Telecoms regulator, Ofcom has said that six million homes could be suffering from slow broadband speeds as a result of putting up Christmas lights, placing Wi-Fi hubs close to microwaves, or near lamps or by installing baby alarms.
Ofcom describes how microwave ovens, fluorescent lights and other devices could also play havoc with wireless connections- and its all down to the electromagnetic spectrum.
The electromagnetic spectrum covers radio waves, microwaves, visible light and radiation. Phones, radios, televisions and desk lights all depend on this principle from physical science.
Wireless networks typically work on the 2.4 Gigahertz microwave radio spectrum.
Radio waves used by Wi-Fi signals (2.4 Gigahertz) are shorter than FM radio waves (100 Megahertz), meaning they are weaker and require greater power to cover the same distance.
Because of this weaker signal, where you place the router and what you have in your house will have an impact. Home electrics, microwaves, steel girders, concrete cladding and foil insulation all can have an effect. Older properties with their thicker walls make a difference, too, as the lower-powered, high frequency Wi-Fi radio waves struggle to penetrate them.
In turn, 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.
Commenting, Professor Will Stewart from the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), says: “It’s true that any form of domestic interference, including Christmas fairy lights and the growing number of other wireless devices we have in our homes, can slow down your Wi-Fi. But users should not worry unduly! For the vast majority of users the speed of their internet will be constrained by the link from their house to the exchange, rather than by their local Wi-Fi – so interference from fairy lights and other wireless devices is unlikely to be an issue. The new Ofcom app works well and will show people that their local Wi-Fi is not the issue.
“In any case, Wi-Fi systems are getting quite smart and should adapt automatically to cope with things like other Wi-Fi networks and with most other interference, including from fairy lights. Many systems also have access to the higher-frequency Wi-Fi bands, which helps.
“The problem arises for people with very old Wi-Fi base stations who might need to upgrade or extend their networks, as might people who use high speed Wi-Fi for things like streaming satellite TV.
“Some local rural broadband operators are starting to use outside Wi-Fi instead of old copper wires to distribute from village access points to local homes. This makes the issues with interference to broadband by things like Christmas lights much less of an issue.”