No, Christmas lights probably aren’t killing your WiFi

3 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

5 surprising things that can slow down your wi-fi.

A British regulatory agency is using the holiday season to remind Internet users that—believe it or not—indoor Christmas lights can affect the performance of Wi-Fi routers. The head of regulator Ofcom has suggested that BT could be forced to sell off its Openreach business, to the delight of its rivals who claim the wholesale service, which supplies nearly every household, could be uncompetitive.Holiday lights are meant to add some cheer to your day, but a British regulator has pointed out that they may have an unwanted side effect: interference with your WiFi network.SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — If the WiFi reception in your home is a little slow this holiday season, you might be able to blame it on the festive light displays.

The regulator’s chief executive said she was looking at four options for the future of the broadband providing service, warning that keeping the status quo was “unlikely”. On Tuesday, Ofcom – an agency similar to the Federal Communications Commission – named holiday lights as one of many electronic devices that can trip up your Internet connection. According to Ofcom, Christmas lights (along with a variety of other household lights and electronics) can cause diminished Wi-Fi performance due to unshielded wires causing interference.

Before the terrible jokes start and we all declare that this is a fit of “Bah Humbug!” from the telephone regulator, the warning correct – your fairy lights could indeed be a Wi-Fi downer. BT’s rivals have wanted Openreach to be split off from the former state-owned business as a condition of its £12.5bn mega-merger with mobile phone operator EE. The same problem can also be caused by microwaves, baby monitors, poorly installed home wiring, or a number of other culprits. “Because your wireless network is much less powerful than a big FM transmitter and its waves are weaker, where you place the router and what you have in your house will have an impact,” Andrew Smith, senior lecturer in networking at The Open University, wrote for The Conversation. “Home electrics, microwaves, steel girders, concrete cladding and foil insulation all can have an effect.”

Chief executive of Ofcom, Sharon White, told the BBC one option was “the structural separation” of Opeanreach from BT, although this was one of four possible options being weighed up. Slowdowns “could be down to something as simple as interference from other electronic devices, such as a microwave oven, baby monitor, a lamp—or even Christmas fairy lights,” the report said. Openreach is run at arm’s length by BT, providing and maintaining the infrastructure for the UK’s broadband network while the different operators lease the lines that lead into homes. Experts from Ofcom found earlier this month that lamps alongside fridges, speakers, baby monitors, cordless phones and garage door openers were responsible for interfering with a wi-fi signal as it travels to a computer. Microwaves, older Bluetooth devices, baby monitors and cordless phones all get a mention in a Cisco white paper from 2007 outlining common reasons for WiFi interference.

BT has said previously that it is the only company with enough scale to maintain the country-wide infrastructure, but rivals have claimed the company could either increase prices unilaterally or offer customers to its own service faster speeds, although this is protected by regulations. Modern day routers will try to choose the best and least congested one automatically, but sometimes that might mean you and your neighbour are operating on the same channel. Many Internet providers see complaints spike around the holidays, since networks can get congested when you’re all gathered for a family meal – but lights may be a contributing factor. The company has already been censured by Ofcom over the EE merger, which was approved in October, when it was revealed £1.7m of Openreach’s revenues was used to fund the deal. In fact, you would have to be lighting up your tree like a small sun – which perhaps some of you are planning.” More than a quarter of British homes (7.5 million) now have “superfast” broadband with a connection up to 30 Mbit-per-second or more.

BT has also been criticised for not rolling out superfast broadband quickly enough, with 2.5m homes in the UK still without minimum broadband speeds of 10 megabits per second. Ofcom found that people are using those high speeds differently: Users operating above 40 Mbit/s are downloading “significantly” more data (usually for catch-up TV, online film rental, and video call services). “There’s been a technological revolution over recent years, with 4G mobile and superfast continuing to extend across the country,” Ofcom CEO Sharon White said in a statement. “Our challenge is to keep supporting competition and innovation, while also helping to improve coverage across the country—particularly in hard-to-reach areas, where mobile and home Internet services need to improve.” Your FM radio station may use 100 Megahertz, or 100,000,000 waves per second, while 2.4 Gigahertz, used by wireless, is 2,400,000,000 waves per second, making the radio waves used by Wi-Fi considerably shorter.

If you’re really curious about how your lights are affecting your network, you could conduct your own home science experiment and see how your network performs with your lights on or off. Signal completely dropped when someone crossed into the path of the signal, and it scattered with the presence of human bodies in the room but not in the direct path of the signal. Some of the biggest culprits include Netflix, cloud services such as DropBox, online games and torrenting websites (not that you would you any of those against the law of course). But while many different factors can dull your Wi-Fi signal, I can’t recall anyone yet getting miffed about their festive laptop watching of Dr Who being affected as soon as the Christmas lights go on. Most fairy lights have unshielded wires, which means there’s no radio frequency insulation to protect radio-based devices from the electromagnetic effects of the power cables trailing around your tree.

The matter of the fact is that some areas will just have better broadband, therefore wi-fi, coverage than others as it depends on how well connected they are – there can be massive geographical differences in speed. Do consider downloading the Wi-Fi checker app offered by Ofcom, however – it may help you discover that it’s the service provided by your phone company, rather than the fairy lights, that’s to blame for all that endless buffering. That’s particularly useful if your problem is other people’s WiFi networks, as is often the case in apartments or other close-quarter living situations. You can change this by heading to your router’s settings from any machine connected to the network, which you can find by typing your router’s IP address into the part of your browser where you normally type in Web addresses.

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