It’s the holiday season, and many of us will soon be festooning our homes with lots of twinkly lights, right after we untangle them, find the inevitable blown fuses up and down the damn string, and finally get them hung up. And once they’re up, we’ll likely discover that, uh, they’re screwing up our WiFi connections.
UK telecom regulator Ofcom has just released their yearly warning about Christmas lights and the havoc they may wreak upon your WiFi, and the results can be substantial: You could lose up to a quarter of your speed thanks to holiday decorations. But how does a $1 string of cheap lightbulbs screw up your WiFi? Why, radio frequency interference, of course!
What, you don’t read about physics for fun? OK, here’s the deal: Everything you plug into a wall gives off radio signals, thanks to the nature of AC power. As you plug more things into the wall, you generate more of these radio waves. Your WiFi signal is also basically a radio, so when these signals cross, it’s harder for your computer and router to interpret what they’re receiving, and it slows down your signal.
This generally isn’t a huge problem because you don’t have your microwave plugged in halfway across the house. But if you, say, wrap the front of your home in copper wire, and then start running AC current through it, yeah, you’re going to be giving off a lot of interference, especially if it’s near your router.
So, how do you maintain both functioning WiFi and a spectacular Christmas display? Keep your router as far away from the Christmas tree as possible and dial back the light show. Either that or simply give up one or the other. We recommend ditching the lights: A month without Netflix is no way to live.