{ 14 Intelligent Comments }

Why Is Public Wifi So Slow??

Free Public WifiPublic Wifi And Its Woes

I previously mentioned connection problems with Windows Vista and 7 when trying to join some wireless networks.

This article got me thinking about other related problems especially when using public wifi in hotels, coffee shops and so on.

I’m just back home after travelling around Mexico and the most consistent and memorable part of my trip for all the wrong reasons was that the public wifi is awful.

To understand why this slowness happens and what you can do about it, I’ll firstly explain how a wifi or more correctly, a wireless router and broadband internet connection works and why it sometimes goes awfully slow!

Sharing is Caring, Right?  Wrong!

When we order our home broadband we tend to get very excited about the prospect of having 1MB or 8MB or 24MB or whatever connection speed you’ve been sold.

Often it is super quick too especially compared to our old dial up or ISDN lines but what’s really going on under the covers?

Let’s take an example:

You live in an apartment block and you’ve just bought an 8MB DSL broadband service from ACME Telecom.

So in the first instance, what does this 8MB figure mean? Well in theory it’s about 142 times faster then you’re old 56k modem but that modem was all yours; you did not share it with anyone.

That 8MB figure is the maximum theoretical speed that your broadband can achieve under perfect conditions with no one else sharing the line.

So how is it shared, I hear you ask?  No you’re not being hacked.  Your 8MB line could in theory be shared by the number of people specified in the contention ratio of your line.

Your Internet Provider will usually provide the contention ratio for your broadband service in the literature on their website and it normally ranges between 4:1 and 32:1 where a lower number is better.

It is this contention ratio that is the first factor in slowing down the line.

So back to our example and let’s say 3 of your neighbours in the same block have order the same package from the ACME Telecom.

In theory your bandwidth is now only around 2MB.

Of course, the line is not logically divided in such a way.  In fact, the line’s full bandwidth would be available to one person if the other three were not using it which by the way is when you should be using it – more on that later.

So how else is your line being used?

Have an iPhone or other smart phone? An iPad or other tablet? A second or third computer?

Let’s look at the computer you’re currently using – what programs are running?

Outlook polling for mail frequently, instant messengers, Skype, open browsers, windows updates, anti-virus programs….the list could go on.

Every one of these is sucking up the bandwidth of what’s left of your 8MB’s.

Apply this situation to a public internet situation such as a hotel lobby and there are potentially dozens of laptops, smartphones, etc sucking the connection dry, hence, sloooow internet.

So now you have an idea of what’s happening with a broadband connection I’ll give you some tips on how to find some speed when you’re using a public connection that’s a touch slow.

How To Find Some Wifi Speed In Public!

Quiet Area, quiet Wifi

Wherever you happen to be, if there are a lot of people around chances are the wifi is being used heavily. Find a quiet location and connect to the Wifi Access Point with the strongest signal.

In the case of a hotel, the lobby and bar are usually the busiest. Head to the business centre in the evenings. They’re usually empty and have dedicated wifi available.

Unnecessary Bandwidth Hoggers

Close programs you aren’t using, even if you think they’re not using the internet – they probably are.

Antivirus programs update lots, so does Windows, instant messengers are constantly polling for status updates and new messages, twitter clients and newsreaders do the same.

If you’re just trying to get onto your email or a particular website when out using public wifi then closing all that stuff down may just make the difference.

Timing Is Everything

Use public wifi off peak and you’ll notice a huge difference.

In my case, early morning in my Mexico hotel meant super quick connection speed just like home. As the day wore on however the connection got slower and slower and then in the evening time it was quick again while everyone was boozing and eating and sleeping.

All I used to see in my hotel lobby were people with laptops just looking, waiting and wondering why the connection was so poor.

Log In Wifi Is Better Than Shared Password

Try to find a public wifi where you connect to the wifi without a password and then have to login via a custom branded website belonging to the hotel or cafe or whatever.

If you are prompted for a password when connecting to the wireless network and you ask the concierge for the password and he hands you a scrap of paper this means it’s something of a home broadband package that isn’t really designed for dozens of users at once.

The log in style ones you get in airports, big hotel chains and out in the public domain are super super quick designed for many users and will usually be a contention ratio 1:1.

Hopefully, these few tips will help you on your next travels.


P.S.  A new tips submission section is coming soon to Proposed Solution where you can submit your own helpful tips for all to read.  We may even have a few giveaways for the best tips!  Watch this space!


Wow, 14 Comments! We've got a conversation going now. Join the discussion below!

  1. tem says:

    is there any way that i can suck all the bandwidth alone.
    i mean lets say if there are about 10 people can i redirect some of their bandwidth to my pc

      1. Random says:

        I will hate you (tem) for that!

    1. rocky says:

      use net cut software, u can get full bandwidth while others wont get internet in the network

  2. Raven says:

    when u say bandwith in an apartment block being shared by neighbours, how would you put it if other units subscribed to different packages of various speed? in my block there are those who subscribed to 5, 15 & 24Mb packages – different units in the same block. They are all registered under their own unit. so when i register for my own package does that mean i will be sharing with my neigbors even if it is password protected? Thanks

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