Fast Tips Friday: Router Problems With Alexa

Post Updated: 10/27/18 – If you’ve been experiencing speed or connectivity problems with the devices on your home or office network, router problems with Alexa probably aren’t the cause. It’s very likely that your router is overloaded with too many connected devices. Nobody’s talking about it, but routers do have their limits.

 

Router Problems

 

Reader Gary G.W. Hicks wrote to tell me about problems he’d been having with his wireless set up, and that he ultimately discovered the problem is that his Xfinity Arris XB6 router/modem:

When I called Xfinity to inquire as to why I was seeing such poor performance, they said that the XB6 Xfi only supported up to 15 devices and according to them, I had 21 devices hooked up.

 

How To Figure Out How Many Gadgets Your Router Can Handle

Over on Lifewire, they offer a pretty straightforward calculation you can do to figure out your router’s maximum speed based on how many devices are connected and in use:

The speed rating of access points represents the maximum theoretical network bandwidth they can support. A Wi-Fi router rated at 300 Mbps with 100 devices connected, for example, can only offer on average 3 Mbps to each of them (300/100 = 3).

You probably don’t have 100 devices connected on your home network, but once you’ve added up all the phones, tablets, computers, TVs, Alexa devices, wireless printers / scanners / speakers and miscellaneous gaming consoles and A/V home theater equipment, your total of connected devices is probably a lot higher than you’d think. And remember: every always-listening, always-on Alexa device is adding to the load on your router even when you’re not actively using it. So let’s look at a practical example.


The Linksys EA6350 is rated at 300Mbps for regular use and a maximum of 867 Mbps for media-intensive use. In my home there are typically seven Alexa devices, four computers, two TVs, four phones and one tablet connected to my WiFi and in use at any given time. Under normal use conditions, 300 Mbps / 18 devices means the maximum speed any of those devices can get is 16.7 Mbps. The math gets more complicated if certain devices (TVs and gaming consoles, most likely) are set up to default to 867 Mbps, but it’s easy to understand how devices that are using that much bandwidth will negatively impact the performance of other devices on the same network.

 

What Can You Do?

You have four options to improve your WiFi network’s performance.

1. Disconnect as many devices as possible.
See if there are any devices that routinely connect to your WiFi but which you’re not actively using most of the time. Disconnect any you don’t need, and change their WiFi settings so they will not automatically re-connect to your WiFi network as soon as they come within range of it.

 

2. Upgrade your router.
Premium routers built to handle heavy loads and lots of connections are available, though they can be costly and may require professional installation to optimize their performance.

 

3. If your router’s already a powerhouse, upgrade your service plan to get maximum bandwidth and speed.
A primo router isn’t going to help if the bandwidth and speed available to it are too low.

 


 

4. Buy one or more additional routers or extender/repeaters.
If the problem is that your WiFi signal weakens the further your device is from it, then a repeater like the one pictured above may be all you need.

If your devices perform poorly regardless of where they are in relation to the router and you know your demand for WiFi is always going to be high, you might need to set up a second WiFi network with a second router. As I told Mr. Hicks in my email reply to him:

You don’t have to have [all your Alexa devices] on the same network, however only those devices that share a network can communicate with one another for functions like multi-room audio or controlling smart home devices (e.g., you can’t use an Alexa device on network A to control a smart bulb that’s registered on network B**).

**10/27/18 UPDATE/CLARIFICATION** – Alexa devices registered to the same Amazon account can communicate with one another, even across separate WiFi networks, because the Alexa service itself can carry messages among them. However, this requires at least one Alexa device on each network where you want to control other smart devices (as of this writing, and with the exception of special cases that require more advanced tech knowledge and equipment than the typical consumer has).

For example, let’s assume you have a single WiFi network in your home with an Echo Dot connected to it, as well as lots of other WiFi devices. If you set up the secondary router and network and install a non-Alexa smart plug on that network, meaning a smart plug that is compatible with the Alexa voice service but doesn’t already have it built in, there is no way for your Dot device to control that plug directly because the Dot only “sees” 1) other Alexa devices registered to your Amazon account, and 2) Alexa-compatible WiFi devices on the network to which it’s connected. In this scenario the smart plug on the secondary network is compatible with Alexa, meaning that it’s capable of communicating with the Alexa voice service, but it’s not an actual Alexa device with the Alexa service built in.

Setting aside high tech, edge case solutions, you can get the primary network Dot to control a smart plug on a secondary network in one of two ways: install a second Alexa device (e.g., Echo, Show, Dot, Fire TV Cube, etc.) on the secondary network and register it to the same Amazon account as the Dot that’s registered to the primary network, or replace the secondary network smart plug with a smart plug that has the Alexa service built in (like Amazon’s own Alexa smart plug, below).

 

 

You can tell whether a given smart device has the Alexa service built in by whether or not it requires a separate, actual Alexa device (e.g., Echo, Dot, etc.) in order to be controlled by Alexa voice commands. The Amazon Smart Plug with Alexa built in does not require use of a separate Alexa device like an Echo to control it with Alexa voice commands: you can issue voice commands to it via the Alexa app.

A close reading of the product description should reveal whether the “works with Alexa” device you’re considering is itself an Alexa device (no separate Echo/Dot/etc. needed) or an Alexa-compatible device (can only respond to Alexa voice commands issued from a separate Echo/Dot/etc.).

**10/27/18 UPDATE/CORRECTION** The strikethrough text that follows is incorrect, and remains here for archival purposes only. Look at it this way. Some consumers have a suite of Alexa devices at home, plus an Echo or Dot at the office, far away from their home. All the devices are registered to the same Amazon account so they all have access to the same content (music, audiobooks, etc.), but they can’t ask their office device to interact with any of their home devices and vice-versa.

 

If you’re not sure what your router’s maximum speed rating is, Google its brand name and model number (both should be on the router itself) to get its full specifications. If you got the router from your Internet Service Provider (ISP) you can call them to get the details.

 

Related Links

Alexa FAQ Part 3: Alexa With WiFi & Bluetooth

Fast Tips Friday: Alexa Tech Support Scam Alert

Alexa Fast Tips Friday: Alexa Hard of Hearing?