How to avoid overloading your broadband router with too many devices

Overloading your broadband router is easily done if you attempt to connect too many devices, but how many is too many?

Friday, 4 March, 2022

It’s commonly believed that technological breakthroughs happened more recently than they actually did.

People often assume the internet didn’t exist before the World Wide Web debuted in 1991, even though websites were being launched back in 1985.

Similarly, while we think of the Internet of Things as a recent phenomenon, its origins date back to that hotbed of innovation, the early Eighties.

Estimates suggest there are 18 billion IoT devices currently in existence, each needing an internet connection to function or distribute data to other devices and platforms.

That’s placing a lot of pressure on domestic internet connections, especially for households with limited broadband bandwidth or a basic WiFi router.

Indeed, overloading your broadband router is surprisingly easy to do…

The causes

Broadband providers usually supply a wireless router as part of new customer subscriptions, but these devices tend to be built down to a budget.

Some struggle to support more than a dozen wireless connections, which is woefully inadequate in an age of smart scales, speakers, security cameras and smartphones for all.

A router might claim it can support a high number of connections, but this is the total number of devices it’ll remember – not the number it supports at any given moment.

The manufacturers of routers are often reluctant to publish the maximum number of simultaneous connections – unless it’s a high number, of course.

The symptoms

If the maximum number of connections has been reached, it may be impossible to connect a new device.

However, deleting an existing device’s network connectivity could resolve the issue.

Existing hardware might begin to slow down or become unresponsive, with error messages being reported by streaming services and other bandwidth-intensive platforms.

You could also notice devices struggling to connect, or taking a comparatively long time to download content.

The router may display rapidly flashing lights or become hot as it works flat-out, lacking the fans that would kick in if a PC or games console was operating close to its capacity.

Another tell-tale sign that you’re overloading your broadband router is constant disconnection and reconnection, irrespective of which devices are involved.

The solutions

If you’re overloading your broadband router by bumping along the limits of its capabilities, consider whether every connected machine justifies its slot.

Could you switch some devices to Bluetooth? Does a smartphone really need to be hooked up to broadband if you’re barely using it and there’s a strong 4G/5G connection?

It may be possible to hardwire key devices using either Ethernet cables or Powerline adaptors, which are ideal for computers and TVs/games consoles.

You might even decide a particular device isn’t needed wirelessly any more, such as a wireless printer which is only ever controlled through a USB cabled PC.

If your router is an ISP-specific device (i.e. it was supplied by them and has a sticker bearing their logo on it), you might be able to upgrade it.

Full fibre broadband providers generally employ proprietary hardware, but connections across the Openreach network (BT, TalkTalk, etc) can typically use any broadband router.

Replacing your router with a more sophisticated model could radically improve both connection capacity and whole-home performance.

A travel router supports multiple devices while only occupying a single connection on your broadband router.

Repositioning the device with greater airflow might resolve overheating, and updating the firmware often supports greater performance.

Finally, you could always try turning it off and on again…

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!