We have all experienced the frustration of having videos/films from YouTube, Netflix, Facebook, Twitter and so on buffer as we try to watch them on our home Wi-Fi connection.
Moreover, in some cases, we already have a fast internet package, with our provider promising us that buffering shouldn’t be a problem, yet it still happens a lot of the time.
Thankfully, there are lots of things we can try to solve this problem, including making some simple network and setup changes. If this doesn’t work, we might need to invest in a home networking product to get a better signal where we need it to stream videos.
Here are some quick solutions for fixing buffering when you are streaming on Wi-Fi:
- Reduce the video quality to reduce bandwidth demands.
- Quick reset your router and device to refresh signal
- Move your router and device closer together if possible.
- Use a wired connection if possible. A powerline adapter is a good alternative if you can’t run a cable directly.
- Use QoS settings on your router to prioritize streaming devices.
- Upgrade your internet package if your package is slow and you have lots of users
- Range Extenders may work as a last resort.
The first three options are fairly obvious, and are quick things to try which many in some cases solve buffering.
Regarding the video quality, see here for a guide on changing the video resolution in NetFlix, so it uses less bandwidth. For standard video sites like YouTube, the player has an option usually in the bottom right to change the resolution so it uses less bandwidth, which may stop the buffering.
If these quick steps don’t work, then it’s time to try some more fundamental solutions to get a better connection to your router, or at least manage traffic demands on the home network.
Let’s look at the issue of modern bandwidth demands, along with some more advanced solutions to try and stop video buffering.
Video and Film Streaming Can Use Quite a Lot of Bandwidth
With the growth of video content sites such as YouTube and Dailymotion and film sites such as NetfFlix, Amazon Video and Catch Up TV Players, online video streaming has become more and more prevalent in recent years, taking up a large portion of internet use especially in residential homes.
Video streaming is a popular form of internet use but it also uses a fair amount of bandwidth. For example, Netflix themselves mention that streaming movies or shows uses about 1GB per hour for standard definition video and around 3GB per hour for high definition movies. Ultra HD or 4K streaming can use upwards of 7GB of data per hour.
The bottom line on all of this is that you really need a good connection to stream high quality video these days, because it uses so much data.
Video streaming services such as Netflix and TV On Demand services are popular but can use a lot of bandwidth
And the problem is that Wi-Fi comes with a lot of problems, and isn’t always reliable. Let’s cover why in a bit more detail, before covering some solutions we can use for better streaming.
The Problem of Weak Wi-Fi & Video Buffering
The main reason why videos buffer on Wi-Fi boils down to two main causes:
- The wireless signal is too weak.
- There are too many users on the Wi-Fi and the router cannot keep up with all the traffic demands.
It is true that router technology and wireless receivers have grown more advanced in recent years in delivering better signals to more remote parts of a house, so some people experience no problems streaming with Wi-Fi even some distance from their router.
It depends on many factors such as the structure of the house and the quality and configuration of devices and routers.
It is also true though that signal degradation is unavoidably built into Wi-Fi as per the inverse square law of physics, which dictates that all RF signals (of which Wi-Fi is a type) will degrade the further they get from the source, in this case the router.
Manufacturers cannot avoid or negate this rule; the best they can do is hope to minimize signal degradation over distance to ensure it does not degrade too much more than this law dictates it already will.
This is why some people still experience buffering when trying to watch videos on Wi-Fi, especially if they are several rooms away from their router and/or have thick walls, doors and furniture in their house which can further block and disrupts signals.
This problem is further compounded by the fact that Wi-Fi operates on a half duplex system, which means that devices on a wireless home network can only send OR receive data at any one time but not both simultaneously. Also only ONE device can send or receive at any one time.
This opens up the huge problem of network congestion, especially in houses with lots of devices connected to the Wi-Fi at the same time, as the router is having to handle lots of different requests but can only process one at a time, send or receive.
This means all devices on Wi-Fi must “wait in line” for their traffic requests to be dealt with, adding to delays which can cause buffering when trying to stream.
