Home Networking Tips

Teaching and learning online from home can be affected by your home networking situation. If you are experiencing lagging or dropped connections when video conferencing, consider these factors for optimizing your home networking.

Laptop on a Tree Trunk
Image by Goumbik from Pixabay

Plug In

The most reliable connection at home is when you plug your computer into your Internet router with a network cable. If your wifi connection is not strong nor stable and your computer has a network jack, try using a network cable to connect your computer to your router. You can purchase long cables, 25ft to 100ft, if you can’t work right next to your router.

VPNs

VPNs can protect your privacy, but they will have a speed impact.

Never use the Mount’s VPN when video conferencing as it unnecessarily routes all your internet traffic through the campus network. If you use one, also consider turning off any commercial VPNs to improve performance.

Walls and Other Solid Obstacles

Wifi connections use radio waves, and typically the closer a device is to the wifi router, the stronger the signal. A stronger signal typically means a faster and more stable connection. Wifi can be weakened or blocked by walls, floors, appliances, people, or even cats. The further away and/or the more objects they have to penetrate, the weaker the signal will be.

To improve your connection, move your device closer to your wifi router or to a position where there are fewer obstacles between your device and the wifi router.

Deadzones are places where you have no wifi coverage in your home. If you have to work in a deadzone, consider a range extender or a powerline adapter (see below).

Bandwidth Use

Your home internet has a limited capacity, and that will depend on your internet service provider and the plan you have with them. If other people are using the internet in your house simultaneously, that sharing will reduce your available bandwidth.

Watching TV, streaming shows, movies or music, downloading content, and video gaming are all potential heavy bandwidth activities, so ask other people in your household to reduce usage or abstain from them when teaching or learning online.

Close any unused apps or browser tabs on your computer as they might be using up your bandwidth and computing power.

Geographical Area

Some communities have better internet services than others. There might not be much you can do about this, but consider changing internet providers if yours is unreliable and you have other options. In some rural areas, you might get a better connection using a cellular data plan than cable or fibre internet.

Microwave Ovens

Microwave radiation from microwave ovens can disrupt wifi and cellular signals. Avoid using the microwave when teaching or learning online.

Wifi Router Location

The location of your wifi router can affect your wireless performance. For instance, don’t place your router in a closed cabinet which will reduce the signal strength. Do not expect a router at one end of your home to provide a great signal at the opposite side or on another floor.

Hardware Upgrades: Wifi Routers, Range Extenders, and Powerline Adapters

Your internet service provider (ISP) will provide a wifi router, but models do change over the years. If you are experiencing poor wifi in areas of your home, check with your internet service provider to see if they have any solutions or upgrades that you are eligible for. If you have an older wifi router, they may upgrade you or even provide a range extender.

If your ISP does not have any additional options for you, you may be able to improve your wifi signal coverage by purchasing a more powerful wifi router that has multiple external antennas, a range extender, a powerline kit, or another solution. AS well, you may be able to add a new USB wifi adapter, perhaps with a better antenna, to your existing device.

A range extender is a wifi signal repeater (or bridge). It relays the signals from your main wifi router to your device. You would typically place the extender between your router and your dead zone. Being in the middle and “bridging” the gap, the repeater would be able to relay the signals between your device and the wifi router, effectively extending the distance that your device can connect to your wifi router.

A powerline network is essentially a wired network using your house’s existing electrical wiring system. A basic kit comes with two powerline adapters and two short network cables. You connect one of the cables to your router and to the first of the adapters. Then you plug it into the nearest power socket. The other adapter plugs into an electrical socket where you want to use your device. You run the other network cable from that adapter to your device to complete the connection.

It is also important to remember that wifi technology has had a number of improvements in the past few years. If you are running an older protocol on either end of the connection, you will be limited to the slowest common denominator. As an example, if your new device does wireless-AC, but your router can only do wireless-N, you will be limited to the lower standard. The reverse also applies. If you are finding your wifi slow, you should consider upgrading your devices/router.

Test Your Connection

You can use the signal strength bar on a portable device like a tablet or cell phone to determine the areas in your home with the strongest wifi signals. There are also dedicated apps that you can install that will give you more details about the wifi signals that your device can detect.

There are speedtest websites (just Google “speedtest”) and apps that will measure the speed of your internet connection though your browser. Although these tests are often performed on wired connections, doing so over wireless will show what the effective speed, at that point in time, for your device. It may be useful to test this initially a few times during the day to establish a baseline of what you typically would expect for a network speed. If you have a couple of different devices, run the test on each of them to determine that device’s norm. Some speed variations due to time of day or applications running on your device is normal. If you are having troubles at a later date, rerun the test, and if you notice that you are running at half your normal speed, that gives you a quantitative indicator something has changed. It may not pinpoint where the issue is, but it gives you a place to start investigating. If the problem is intermittent, you may be able to determine a pattern or causality. If a subsequent test goes back to normal for no apparent reason, then often the issue is upstream from you, perhaps with your ISP, and therefore not under your control.