It's been no secret for some time now that the Switch, whilst lovely in so many ways, doesn't have the best relationship with the world wide web. Spotty WiFi, lag, it's far from perfect for many people, but there are a number of things you can do to improve it. Let's start from the top shall we?
Five is better than two
The very first thing you should do is make sure you’re on a delicious 5GHz signal. If you don’t know, there are two kinds of WiFi connection that you’ll generally find in your home, 2.4GHz, and 5GHz. 2.4GHz is better at penetrating walls and other solid surfaces, and was the tip-top standard for so many years it’s almost frightening. So why are we telling you to change that around if 2.4GHz is so lovely? Well, truth be told, almost all wireless devices use the same frequency, such as Joy-Con, Pro Controllers, wireless controllers for ‘other’ systems, your phone, anything with bluetooth, it’s all 2.4GHz, and that gets very messy very quickly.
That many signals all on the same frequency can start to cancel each other out in small parts, or ‘interfere’. For the most part, it’s not an issue, but if you use a 5GHz connection, not only will you have faster speeds at your disposal, but you’ll also have your connection weaving in and around all the traffic jams in 2.4GHz like some fanciful, slimline, lightweight, two-wheeled motor car.
That not only means potentially more speed, but more importantly more reliability, and that’s the most important thing when it comes to gaming online. Realistically there’s very little data bounding around back and forth, but you do want it to get there as quickly and as completely as possible; 5GHz will help that.
To do this, you just need to connect to your router’s 5G signal, which usually has the same name or SSID as your normal connection, but with ‘5G’ at the end as default. Some routers will use the same name for their 5GHz signal as their 2.4GHz signal, and these can die in a fire. If yours does that, you can probably change that in the settings, but we can't guarantee it as we don't know what router you have. If it came from your ISP it’s likely to be a bit rough in places.
You may find you have trouble getting as strong a signal if your home has a lot of thick walls or non-thick ones but with wire mesh inside, which is more common than you might think, but if you can get a good signal, 5GHz is always the better option.
Position is key
It sounds silly, but honestly the placement of your router is one daring donkey of a factor in how good your signal is. It can affect range, stability, basically it can make your connection better or worse than it should be. Now as should be obvious there are going to be some limiting factors in where you can place your router, but these will likely be unavoidable without rewiring. My router is placed next to the TV, and underneath my Switch, which is a terrible location, so what can we do about it?
Placing it up high is a relatively sound practice, the antenna or antennae if you’re fancy like me spit the signal out in all manner of directions, meaning if it’s low down, all the signal that’s shot out on the lower 180º split is essentially wasted. Some of it might bounce off the floor a bit, but it’s almost always better to put your router somewhere high up.
What’s more your router should be as central to your home as possible. In an ideal would it would be slap bang in the centre with no regard for the convenience of others, but that’s rarely practical, as you’ve got to have power cables, the ADSL or coaxial in, and potentially some ethernet if you’re getting all wired on this router’s ass. Use your noggin, find somewhere that’s relatively central to your home as a whole, but is still within a sensible, clean distance of your required ports to the national grid and big underwater cables that deliver the hottest memes.
Also try and avoid placing it near any other electrical equipment if at all possible. TVs, consoles, and especially any of those or anything else that’s also spewing out wireless signals. Large metal sheets in these things can impair performance and make you a sad bunny. It’s not going to kill your internet entirely, but you might as well get the most you can out of it. Maybe even consider wall-mounting it if you’re crazy enough to do that.
As for the antenna or antennae, well if they’re internal you’ll just have to have it as it is, but if you’ve got external, wonky bad boys you can reposition them to better lob out internet to everything, including your Switch. Everyone has a different idea of what is best, but if you’ve got two or more storeys to think about, it’s probably a good idea to have at least one perpendicular to the other, or at least 45º away. Just fiddle around and see what’s tasty.
Do touch that dial
All routers run on different channels. These range from around 1-14 for 2.4GHz and around 34-161 for 5GHz. The numbers themselves don’t really matter, what matters is what’s on what channel. By default most routers are set to ‘Auto’, and this is a bit dire. It means one day your signal can be great, and then the next day it’s pants, as it’s decided to swap things around based on some factors no one be bothered to comprehend. We’ve had most success with just choosing a channel, and checking every couple of months or so to see if the landscape has changed, and it usually doesn’t.
To do this, you’re going to need to go into your router’s settings. Every router is different, but you’ll usually find the settings you want to fiddle with in ‘Wireless’, ‘WiFi’, or something to that effect, and it’ll probably be in the Advanced section. Look for ‘channel’ and, hold on, what channel do you want to change it to? Well, you could just pick one at random but that is an unmitigatedly terrible idea, don’t do it.