Use Wired Connections When Possible
For all the reasons we just mentioned, this is why it is preferable to be on a wired ethernet connection if at all possible when you are streaming videos, so you get the best possible connection and the most bandwidth for streaming.
Wired connections are superior to Wi-Fi for streaming for 2 main reasons:
- Wired connections deliver a stronger more reliable signal with no obstruction or interference as there can be with Wi-Fi.
- Each wired connection has it’s own dedicated full duplex communication channel with the router, meaning that there is no problem of network congestion and no “waiting in line” for requests to be processed by the router as there is with Wi-Fi.
Wired ethernet connections to your router allow for a dedicated communications channel without the signal interference or network congestion that can happen with Wi-Fi
Use a Powerline Adapter If You Can’t Run An Ethernet Cable Directly
For those who cannot run ethernet directly to their router, a Powerline Adapter is an excellent next-best option that can provide a strong wired connection that takes advantage of the benefits we just mentioned over Wi-Fi without the need for any DIY or running long ethernet cables all through the house.
Given the high data usage levels we mentioned above for streaming, it is really important to have access to as much of the bandwidth of your internet packages as possible.
Powerline Adapters are a great way to do this as they provide you with a strong wired connection that can extract the maximum possible out of your internet package even from the other side of the house from your router.
They consist of a pair of adapter plugs, one of which is connected to your router and the other to the device you want to use. The adapters then communicate through the electrical wiring of the house and produce a wired internet connection anywhere you want in the home.
How Powerline Adapters Work – in 2 Minutes
TheTP Link Nano TL-PA4010 Kit model is an entry level, best selling no nonsense powerline adapter model with just one ethernet port and no passthrough. Click here to view on Amazon. It will provide a solid, wired ethernet connection to your router using the existing electrical wiring of your house. See our full review of the product and our Powerline Adapters page. Our Product Comparison Table compares all the wired and wireless powerline adapter models at a glance by feature and functionality.
They are a great solution to the problem of weak Wi-Fi signals and can allow buffer free streaming in any part of most homes. They are sometimes susceptible to interference and may need carefully positioning away from certain electrical equipment to work well.
They may also not work in very large or old houses where the copper circuitry is old and worn and/or the circuitry operates on different meters and feeds. In most houses you will be fine. See our article on the subject.
For the vast majority of cases in the vast majority of houses though they will provide an excellent reliable wired internet connection suitable for high bandwidth activities like streaming and downloading as well as gaming and general browsing. The newer generation of Powerline Adapters are also better at filtering out “noise” along the powerlines than the older models.
Powerline Adapters come with different transfer speeds and features so if you are interested in them be sure to check out our page on them for a full differentiated breakdown of the different TP Link brand products available on Amazon.
Powerline Adapter Pros:
- Deliver a wired connection and better speeds to avoid buffering.
- Entry level models are cheap.
- No nonsense, plug and play devices. No complex setup.
- Will work in many houses and apartments.
Powerline Adapter Cons:
- Will not work in houses with older or worn wiring, or multiple meters/feeds.
- Susceptible to interference, can often be overcome though.
- Standard models no use if you are connecting on portable devices. However, wireless powerline adapters available that produce a cloned Wi-Fi access point for iPhones etc.
Overall, powerline adapters, can be a great solution for many home video streamers who are having problems on Wi-Fi, especially if you are using devices which do have an ethernet port. For smaller devices, a wireless model or a range extender is a better option.
Use Quality of Service (QoS) to Prioritize Streaming on Your Home Network
Another potential cause of video buffering on Wi-Fi is simply that the home network is very congested, with lots of devices competing for the same bandwidth.
If you add this to being on Wi-Fi in the first place, with all it’s drop outs and weakening signals, then you can see why buffering can become a problem. Your router has too much to handle at once, and can’t keep everyone happy.
As well as getting onto a wired connection, another way of solving this problem is to tell your router to process traffic in a certain order to keep streamers happy.
Some routers have exactly this option – it’s called Quality of Service or QoS. It is a setting that allows you to prioritize certain devices on your home network, telling your router to handle certain traffic first, before anything else.
