If you’re trying to work online from home, there are a few things you should know about your internet connection.
Wi-Fi is always the last resort
Yes, wireless internet works, mostly. But it will never work as well as the wire that plugs into your computer. Sad but true.
You likely already have an ethernet cable that’s too short somewhere, and the box that it plugs into is probably someplace inconvenient for working anyway. Fortunately, both of these things are very simple to fix. Run a longer cable either to or from your router, up to 100-feet in length will still work better than wifi.
And get that silly little dongle thing on order already.
Your devices are constantly doing stuff behind your back
Here’s a picture of the traffic on my home network in the last day. Notice how much activity there is even when no one is awake. Occasionally it even spikes up to 10x this! Sometimes while I’m leading a meeting. No joke.
As you can see over half of it was ads and trackers and stuff that eats up bandwidth at inconvenient times while providing zero benefit to me. That’s why I stopped it all by setting up some free opensource software that runs on an old half-broken chromebook I had gathering dust.
You can do this too! And when you do you’ll get a much faster network without paying for a service upgrade, because your cutting down on your overall competing (but worthless) internet traffic.
Check your speeds
Internet providers only advertise their download speeds. There’s a reason for that, their upload speeds generally suck.
A fast download helps you watch Netflix without buffering, a fast upload helps people on your web meeting actually see & hear you. Before you go on a meeting, check your speed. If the upload is less than 5mb/s, you can connect and listen, but don’t expect to talk much.
And if you were to make one change to your internet services, requesting symmetrical internet would be my recommendation. If available, it gives you about equal upload and download. Keep in mind that if you’re in the US, neither of these rates are guaranteed. So yes, your provider can lie and give you less, but if you’re checking your speeds often you’ll notice that and can hopefully find a better provider.
Check your services
How do you know if the problem is your computer or your meeting provider or internet provider or what?
Every major online meeting provider has a website that shows their current status. Here are a few:
You get the idea. Just search for your provider and “status” and you’ll find what you need within a click or two.There are a few third-party monitors that you can reference as well. These will show you reported outages from Dropbox to Slack to Verizon, and in many cases you can even have them notify you when these services go down.
Either way, if there’s a problem you absolutely can know if it’s on your end or on the provider’s side. Documenting this and reporting it helps the provider get better. Though in my experience, the problem is most often on the user side. That means you. So you should probably…
Have someone to call
Maybe that’s someone at IT support at work, maybe it’s just your friend’s cousin who likes to geek out on computers. Either way, you need someone who you can pick up a phone and call to say things like…
“I need to prioritize work meeting traffic on my network, how do I do that?”
Because it is entirely possible to do exactly that, you know. That way even if someone else is online playing Minecraft or posting stuff on YouTube or whatever, their signal gets degraded before yours does. Which may not be popular, but it certainly beats the alternative.
Starts beat Smarts
Especially during this time of lockdown, you really do need to know a couple things that help you maintain a functional connection to the outside world. There’s no shame in not knowing, but if you try and go another few weeks without even attempting to make your persistent and entirely preventable internet problems better, then shame on you. After all, you’re about out of excuses now that you have more time than ever to figure this out, right? So the least you can do is to figure out how to figure all this stuff out.
You don’t need to be smart about any of it yet, it’s okay. Try just being curious about how the device you’re reading these words on got them at all?
You know how to get started. Just Google some. Talk to people. Try a couple things. Huh, how about that now? Pretty soon I bet you’ll find yourself saying “oh is that all?”
Some simple things like plugging the internet into your computer can make a big difference. There’s no need to go become one with the matrix to make things a whole lot better for you…and everyone else in your household.
Got some other tips of your own to add? Wanna pick a fight? Comment away :)