Instead, download a WiFi Scanner app on your phone; if you're on Android, we recommend this one as it's free and has loads of useful features. If you’re on iOS, I’m sure you can find something suitable. If you’re on Windows Phone, you need a new phone. There are apps like this for Windows and macOS even has this functionality built in, but it’s much easier to use a mobile device. When you load it up it’ll scan the air for all and every WiFi signal, even those without SSIDs, and show you what channel they’re on. Just like real life, you want to avoid everyone else. Find a gap that no one’se using, and pick that number, it's as simple as that. If there are no gaps, just choose the channel with the lowest overall number of other networks on it. Go back to your router’s settings, slap in the channel number that’s the emptiest, ideally on the 5GHz connection but you might as well change both, and you’ll have a stronger, less populated channel to enjoy. Lovely.
Rinse and Repeat(er)
Even if your router is behaving itself and you've got the most solid of solid wireless connections, you might find that you live in a building that has "blind spots" that those lovely wireless signals cannot reach. Time to give up? Not quite! You can invest in cheap little devices called WiFi Repeaters, and position these around your humble abode.
The premise is simple enough; the "repeater" is placed around the maximum range of your existing WiFi router, but in a place where it's still getting a ruddy good signal strength. It then takes that lovey and robust signal and "repeats" it by creating its own wireless signal coverage. This allows you to spread the range of your existing WiFi router without having to invest in more expensive options, such as a "Mesh" router system. Their effectiveness in not dropping packets is heavily dependent on their quality, however.
We use the Rock Space AC 1200, which is a breeze to set up and gives us an incredibly strong signal over the entire house.
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But what if you’re still not able to get a good connection? Then...
When in doubt, wire up
Wired connections. If you’re playing Super Smash Bros. Ultimate online or just generally playing something with a lot of precision over the internet, it’s best to use a wired connection. As Nintendo didn’t think it was worth it, there is no Ethernet port on the Switch (fair enough) or the dock (not fair enough). However you can buy yourself an Ethernet to USB adapter to solve all these woes and more. Just make sure it lists itself as being compatible with the Nintendo Switch as some aren’t for some bizarre reason. Plug it into the dock, slap an Ethernet cable between it and the router and hey-presto! Wired connection! Well, sort of. You may need to go into your Switch’s settings in order to tell it that you want to use a Wired connection and you’ve not just plugged in an Ethernet cable for aesthetic purposes.
Thankfully, it’s easier than an easy lemon pie piece of walk in the park. Just go to System Settings, Internet, Internet Settings, and then scroll to the bottom of the Registered Networks list until you see ‘Wired Connection’. Select that option and it’ll run a test, should that go all tickety-boo (and it should) you’re done!
Now if you remembered what speeds you got if you ran a connection test over WiFi, you may be surprised to find that it may no longer be all that glamourous on your new wired connection. That’s because the USB-C connection that the signal is passing through has a lot of other gubbins going through it as well, and although it would probably have been possible to get more speed through it, Nintendo have limited it for some reason.
Don’t go undoing all your hard work just yet though, as although you may not be able to download things quite as quickly as before, you will have a significantly more stable connection, which is, as we said previously, what gaming online is all about. If you want to download something big quickly, just lift your console out of the dock and leave it to do so over Wi-Fi if your internet is especially speedy. But when actually playing nothing can beat a wired connection for reliability, at least for the moment, so it’s well worth doing. It’s also one less signal flying around and sucking all the internet out of the air for your other devices, which is just dandy.
But what if you really, really want that little bit extra speed? Well, we have one last thing for you.
Maximise the Maximum
The Switch, just like every internet-enabled device, downloads data in packets. These packets come in varying sizes, but if you want speed, then you won’t be surprised to know that bigger is better. I mean, we all want to do one trip from the car with all the shopping bags don’t we?
You can increase the Switch’s MTU, or maximum transfer unit, to allow for more data to be shipped back and forth every time it pings, most helpful indeed. To do this, you need to head back into System Settings, then Internet, then Internet Settings, select your Wired Connection, or WiFi connection if you couldn’t be bothered with Ethernet, go to Change Settings, scroll down and you should see that sweet, sweet ‘MTU’. Change that number from 1400 to 1500 (no, it won’t go any higher) and butter my biscuits, you’ve just increased your packet size by 6.666%.
If your Switch was already set to 1500, well then this last point is pointless. Sorry.
We hope you've found this guide useful. Do let us know if you have any tips of your own to get the most from your Switch's WiFi or wired connection in the comments below.