QoS is user more for gamers, since they need low latency or ping to play online without problems, but there is nothing stopping us using QoS to prioritize other devices on your home network instead, like streaming devices.
Here are the general steps for setting up QoS:
- Make a note of the IP and MAC address of your device. Obviously this varies with each device, but look in general for Connection/Network/Internet Settings menus.
- Log in to your router using the 192.168.x.x format in your address bar. 192.168.0.1 or 192.168.1.1 or 192.168.1.254 are most common, you will find the exact IP to use on the back of your router, or Google it online.
- Enter the username and password of the router; again they will be on the back of the router somewhere.
- Find Quality of Service settings within the router, usually under “Advanced Settings” or similar.
- You should see a list of devices on the home network. You should be able to identify yours by the MAC and IP address you noted down earlier. Your device might need to be on for the router to recognize it.
- Set your device to “Highest” or “Maximum” priority and make sure any non streaming essential devices are set to lower priority.
- Apply or save settings and exit the router. You should now have Quality of Service enabled for your device!
- Unfortunately, QoS is not available on all routers.
QoS in Action For Gaming (Works the Same For all Devices)
If you can get QoS configured correctly, you can essentially prioritize your streaming device on the network, making sure the router handles it’s traffic before anything else. This should help with buffering issues, especially on crowded networks, though you are best combining this option with also using a wired ethernet connection for best results.
It’s also true that QoS isn’t available on all routers, so this option may not be available for you. However, it’s worth having a look in your router settings and isn’t hard to set up.
Consider Upgrading Your Internet Package
This is something worth considering if these other options aren’t helping with buffering issues, AND you have a lot of users on the same home network.
If bandwidth demands are high, yet the available bandwidth on the package is relatively low, then it can make these issues worse, along with the fact that the router has too many demands to handle at once to keep everyone happy on Wi-Fi.
If you’ve got several high bandwidth users on your network (streamers and downloaders), then it is worth considering upgrading to a 100Mbps plus package if they are available in your area.
For US readers, see the table just below for some faster packages offered by the major providers. Coverage varies across the country.
|Provider||Package 1 Download Speed (mbps)||Package 2 Download Speed (mbps)||Package 3 Download Speed (mbps)||Population Covered (Millions) 2018|
|Comcast Xfinity||100||150||250||100 million*|
|Verizon Fios||100||300||940||34 million*|
|AT&T Fibre||100||300||1000||15 million*|
|Century Link||40||100||1000||11 million*|
Speeds quoted are maximum potential speeds only and will vary by area – check links to each provider for full speed and availability in your area.
For UK readers, see our guide on faster internet packages from the major providers.
A Range Extender May Work as a Last Resort
Another option that may work for some users is to use a Wi-Fi Range Extender, which is basically a simple single plug adapter that is used in a wall socket that captures and amplifies the existing wireless signal from the main router.
The idea here is just to spread better Wi-Fi coverage across a larger area in the home, eliminating some dead-zones and weak spots.
Hopefully, this can help deliver a stronger signal if it is currently weak to your device, and solve buffering problems.
See the video for a quick demonstration of how to install and use range extenders:
However, this solution is not guaranteed to work in all cases, as there are so many variables at play in home networking. You may struggle with video buffering even when you use a range extender, depending on how far away you are.
Here is a breakdown of the relative benefits and drawbacks of range extenders.
Range Extender Pros:
- Very cheap products and easy to set up.
- Can work over short to medium distances.
- Wireless only – good to use with portable streaming devices where a wired connection isn’t possible.
- Can be useful if you have a very specific “deadzone” in your house where the signal always seems to be weak.
Range Extender Negatives:
- Performance is patchy and not guaranteed to work, especially when you start adding more distance.
- Using range extenders often cuts speeds in half right away. Better off using wired connections for maximum bandwidth for streaming.
Overall, we don’t really recommend using extenders in most cases, though some users will no doubt have success with them. We recommend trying the other more fundamental fixes, like using wired connections, managing traffic and getting faster internet first.
However, they are not exactly a massive investment and can work well over shorter distances to help with streaming on portable devices like phones and tablets.