Introduction

I ran into the ever common problem of slow WiFi recently. In this post I want to detail the experiments I ran and what I gleaned from the results.

Setting the Stage

First I'll describe the setup I have for my home wifi network and the problems I was experiencing.

Symptoms:

  • No problem streaming Netflix
  • Trouble loading web pages occasionally

I had a weird set of problems in that I typically could stream episodes of shows on Netflix without any huge problems, but sometimes loading sites would be unbearably slow. It was common enough to be a huge pain, but the times when it worked well confused me. Why was it only sometimes slow?

Hardware:

Investigation

I wanted to check if my internet was actually slow or whether I was just impatient. I ran speedtests from several different providers, and it was in fact slow. (billed speed was 100 Mb/s, observed was between 3-8 Mb/s).

At first, I was convinced that Comcast was to blame for my slow wifi speed.
However, I ruled this out by checking the internet speed over ethernet. Comcast was delivering speeds to my router that were much higher than I was observing at my laptop. (observed ethernet speeds between 56-75 Mb/s)

Next, I wanted to establish a baseline for what the point to point speed on my network was. This came out around 5 Mb/s which was really slow!

Next, I thought maybe there was a lot of WiFi congestion in my area. Maybe my router was picking a congested channel, or there was some kind of crazy interference in my apartment. To test this, I ran my raspberry pi right next to my router in AP mode. I was very surprised when the Raspberry Pi was able to get 33 Mb/s running on the same channel as my router.

Experiments

Speed Tests

Ran speed tests on 3 different sites: fast.com (Netflix's Speed test site), speedof.me (Javascript based graphs and reports), and speedtest.net.

Results:

  • Fast.com: 8 Mbps
  • speedtest.net: 4.6 Mbps
  • speedof.me: 3.15 Mbps

Raspberry Pi on Ethernet

Setup:

I plugged my Raspberry Pi into the ethernet port of my router. I then downloaded speedtest-cli (a CLI for running speed tests against speedtest.net). I also ran a test with wget[1]

Results:

  • speedtest-cli: 75 Mb/s
  • wget: 6.9 MB/s => 56 Mb/s

Laptop to Laptop communication

Setup:
I installed iperf on 2 laptops. Laptop 1 is running Linux on a 2011 Macbook Air and was running iperf -s (the server). Laptop 2 is a 2017 Macbook Pro running iperf -c. I started out running with the default parameters which runs a test for 10 seconds, then switched to longer times using iperf -c -t 60 to run the test for 60 seconds.

Results:

  • Average for 10s (6 trials): 17.7 Mb/s
  • Average for 60s (3 trials): 5 Mb/s

Raspberry Pi as AP

Setup:
I put my raspberry pi in AP mode[2] and had my laptop connect to it directly.

Results:

  • iperf -c -t 60 : 33.4 Mb/s

Conclusions

My conclusion is that my router is not performing. I tried power cycling it to see if that would help, but the measurements were the same after. I am not certain why this is the case, especially since it is supposed to have 13 antennae which I would expect to lead to high LAN bandwidth. My next experiment is to order some UniFi hardware and see if was that improves the situation[3].

I never got a good answer as to why I was able to stream Netflix but regular websites would have trouble loading.

Hopefully my new hardware does the trick. I plan on writing a follow up post when I have it all set up to see if it makes a difference.


  1. The exact command I ran: wget --output-document=/dev/null http://speedtest.wdc01.softlayer.com/downloads/test500.zip NB: wget reports speeds in megaBYTES not megaBITS (like most wifi tools). Multiply by 8 to get a comparable number. ↩︎

  2. To setup a Raspberry Pi as an AP, I used hostapd and udhcpd which you can find instructions for on raspberrypi.org ↩︎

  3. I am going with a USG and a UniFi AP AC Lite. I went with Ubiquiti based on recommendations from some coworkers and a blog post by Troy Hunt that describes similar frustrations as mine. I debated whether to get an EdgeMax router over the USG after seeing some discussion in Troy's gist. I ended up going with the USG since I don't believe I'll benefit from the more advanced configuration opions of the EdgeMax, and I like the idea of all of it working with the UniFi portal. ↩︎