Wi-Fi is nothing new, and for the most part, we just take it for granted, typically with the router supplied by our ISPs doing all the heavy lifting. The routers supplied by most ISPs really aren’t all that great if you crave high performance, but for the majority of consumers they’re suitable, if not exciting.
The only time most consumers actually pay attention to their routers is when something goes wrong, typically because you’re trying to use a wirelessly connected device, be it a computer, gaming console, set top box, smartphone or tablet, and you find you can’t actually get access to your Internet resources.
There can be all sorts of reasons for this. Certain types of building construction, some appliances and just the overwhelming quantity of Wi-Fi in constrained areas (especially if you live in an apartment or similar small dwelling) can all play a factor in how well your home Wi-Fi actually works. The same is true for Wi-Fi in business settings as well, because while some routers supplied for business purposes have more robust technology sitting under the hood, they’re all still (essentially) fighting for the same radio frequencies. It can get crowded out there, and that can often lead to connections that appear to “work”, at least in that you get a Wi-Fi signal, but that don’t actually pass any data through to your device.
A recent bug in Google’s popular Chromecast home streaming devices has been shown to be capable of also knocking your home Wi-Fi around in a rather unexpected way. When waking from its sleep condition (so, for example, if you were getting ready to cast some video from an Android device or a web browser using Google’s Chrome), the Chromecast could (in certain circumstances) flood the network with thousands of request packets accidentally. In very simplified terms, think of what the post office is usually like around Christmas time; a chaotic mess of parcels and letters all flooding in at once, overwhelming the service. That’s what Google’s Chromecast was doing (at least in some circumstances), leading to seriously degraded network performance. Google has admitted the issue, and started to roll out patches to deal with it to Chromecast devices.
It’s worth noting that the presence of a Chromecast device in your home network isn’t an automatic cause of poor Wi-Fi performance, but it’s once again another reminder of why it’s quite important to keep your home network devices as up to date as possible. Google has said that it will roll out updates to Chromecast devices and the casting software offered through the Google Play store, and those should be (more or less) automatic updates that you don’t have to do anything about. Major router manufacturers, including Netgear, Linksys and Asus have all committed to patches for their popular routers, and that’s something you’ll need to check against your router model. Most routers have simple web interfaces that let you check for firmware updates within them, so it’s worth making some investigations if you’re unsure. You may also find (especially if you’ve never really touched the firmware on your router) that you get simple performance boosts along with the Chromecast fix. If you’re unsure about your router model, especially if it was sourced through your Internet provider, check with them, as they may have custom firmware or specific advice on how and when to update your router’s software.