To Do List: Home Network for Working Remotely

During 2020, with the rise of Corona Virus 2019 (Covid-19) we have seen a rise in working remotely. However, we soon realized that not everyone has the same connectivity speeds in their homes. We also have realized that there are internet connectivity deserts in the United States, where students from K-University may not have reliable access to the internet. Though this post is not going to address internet access and connectivity deserts in the U.S., it will address tips and techniques to help improve connectivity speeds in your home network. Even when people live in areas where internet connectivity can be taken for granted, connection speeds can be variable from home to home, which can impact performance for working remotely. A quick test is if you can stream Disney+, Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, or any other video streaming platform on your devices via a wireless network you should be able to work from home using WebEx, Zoom, etc. Essentially, 20 megabytes per second or greater will suffice. However, 20-30 megabytes per second is pushing it, especially if you are not single or have many other devices.

Your wireless connection is based on bandwidth and depending on the type of connection plan with your service provider that plan has a usually fixed amount, i.e. 20 megabytes per second, 50 megabytes per second, 1 gigabyte per second, etc. Therefore, it is imperative to squeeze every byte effectively. How many devices do you have connected to your network? For me, I have at least 8 devices on my network, with usually 5 connected to it at any one moment in time. Even though your cell phone is not streaming anything, it is still interacting with your network, consuming a small bit of your network’s bandwidth.

However, if I have 5 items connected to the network, I do not have them all streaming something at the same time. If we can do a crude extrapolation out from my anecdotal case, for a family of four, there could be about 20 devices connected to one network. What do we do? Consider budgeting and prioritizing streaming times, for a more cost-effective solution. However, depending on where you live you may be able to contact your service provider to increase your bandwidth. Also, check to see if your house or neighborhood has been wired up for Fiber or just DSL (fiber-optic connection is best as of the writing of the post) and switch if you are not on Fiber. Fiber connection allows for a higher connectivity speed.

Age plays a role in internet connectivity speeds, even if you have paid for the higher speeds from your provider. The older the house, the older the wiring to connect to the internet provider. With time, internet cable connections can degrade which can also impact performance. Also, the age of the router is important. The older the router, it may not be compatible with receiving higher speeds from your service provider. If you are renting one, contact your service provider to upgrade the router for free. If you have purchased one (recommended and more cost-effective), it may be time to upgrade it if it is old.

Even with newer routers, does it have the latest security patch? Computer viruses can impact your routers and degrade your connectivity speeds. It is always wise, regardless of your device to accept new upgrades and security patches. There is a caveat here, given the haste that some patches come out, I personally and typically wait some time depending on the need for a patch (if the current vulnerability is high the sooner I accept the patch), before I install one. Sometimes, security patches may cause more issues if installed in haste than warranted.

When you have set up wireless in your house, you may have dead spots or streaming bottlenecks. It is often best to test your connection speed by using apps a connection speed test website like www.speedtest.net. Start testing in the same room and nearest the router. There are two goals to testing near the router: (1) to test to see if your speed is within 5-10 megabytes per second to what you are paying for from your internet provider, (2) to set up a baseline of what you should be connecting to around the house. If you are not getting the right speed according to your contract, check the age and security patches on your router and retest again. If not, contact your service provider to address the situation. Once within the 5-10 megabyte per second variance from your contract, you should go around and test each room. You will see that as the further away from the router the connection speed may drop. You can also see that the connection in different rooms may vary significantly too. Different devices based on their age may also have a variable connection speed. A 6-year-old laptop may have slower connection speeds than the latest mobile device. 

To get the best solution when working from home is to install your router and wireless connection in the same room as your working station and if at all possible use the wired connection from your laptop to your router direct, bypassing wireless all together for your work device. Now, if you are testing the speed of your connectivity while connected via wire to the router is significantly faster than if it were connected via wireless, you then know that there may be an issue with the wireless. You can either buy a new wireless box if yours is old or troubleshoot from that point moving forward.

In summary, once you have addressed the above when working from home, reconsider the following to preserve your bandwidth: (1) limit as you can unnecessary video chatting via online meeting platforms; (2) limit streaming video on your work device; (3) limit streaming music on your work device; and (4) limit the number of devices connected and streaming data to your at-home network. This is because live video takes more data to stream than prerecorded video (from YouTube, Netflix, etc.) than streaming live voice over the network (Voice over internet protocol) than streaming music (Pandora, google music, etc.).

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