Bad connection working from home? Fish tanks, plants and other Wi-Fi disruptors

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Anchiy/iStock(NEW YORK) — Amid mandatory social distancing to halt the spread of novel coronavirus, a significant percentage of the country’s office workers are working from home.

Critical to keeping American businesses afloat is workers having efficient and well-performing connectivity from home, which means not only sturdy Internet access from a reliable internet service provider but reliable wireless connectivity.

A home network may be using the fastest bandwidth available, but if there’s poor Wi-Fi connectivity, performance issues may result when connecting a laptop, for instance, to a home router.

Several experts have shared with ABC News some tips to get the best wireless performance at home, including which common household items may be interfering with wireless signals.

“Keep in mind bathrooms and kitchens are full of pipes and wires, which derogates wireless signals,” said Karen Sohl, a longtime Wi-Fi industry professional who’s worked with some of the biggest names in the industry, including Cisco, Belkin and Linksys.

“It’s best to keep your router away from these rooms, but if you must, know your signal to other rooms can become weaker,” Sohl added. “If your router is near these rooms and aren’t getting a good signal to other devices in other rooms, try moving your router into another room, for it might help strengthen your signal.”

She also advised to “keep your router positioned away from metal objects, mirrors, walls made of sheet metal and even fish tanks — these objects weaken the wireless signal.”

“The main culprit,” said Joseph Emmanuel, vice president of wireless engineering at Netgear, told ABC News, “is the microwave oven. It’s only used for a short time, less than 30 minutes a day per the national average, but when it is used, it can block pretty much any 2.4 GHz band, so that any devices will not pass through any traffic.”

The 2.4 GHz band is the frequency at which wireless routers transmit data. Newer routers also use the 5 GHz band, which offers faster performance but gets weaker with distance than the 2.4 GHz band.

Emmanuel advised users not to sit close to a microwave when using devices for real-time applications like video conferencing and video chat. He said to keep a Wi-Fi router at least a room or two away from the kitchen, or wherever a microwave oven is placed.

Also, to get the best wireless performance while working from home, you may want to disable Bluetooth — often used for connecting speakers and streaming music — because it can slow down the 2.4 GHz band, Emmanuel said.

Plants and water also may absorb a 2.4 GHz wireless signal. Both can reduce the reach of Wi-Fi, said Emmanuel. Mirrors can also degrade Wi-Fi, especially ones that are silver-coated. They act as metal shields.

While you don’t have to remove these items from your home for a better connection, there are some strategies to take to improve wireless performance.

Of utmost importance, Sohl advised, is router placement.

“Position the router in the most central location in your home, preferably on a desk or bookshelf,” added Sohl, who emphasized keeping routers on flat surfaces and off floors. “If you have a multi-story home, it’s best to put your router on the first floor, higher up in the room like on a book shelf, so the wireless signal can be closer to devices on the second floor.”

Also, it may be time to upgrade to a dual- or tri-band router that employs a 5 GHz band.

Some of the newest routers on the market are built with intelligence that will switch devices connected to the 2.4 GHz band to the 5 GHz band when interference and performance issues are detected.

It’s also important to remember that while a router can’t increase your Internet speed — that’s a fixed pipe of bandwidth provided by an ISP — it can boost connection performance.

“A better router,” Emmanuel explained, “can maintain that Internet speed across the range of your home.”

Newer routers can also pass data quickly, manage multiple users on one home network better than older routers, and can help with traffic congestion.

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