What Causes Wi-Fi Ping Spikes?

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Wi-Fi allows you to connect devices to your home network wirelessly, but compared to a traditional wired connection, the performance can be lackluster. Maximum speeds and latency can suffer, and engaging in gaming and other applications that require network responsiveness can be difficult. If you find your wireless devices encounter high ping times or regular spikes in ping times, it can be a sign of a few different problems.

Signal Strength

  • One of the biggest factors that can affect wireless performance is signal strength. Wi-Fi is a low-powered broadcast signal, since these devices must conform to FCC regulations. That means that distance and intervening objects can significantly attenuate the signal, lowering the strength to the point where network performance begins to degrade. Move your wireless devices closer to the router or base station to see if the latency improves. If it does, experiment with relocating the router or adding signal repeaters to increase the Wi-Fi signal throughout your home.

Channel Interference

  • Another factor that may cause lag spikes is interference on the Wi-Fi channel. Wi-Fi devices can communicate on multiple channels to allow for a crowded broadcast spectrum, and most devices from a given manufacturer are set to a default channel. This channel may be crowded, due to the presence of wireless networks in nearby houses or apartments. Switching to a different channel may relieve the network congestion, reducing your latency and improving Internet performance once more.

Environmental Interference

  • If switching channels doesn't help to end the lag spikes, it may be interference of another nature. Wi-Fi networks typically default to the 2.4-gHz band for their transmission needs, a spectrum that is shared by certain other devices. Cordless phones, car alarms and Bluetooth devices can all cause interference in the band used by a WiFi network, and may be the source of regular ping spikes. In addition, microwave ovens can create a field of interference across a large part of the spectrum at once, blocking any wireless communications in the affected area. Check your home for these devices, and if possible, relocate them to areas away from wireless networks to improve your latency issues.

Wireless Configuration

  • If no interference issues seem to be causing your lag spikes, it could be an internal configuration issue. Many devices default to a zero-configuration setup in which they search for active networks and allow users to log on with the appropriate password. However, some regularly scan the Wi-Fi spectrum while they're in use, and this scanning can create lag spikes with some regularity. If your device is set to discover new networks automatically, you may try turning off this option once your wireless setup is finished to prevent the scanning from interfering with your performance.

  • Photo Credit Thomas Northcut/Photodisc/Getty Images
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