home page iconIt goes without saying that we are all experiencing some unique aspects of life with the international response to the Covid-19 health emergency. With schools closing, or transferring to “distance learning,” and many businesses and organizations asking their employees to work from home, the question gets raised…will our technologies be able to handle the load?

Not surprisingly, the experts have already chimed in and assured us all that the world’s internet infrastructure is fine, robust, and can handle the load. But they also quickly point out that our “local networks” – particularly our home networks – might have some “pinch points.”

Here are some tips for working from home on-line

  1. A good high speed internet connection is a must. “High Speed Internet” is now generally defined as 25 Megabytes per second (Mbps). If you have less, it might be a harder to do some things on line. Check with your internet provider to see if you can increase to higher speeds for a reasonable price (or perhaps free). Last year my local provider, Spectrum upgraded me from 30 Mbps to 100 Mbps at no cost. I suspect all of the providers will switch you over for free given the current global situation.
  2. Many people do not know that cable internet providers typically “throttle” their speeds with a significant difference between download speed – which is usually pretty high – and upload speeds which may be paltry at best. There are a number of reasons why they do this but the important part is to know that they do and if you try to video conference from home with a 10 Mbps cable connection, you probably only have a 1 Mbps upload speed which is simply not good enough for videoconferencing. If you cannot get higher speeds from your current provider see some alternatives below.
  3. Are you using WiFi at home? The answer is probably, of course! Here’s some important info. The latest versions of WiFi devices have two frequencies available to use. The older version is 2.4 GHz and the newer is 5 GHz. Most new computers, smartphones and tablets can use either frequency, but to get your highest speed – use 5 GHz. Generally, this simply means checking your connection to see what frequency you are using. To check, go to your WiFi setting and look to see what Router you are connected to. You will see the two WiFi signals your router has available. At my house they are listed as “NETGEAR###” and “NETGEAR###-5G”.  The one marked as “5G” means it is the 5 GHz frequency – use this one. Also important, all those smart devices you have around the house – smart locks, smart light bulbs, smart thermostats – likely require the 2.4 GHz connection. So put all of those things on that frequency and save the high bandwidth for your computers, phones and tablets. BTW, if you have the option of plugging your computer or laptop directly into your internet router – do it. Wired connections using Ethernet will always be faster and more robust than WiFi.
  4. Still on the topic of WIFi, are you living close by to neighbors who are also using WiFi in their homes? Most of us are. If you are living in an apartment house or other form of communal living, there could be dozens of WiFi devices within reach of your computers. Generally, these devices are pretty smart and will automatically chose a “channel” that is free and clear of interference from other WiFi signals. But not always. You can check your internet speeds (download and upload) by visiting Speedtest.net. If you are not getting the speed you are supposed to, one reason may be interference from one of your neighbors. Check out my article from last year on how to resolve this.
  5. Kids home? Are they playing video games or binge watching Baby Shark Dance? Be aware that on-line video games and streamed video are bandwidth killers. If you are working from home you may need to pull rank and have the kid put off these activities until you are off your video-conference staff meeting with the boss. Or look at the alternative below…

Some alternatives to your home network

If you simply can’t get more speed from your internet provider to work from home, or your home situation is such that you need more bandwidth, your cellphone may be the answer.

One of the coolest things that smartphones can do is create an internet “hotspot” which allows your other devices to get their internet connection through your phone. If you have never tried this it is fairly easy to set up (check on line for specific directions for your smartphone). Once connected, your cellphone (and cellphone provider) are giving you internet without using your home network. And in come locations, the data speeds from your cellphone will be equivalent or possibly even faster than that provided by your cable internet provider. If the latter is true, you may want to make a permanent switch.

Word of caution: Data plans and rates from your cell phone provider vary dramatically. If you have a great “family plan” you may have a very large amount of data capacity per month, but many people do not. Unlike the cable internet providers, the cell phone companies make all their money from selling you data plans. That said, many of these companies have generous expansion plans available during emergency situations. So contact your cell phone provider to see if they can increase your data plan for free.

Stay safe, stay healthy.