. In certain circumstances, hitting a data cap can also limit your speeds or reduce the priority of your traffic on an ISP’s network.
- Does your plan speed match your needs? Selecting an appropriate plan for your needs depends on the number of devices on your network, the cost-effectiveness of the plans available to you, and your specific use cases. Not all ISPs advertise their upload speeds. If you cannot find this information, it is important to ask. You most likely do not need the fastest internet speeds offered by your ISP, but it is useful to compare the Mbps per dollar of the plans available to you to find the most cost-effective one.
- Are you getting the speeds for which you’re paying? Test your network speed. Many factors can affect these results, including the device you’re using to run the test, your home network equipment, and factors outside your home.
Note: Speeds may be lower when using a VPN. We recommend testing both with and without the VPN enabled.
- Do you need help paying for broadband? During the COVID-19 emergency, the FCC is providing an Emergency Broadband Benefit to users who meet low-income eligibility requirements. Major national ISPs separately offer low-cost plans to keep you connected — check their websites for details. For users in Michigan, the state has a list of Home Internet Options* for the Economically Disadvantaged.
Is your current ISP not meeting your needs, or are you looking to establish new service at your address? It can be useful to compare your options to determine which ISP that serves your address best meets your needs and which options are most cost-effective.
Refer to BroadbandNow’s Internet Providers in Ann Arbor, Michigan for a list of fiber, cable, DSL, fixed wireless, and satellite Internet Service Providers in Ann Arbor and links to contact information, plans, and pricing information. Not in Ann Arbor? Enter your Zip Code in the Zip Code Search field of BroadbandNow to find Internet Service Providers in your area.
Two new technologies are emerging that can provide internet service in limited areas: 4G/5G cellular and low-latency satellite. It’s recommended to check which of these is available at your address and compare that with the established technologies above. These options vary widely in performance and cost.
A list of these providers is below:
- Are you unserved or underserved? If you live in an area of Michigan that is unserved or underserved by internet providers, please help the State of Michigan, U-M, MSU, and Merit Network collect data to inform current and future broadband development efforts and assist community organizations by completing The Michigan Moonshot survey. The FCC is also collecting detailed information from people across the country who are unable to receive service or have slow or unusable access to broadband.
Internet and WiFi basics
Many variables contribute to your internet and WiFi experience at home:
- Internet bandwidth available in your area.
- Internet plan you have selected from your provider.
- Home location and size.
- Your work location and proximity to home router.
- Number of other people connected to your home network and the bandwidth/performance requirements of their activities (e.g., playing video games, downloading files, or streaming videos).
- Number of devices connected to your home network, proximity to your WiFi router/mesh points (closer is better), and the type of WiFi radio technology in your devices.
Download speeds for common activities per device:
- 1-5 Mbps for checking email, browsing the web, VoIP calling, and online gaming.
- 5-10 Mbps for streaming HD videos or videoconferencing.
- 15-30 Mbps for streaming 4K videos or using cloud-based online game services.
- 100+ Mbps for intensive use (e.g.,frequently downloading online games or other large files.
Upload speeds for common activities per device:
- 2 Mbps for checking email, browsing the web, VoIP calling, SD videoconferencing, and online gaming.
- 5 Mbps for HD videoconferencing or live video broadcasting/streaming.
- 10-20 Mbps for large file uploads/cloud backup or uploading creative/media content.
- 100+ Mbps (symmetric upload speed) for intensive use (e.g., large file transfers).
Interpreting speed test results:
- Download speed. How quickly content from the internet transfers to your computer.
- Upload speed. How fast you can upload content to the internet. Upload speeds are typically significantly lower than your download speed except on fiber optic services.
- Ping. The amount of time it takes data to travel from your device to the test server on the internet. Anything below 20ms is a great ping result, while anything over 100ms results in noticeable lag. Normal results are in between these numbers and can vary widely. This is the most important of the three numbers for videoconferencing and call performance.
Basic Troubleshooting Steps
- Restart your network equipment monthly.
- Relocate yourself or your router. Where you place your router can affect your WiFi coverage. The closer your device is to the router, the faster the connection.
- How old is the physical cable connecting the modem to the wall? Worn or bent coaxial cable, old splitters, in-home amplifiers, and cable that is over 20 years old will cause reliability and service issues.
- Can you use a wired connection? Though not feasible for all homes or people, consider using an Ethernet cable to connect directly to your WiFi router if possible. A wired connection to your router can be faster, more stable, and less affected by other devices in your home.
Advanced Troubleshooting Steps
Domain Name System (DNS): DNS is an internet service that translates domain names (e.g., its.umich.edu) into IP addresses that computers can understand. We use an IP address much like a postal address, in that it uniquely identifies one or more devices on a computer network. Sometimes, when a browser is unable to establish a connection to the internet, it is because the DNS server was unable to return a corresponding IP address. You may see an error such as "DNS server not responding." This error can be due to the DNS server being temporarily unavailable.
When troubleshooting this issue try the following:
- Navigate to a different website. It may be an issue with the particular website you're visiting.
- Change your web browser. Navigate to the particular website you want using an alternative web browser (e.g., Chrome instead of Firefox). If this solves the problem, confirm you are using the most updated version of your preferred web browser.
- Temporarily deactivate your firewall. If you can access the desired website when your firewall is temporarily deactivated, then the firewall is the issue.
- Restart your router. Sometimes, you can resolve connection problems by restarting the server. You can do this by pushing the power button on your router. Another way is with a "hard reboot," which means pulling the power cord out of the plug and waiting 30 seconds before plugging it back in.
Change your router channel. Signals from other wireless networks can impact your internet speed. Try signing in to your router's administrator interface and selecting a channel manually to see if the new channel provides a better signal and faster speeds. You can find how to access this admin interface via your router manual.
- 2.4 GHz users: Choose channels one, six, or eleven.
- 5 GHz users: Choose any of the channels listed.
Use a Quality of Service (QoS) tool. Many routers come with QoS tools, which you can typically find under advanced settings in the network's administrator interface. You can use QoS settings to prioritize applications like videoconferencing.
User manuals: Refer to your vendor documentation (e.g., router manual, ISP documentation). These documents can provide you with troubleshooting instructions on your specific system/hardware.
Articles: Many articles and blogs are available online. Here are several articles ITS Network teams found that may be helpful:
- Top WiFi problems and how to fix them
- How do I troubleshoot my wireless network
- Recommended settings for Wi-Fi routers and access points
- How to Find the Best WiFi Channel for Your Router on Any Operating System
- How to Improve Your WiFi Service (video)
The tips in this document are provided by ITS Network teams, Neighborhood IT, and campus IT partners. While ITS does not deploy, install, operate, or support home office internet or devices, our networking experts wanted to share these tips as a starting place for you to begin your research. Online guides, articles, and blogs are also a valuable resource that may address your situation more specifically.