Most modern homes have quite a few WiFi-connected gadgets trying to access the web at the same time. This usually results in strained 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 on your WiFi network, so 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 prioritizing devices on your WiFi network can help reduce buffering times and avoid dropped connections when it’s most important.
What is Quality of Service, and how does it work?
The term “quality of service” has been around for decades, and it applies to all kinds of networks. When used in relation to your home’s WiFi, it means marking certain devices or types of activity as being more important than others. Whenever your router is chopping up your WiFi into individual slices, these marked gadgets and apps get first dibs.
Imagining pie slices is one way to think 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. Consequently, less important tasks, like those Windows updates downloading in the background, get smaller slices.
That said, using QoS to prioritize devices on your WiFi network doesn’t necessarily guarantee that those gadgets will always get a healthy, robust internet connection. It also doesn’t mean that the less important hardware on your network will slow to a crawl. A lot of what actually happens depends on the internet speed in your home.
Video calls, online gaming, and streaming video tend to be first in line when you enable QoS. Other online tasks, from checking email to downloading updates, usually get reduced priority.
Ultimately, how you use QoS is up to you, but your router will determine what type of control you get and how much. Some routers let you prioritize certain devices, such as gaming consoles, while others let you prioritize types of internet traffic, such as video calls. Some let you do both. If you’re shopping for a router upgrade, this is definitely a spec you should look out for.
How to prioritize devices on a WiFi network with QoS
Every router handles QoS differently, but we can provide a few examples so you can see how it works.
More advanced routers let you prioritize particular devices, apps, and tasks, while simpler ones just offer priority to audio and video streaming.
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 Favorites, then Wifi, and choose Devices to see a list of the gadgets using your network. Select the device you want to prioritize, tap Prioritize device, decide how long you want it to receive VIP treatment, and hit Save to finish. Keep in mind that you can only give priority to one device at a time.
You can also use the Google Home app to choose the types of activity you want the network to put first. First, tap Wi-Fi, hit the cog icon to open Settings, and choose Preferred activities to tell the network what to prioritize. Your choices will include Video conferencing and Gaming, and the router will continue to give your picks bigger slices of the WiFi pie until you turn them off again.
If you’ve got a Netgear router, on the other hand, you’ll need to open a web browser, head to routerlogin.com, and log in using your router’s admin credentials (check the documentation that came with the router if you’re not sure what these are). From there, head to Advanced, Setup, and QoS setup to start making some changes.
Pick Upstream QoS, then Setup QoS rule, and finally Add Priority Rule. You can choose Online Gaming to make sure your games stay as lag-free as possible, Applications to prioritize a particular web app, Ethernet LAN port to specify a device connected to a router port, or MAC Address to single out a device hooked up to the network via WiFi.
This story has been updated. It was originally published in 2021.