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Options for Poor Wi-Fi or Cellular Service

This article applies to: Computer Recommendations, Faculty, Staff, Students

If you are working in an area that has restricted, weak, or slow Wi-Fi, or weak cellular service indoors, consider whether these options might be useful. Please note that Cornell does not endorse any particular service, company, or product. These suggestions are meant to provide helpful tips.

Restricted or Insecure Wi-Fi Service

If you're in an area where the cellular signal is strong, a Wi-Fi hotspot can provide better security than a public Wi-Fi connection. It also gives you a way to get your laptop online. You can create a Wi-Fi hotspot using a small, portable Wi-Fi router, or with your cell phone if it provides that feature and your cellular plan allows it. Cornell has contracts with AT&T and Verizon that provide discounts on Wi-Fi hotspots. You can also buy them from retailers that sell electronics.

Weak Cell Phone Signal Indoors

An important first step is to understand the cellular coverage provided where you are. Geography is a big influence in the update New York region, and so is building type and density. In the general Ithaca-area region, AT&T and Verizon provide the most coverage.

If your main concern is phone calls indoors, a no-cost option to consider is whether your cell phone supports Wi-Fi calling. Most newer cell phones have this feature, which lets your cell phone use a Wi-Fi network instead of a cellular network for phone calls.

If your cell phone has good connectivity outside your home, but not indoors, consider a cell phone signal booster. There are a variety of types: small devices that sit on a window, devices that plug into your internet service provider's box, and antenna systems that require professional installation. Cornell has contracts with AT&T and Verizon that provide discounts on signal boosters. You can also buy them from retailers that sell electronics. (For the curious, here's what Cornell does about indoor cellular coverage in its buildings.) 

Slow Wi-Fi at Home

Several factors can contribute to poor Wi-Fi service at home. Things to consider:

  • Make sure the package your purchased from your internet service provider (Spectrum, Haefele, etc.) is the right size for what you and others in your home need to do online. You may need to upgrade to a higher level of service.
  • Verify whether your internet service provider has posted any reports of service interruptions or performance problems.
  • Follow your internet service provider's recommendations for at-home troubleshooting. 
  • Consider connecting your computer directly to your internet modem using an Ethernet cable (instead of using Wi-Fi).
  • Consider whether your Wi-Fi router needs to be upgraded. Newer routers provide better speed and range. 
  • If your Wi-Fi is fast in some parts of your home but not in others, try moving your Wi-Fi router to a more central location in your home. If that doesn't help, you may need to consider a "mesh network" to provide better coverage. You can buy mesh networks from retailers that sell electronics.
  • Consider disconnecting devices that don't need to be on your Wi-Fi network. Also consider how many people on your network are doing activities that use a lot of network capacity, such as gaming and streaming movies and shows.

Cornell campus outdoor spaces with possible Wi-Fi coverage (Cornell login required)

Internet and Cellular Access Offers from Vendors (During 2020 Coronavirus Crisis)

Please confirm all offers directly with the vendors. Offers are changing frequently and Cornell is providing this information as a starting point.

If you don't see an offer that helps in your situation, try calling your vendor and asking. Cornell has heard that some vendors will provide no-cost temporary upgrades and other enhancements if they know it is to support students doing online learning during the pandemic. (Don't see your vendor here? Find internet (broadband) vendors in the U.S.)

In the list below, click the vendor name to go to its support webpage.

  • AT&T
    Suspending broadband usage caps for home internet customers, which means no overage fees while people are home using more data. Offers internet access for qualifying limited-income households at $10/month through Access from AT&T program. Will not terminate service or charge late fees due to an inability to pay bills as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Comcast Xfinity
    Offering Internet Essentials free for two months to new customers. Automatically increasing speeds for all Internet Essentials customers.
  • Optimum

    Offering Altice Advantage 30 Mbps for free for 60 days to new customers. Call 1-866-200-9522

  • OTTC (Ontario & Trumansburg Telephone Companies)
    Prioritizing fiber installation free of charge and one free month of service for households with students that are continuing education online.
  • Spectrum / Charter
    If your household includes K-12 and/or college students, and you don't already have a subscription, you can request free Spectrum broadband and Wi-Fi access for 60 days. To enroll, call 1-844-488-8395. Charter will also open its Wi-Fi hotspots for public use (you may need to click the Find Me button or enter your zip code into the search field for a local hotspot map). 
  • Sprint
    No extra cost for 60 days (minimum of two bill cycles) for an additional 20 GB of mobile hotspot data per month and, for customers with metered data plans, for unlimited data per month. Will provide customers with mobile hotspot-enabled handsets who don't already have hotspots with 20 GB per month for 60 days (a minimum of two billing cycles) at no extra cost. Will not terminate service or charge late fees due to an inability to pay bills as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Suddenlink

    Offering Altice Advantage 30 Mbps for free for 60 days to new customers. Call 1-888-633-0030

  • T-Mobile
    No extra cost for 60 days for unlimited smartphone data (excluding roaming) for customers with data plans and for additional 20 GB of mobile hotspot / tethering service. Working with their Lifeline partners to provide those customers up to 5GB extra data per month for next two months.
  • Verizon
    Added 15 GB of 4G LTE data to existing plans (to be used by April 30, 2020). Activation fees waived on new lines and upgrade fees starting March 18. Late fees waived from March 16, 2020 to May 16, 2020, and will not terminate service due to events involving coronavirus.

If you know of an offer not mentioned here, please provide details or a link to the vendor offer page in the comment form below.

About this Article

Last updated: 

Friday, July 10, 2020 - 1:31pm

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