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What can get in Wi-Fi's way?

Posted on 27 May 2011 at 15:12

The 10 home technologies, appliances and other objects that could block your Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi interference from your neighbours isn't the only cause of lower signal - there is much around the home that could be getting in the way. Here are 10 of the top offenders.

Analogue video senders

Video senders – typically used to beam satellite/cable pictures to another TV in the house – are commonly regarded as public enemy number one when it comes to Wi-Fi interference.

Everyone, from BT to regulator Ofcom and router manufacturers, points their finger at the senders and similar devices, such as baby monitors and wireless security cameras.

“Analogue video senders have a different spectrum profile to Wi-Fi, to the point where they obliterate Wi-Fi. You can’t even see an SSID,” said BT’s Adrian Pote.

Since the signal is always on, even when no video is being sent, video senders are often hard to diagnose as a source of interference, and their reach is wide enough to hurt neighbours’ wireless too.

Microwaves

Microwave ovens were the very first household electronic devices to emit interference in the 2.4GHz band, so wait until the movie has downloaded before cooking your microwave popcorn.

Research from the Farpoint Group suggests that data throughput can fall by 64% within 25ft of a microwave, and Farpoint analyst Craig Mathias said the firm had even “seen problems at 50m”.

Unlike video senders, microwave interference should only occur when the oven is in use.

Wireless speakers and console controllers

Wireless speakers, console controllers and music players: it might seem like the living room of the future, but those devices can all interfere with Wi-Fi.

“A major issue is any device can operate in the unlicensed band [used by Wi-Fi],” said Mathias. “There are a lot of devices in that band.” Cordless phones shouldn’t interfere with your Wi-Fi (unless you’ve bought them from abroad), as they don’t operate in the 2.4GHz band.

Bluetooth

Bluetooth devices can also interfere with Wi-Fi. New devices that use Bluetooth solve the problem by jumping to different frequencies, but older gadgets are “still a bit of a problem”, said ABI Research analyst Michael Morgan.

Christmas lights

Every holiday season, ISPs receive a spike in complaints that internet connections aren’t working. The culprit: that festive, sparkly, lit-up tree in the living room.

TalkTalk said Christmas tree lighting and other household lights can reduce Wi-Fi performance by 25%, and interference is at its worst when the lights are blinking.

Fluorescent lighting can also degrade signal, but analysts stressed that the router would need to be placed very close to the light to cause a noticeable interference.

Building materials

Sometimes it isn’t the gadgets in your home, but the house itself that’s blocking Wi-Fi.

The worst culprit is chicken wire, which is used to help plaster stick to walls, especially in Victorian or Edwardian era homes. The gaps in the metal mesh are just the right size to block waves from the 2.4GHz range, turning the house into a Faraday cage.

Modern homes constructed largely of plaster board also use signal-bouncing foil coating in bathrooms and kitchens. Indeed, any metal in walls can cause signal to degrade, with corners and staircases wreaking the most havoc in the home.

Power cables

Anything with metal running through it can degrade Wi-Fi signal, but cables add electricity to the mix, and the electromagnetic radiation given off can, in theory, create radio frequency noise that interferes, said Morgan. However, he stressed the effect is likely to be minimal.

Mirrors

Large mirrors can hurt signal by reflecting it back – essentially the opposite of covering the wall behind a Wi-Fi router with tin foil.

“If you have a bathroom between your router and computer, the signal on the other side might not be good,” warned John Merrill, marketing director for Wi-Fi firm Xirrus.

Old televisions

It isn’t just new gadgets that generate interference: an ancient CRT television knocked wireless signal out for a whole neighbourhood, according to BT. The ISP was forced to buy a new TV for one man after the power supply on his faulty television hit services in a 200m radius.

Fish tanks

Stick your router next to your 5ft aquarium and you’ll be casting a massive Wi-Fi shadow for devices on the other side of the water.

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For more details about purchasing this feature and/or images for editorial usage, please contact Jasmine Samra on pictures@dennis.co.uk

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