WiFi iconThe problem: You have full signal bars (or close to full) on WiFi, but web pages load slowly or fail to load. Services say they are disconnected, or it feels like you’re on a very early dial-up modem. Sometimes other people have no issue with the WiFi, while you’re having slowness.

The issue may not be related to the signal strength of the WiFi or the quality of the internet connection, but instead to the transmitting signal strength of your device. The WiFi access point plugged into a 15 amp wall outlet may be capable of transmitting through a brick wall, but your low-power energy sipping device with a 2 amp battery that has to last all day may not possess the lungs to scream back through the ether to the WiFi router.

You can hear a perfect signal but if the WiFi access point can’t hear you, whatever you’re currently requesting doesn’t happen, and your device attempts to re-request it, over and over until either it gets it or there’s a timeout. With hundreds and sometimes thousands of requests to load a single page, this can turn into a shouting match of, “Give me this!” “Huh?” “Give me this!” “What did you say?”

Am I not just requesting one thing?

When you make a request via WiFi (or any way that involves TCP/IP actually) to access a web page, there are a lot of things that happen beyond your device saying, “Hey internet, give me this web page!” Your device makes a request to the DNS service to translate the domain name (for an example: “Pocketables.com”,) into an IP address. Once that’s done, your device opens a connection, receives a response from the web server, and requests the HTML page.

On the page are hundreds of elements hosted on that server (images, text, javascript, CSS, HTML) and on other servers (Analytics code, advertising to pay for yachts, external trackers, other images), and each one of those not hosted here needs the name looked up, translated to an IP address, connections have to be established, queries sent, data passed back and forth. Last time I checked, there were an average of two hundred elements that had to be loaded, posted, etc. on a website like Pocketables. Pocketables actually weighs in a little heftier due to our setup, but that’s some holiday gut we can hopefully work off.

Each requested element is also more than your phone just saying, “Hey, send me that element!” There are lower level TCP/IP calls for requests to connect, requests for data, keep-alive requests, packet data transmission, routing info – it’s been over 12 years since I actually studied TCP/IP, but getting an item off the internet involves a lot of back and forth communication. One slip up will probably not be noticed, but multiple dropped packets turns a three second page load into an extremely long and painful exercise in watching elements load. If they ever do.

What can be done?

When it’s a transmitting issue, your options are to get a better transmitter, add a WiFi antennae, turn off low-power WiFi mode, or move into a line of sight with the WiFi access point.

Mostly the first step is figuring out what the actual issue is caused by is finding the WiFi base station and seeing if standing near it helps by using an app like Ookla’s Speedtest to measure speed at different locations and distances from the base unit. From there, you can see how fast at various distances and hopefully find what’s causing the holdup.

Things to consider on signal strength

When contemplating what could be causing the hold-up, point from your device to where the WiFi router is. A straight line is what you want to imagine. Everything directly between your device and that base is what’s in the way. A one-inch door can be several feet of signal impediment at the right angle.

It could also be that your device or the WiFi access point are terrible or have a faulty transmitter or receiver, or the firmware of one or both devices needs to be updated.

The issue could also be demons.

It’s probably demons.