How to prioritize Wi-Fi to the devices that need it most
When you need the top speeds, you can give some gadgets a VIP pass.
Most modern homes have quite a few gadgets connected to Wi-Fi trying to access the web at the same time. This usually results in the straining of broadband connections, especially when it comes to demanding activities like online gaming or video streaming.
To help you manage the load, some routers (like those manufactured by Google, Netgear, Eero, and many others) offer a feature called Quality of Service (QoS). In simple terms, it lets you prioritize certain devices and types of traffic, so that they’re first in line for a high-speed connection whenever bandwidth becomes limited.
Your router manufacturer may give it a different name, but a quick dig into the manual or an online search should tell you whether or not your particular device offers QoS. If it does, it’s worth getting familiar with the feature and what it can do, as this kind of Wi-Fi prioritization can help you reduce buffering times and avoid dropped connections when it’s most important.
What is Quality of Service?
The term Quality of Service has been around for decades, and it applies to all kinds of networks besides home Wi-Fi. In this case, it means marking certain devices or types of activity in your home as being more important than others. Whenever your router is chopping up your Wi-Fi into individual slices, these marked gadgets and apps get first dibs.
Pie slices is one way of thinking about QoS. Without it, everything connected to your router gets a similarly sized slice: Your PlayStation 5, the laptop the kids are using, the smart TV in the living room, and so on. When you enable QoS, you can give out bigger slices to that important Zoom call with work. This comes at the expense of other less important tasks, like those Windows updates downloading in the background.
It doesn’t necessarily guarantee that your chosen devices will always get a healthy, robust internet connection. It also doesn’t necessarily mean that the less important hardware on your network will slow down to a crawl. A lot of it depends on the speed of the internet coming into your home.
Video chats, online gaming, and video streaming tend to be first in the queue when you enable QoS. Other online tasks, from checking email to downloading updates, usually get less of a priority.
Ultimately, how you use QoS is up to you, but what type of control you get and how much, will depend on your router. Some routers let you prioritize certain devices, like a gaming console, while others let you prioritize types of internet traffic, like video calls. Some routers let you do both. If you’re shopping for a router upgrade, this is definitely a spec you should look out for.
Setting up Quality of Service
Every router handles QoS differently, but here are some examples so you can see how it works.
More advanced routers let you specify particular devices, apps, and tasks to get VIP treatment, while simpler ones just automatically prioritize audio and video streaming to any device.
If you have a Google Nest Wi-Fi mesh networking setup at home, for example, you can open up the Google Home app on your phone, tap Wi-Fi, and then choose Set priority device under Devices. Keep in mind that you can only give priority to one device for a limited period of time.
From the same Wi-Fi screen in the Google Home app, tap Settings and then Preferred activities to choose the types of uses you want the network to put first. Your choices include Video conferencing and Gaming, and the router will continue to prioritize your picks until you turn them off again.
If you’ve got a Netgear router, on the other hand, then you need to open up a web browser, head to www.routerlogin.com, and log in using your router’s admin credentials (check the documentation that came with the router if you’re not sure). Head to Advanced, Setup, and QoS setup to start making some changes.
Pick Setup QoS rule and then Add Priority Rule. You can choose Online Gaming to make sure your gaming stays as lag-free as possible, pick Applications to specify a particular web app, Ethernet LAN port to prioritize a device connected to a router port, or MAC Address to prioritize a device hooked up to the network via Wi-Fi.