In the best of circumstances, your home WiFi can let you down. Anyone who works from home has probably experienced frozen video during a Zoom meeting or simply dropping out of a videoconference unexpectedly. Home-based workers are used to the indignity of webinars freezing, video glitching, and somehow having video but not audio — and that’s when the other people in your home and neighborhood are out.
At peak internet use times — think the hour when people get home from work or when they’re all watching Netflix before bed — there’s less bandwidth for your work needs. The internet doesn’t know who’s watching “Ernest Goes to Space” or “Madea Easter Egg Hunt,’ versus who has an important late-night call with the West Coast office.
What can you do?
It’s probably not practical to go door-to-door to ask your neighbors to stop their Zoom calls or to log off from their streaming videos because you need a better internet connection. What you can do, however, is get off your WiFi network and plug into your router directly.
In some cases, that’s not as easy as it sounds. Many current laptops lack an ethernet. My Apple Macintosh laptop only has one port that’s used for charging. To plug into my WiFi router I had to buy an adapter.
The first adapter I bought worked fine but it lacked an additional port to also charge my laptop while connected. That meant I had a faster connection, but on longer calls and while appearing on podcasts I saw my battery get alarmingly low.
To fix that I bought an adapter that not only had an ethernet port but also has a power port, two USB ports, and some other ports that allow me to connect monitors and other devices. When you use this type of adapter (which can be ordered on Amazon for under $30) it’s important to shut off your WiFi and make sure you are connected via ethernet.
How big a difference does it make?
Your performance may vary from mine but, in my case, the results were dramatic. I saw download speeds increase roughly ten-fold and upload speeds triple. The download increase was not overly important for me since I have not had any trouble consuming content. The upload increase, however, was the difference between having my video feed freeze during meetings and media appearances and it working seamlessly.
Plugging into a router isn’t always easy. In my case, my office is about as far from my router as possible though we live on one floor in a condo so at least I did not have to contend with stairs. I first bought a 20-foot ethernet cable and that worked but left little slack — leaving me vulnerable to a careless person or indifferent cat sending my computer flying. Now, I bought a 50-foot cable and have plenty of give to avoid disaster.
For under $50 I have dramatically improved my internet connection. I don’t always need that level of improvement but when I do, that’s a very small price to pay to know my connection won’t drop out and/or the movie I’m streaming won’t pause for buffering at a key moment.
–By Daniel B. Kline