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The buffering stops here: How to keep a sluggish internet connection away

Lisa Iscrupe

Oct 24, 2019 — 2 min read

Boggled by buffering? Here’s how to tell what’s causing it and what you can do about it.

Define the problem     Find the culprits      Hack the solution

What is buffering?

“Buffering,” in the most simple terms, is when your device pauses mid-task. Your system will put your task on hold until enough data is downloaded to allow the music or video stream to play without lag. Though buffering may be annoying at first, it’s actually meant to help you stream more fluidly. 

This temporary lag is often seen at the beginning of a video, but it can also occur when opening new web pages, streaming music or using apps on your cell phone. 

The universal symbols for buffering are the infinite loop or the hourglass.

Did you know? Waiting icons make us willing to wait longer. In fact, three times as long as designs with no visualization to indicate something is happening behind the scenes, according to Jason Farman, author of Delayed Response.

Causes of buffering

According to The Guardian, internet speed and your equipment (i.e., computer and router) are the two main factors that affect buffering. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find some underlying components we can uproot, such as:

What type of internet do you have?

Let’s just say this upfront — avoiding all buffering is probably unavoidable. Even with high-speed internet and brand new equipment, any internet service provider (ISP) may still undergo updates or temporary slowdowns that are out of the individual consumer’s control. Some providers schedule system-wide updates after midnight to interrupt as little traffic as possible. 

Identify what type of internet provider you are currently using and see if there is an alternative to either upgrade your speed or switch to a different type of provider in your area. 

Dial-up    DSL    Cable    Fiber-Optic    Satellite

How many devices are connected at once? 

In our current technology-driven economy where tons of everyday objects are getting upgraded for internet connectivity, it’s easy to overlook how many other devices are Wi-Fi vampires. Devices that may be slowing down your network include connected cameras, doorbells, tablets, smart speakers/voice assistants (like the Amazon Echo), smartwatches, connected lighting … and the list goes on. 

Median number of connected devices per household

What’s happening on those devices?

Take a close look at how many of your devices are actively running at any time. For instance, if you have four cellphones in your house and two of them belong to teenagers who are constantly on YouTube and Snapchat, then Netflix streaming on your smart TV can be negatively affected. 

Buffering Hacks: How to stop buffering before it stops you