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Tips for Troubleshooting Home Connectivity

Mar 23, 2020, by Steven Wallace
Tags: Coronavirus communications, Frontpage News, Zoom

Many of us have transitioned to working from home, where our computer equipment, our home network setup and our home broadband providers can all differ from our office configurations. The capability and configuration of each of these components can impact your experience at home. If you're experiencing difficulties with video conferencing technology from your home, these tips may be helpful in troubleshooting your network connection. 
 
The Home Broadband Provider

Between the Internet backbone and each individual home, there are a number of technologies that deliver home broadband. These range from digital subscriber lines to cable modems to fiber to the home.

The technologies that connect each home are different, particularly in the upstream and downstream capabilities inherent in each technology. All of these base technologies should support basic work-from-home needs, however, the provider’s configuration, your family’s utilization, and the behavior of your neighbors can affect your performance. 
 
Does my broadband service have the Internet speed required for video conferencing?  
 
Using Zoom's bandwidth requirements, broadband requirements range from 2Mb/s for HD video conferencing, down to .1Mb/s for screen sharing. (Most home connections should support these speeds.) If you believe your provider may be speed-challenged and voice plus sharing the screen is acceptable, you can reduce the speed required by a factor of 20 by turning off video in the Zoom client. Also, if you're paying for data, (e.g., if your Internet is via cell or satellite), restricting to voice and screen sharing can save you data and dollars.
 
Roughly speaking, if you successfully use online streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, etc., your Internet speed is good enough for video conferencing. However, your Internet may not support *both* watching a streaming service and video conferencing at the same time. All the Internet-connected devices in your home are sharing your total Internet capacity, so the aggregate of your use and your family’s use can impact one another on your connection.
 
Everyone and everything in the home is sharing the Internet connection. If you're experiencing video conferencing problems, and there are others gaming, streaming video, etc., consider scheduling when each user can use their favorite Internet application. Allowing others to surf the web, check email, and Facebook, during the video conference is probably ok.
 
To find your home broadband Internet speed, you can use a speed testing site. The most popular site is speedtest.net. Speed testing sites can also be useful when troubleshooting connections within the home.
 
Video conferencing using a computer or laptop that's directly connected to the home router via an Ethernet cable provides the best network connection. While WiFi may work well for many, it can suffer from interference or network congestion. If your home setup accommodates a wired connection directly to the router, that's ideal.
 
In-House Connectivity: WiFi

Many of us don't have the option to wire our work computer or video conferencing device directly to our home router. Instead, we use a wireless router to provide connectivity to our home broadband. WiFi performance and reliability have vastly improved in the last few years, with the newest WiFi routers offering wireless speeds that exceed the broadband connections coming into your home. WiFi, however, can still be finicky and can have a major impact on you and your family’s ability to access the bandwidth coming into your home. Distance, interference and the capabilities of your WiFi router each can be a factor. 
 
The closer you are to your WiFi router, the better.
 
Newer WiFi routers offer two bands of radio frequencies over which you can connect devices. Using the 5G band is usually better than 2.4G. The 5G band is more efficient and supports higher speeds; however, it doesn't travel as far. If you're distant from your WiFi router, 2.4G might work better. Using Speedtest.net you can experiment with different locations of your WiFi router and computer to determine what combination results in the best speed. 

The microwave oven can disrupt WiFi, especially the 2.4G band. If you're video conferencing over WiFi from the kitchen and the connection freezes when the microwave is in use, you may need to move further away from the microwave, or closer to the WiFi router.
 
Extending your WiFi
 
Perhaps your new home office is too far from the router for reliable WiFi, and it's not possible to move the router closer. It's possible to extend the WiFi network. There are many WiFi extension approaches, including piggybacking a wired Ethernet connection over the house power wiring. For many, the simplest solution to extending and improving the WiFi signal throughout a house or apartment is to deploy a mesh WiFi system. This CNET article provides a good overview of the technology and product reviews.

To isolate problems between your home broadband connection and your wifi capabilities, try running a speed test while plugged in to the broadband router with an Ethernet cable with WiFi turned off on your computer. If you have better performance when plugged directly in to the broadband provider, it may mean you need to relocate or replace your WiFi router.

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs)

 Many working from home may need to use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to access on-campus systems securely. Using a VPN means there's software running on your computer that mimics a dedicated line directly from your campus network to your home. It's as if the campus network extends into your home. Typically VPNs work well; however, if there is a surge of additional VPN users (e.g., when many relocate their work to home), VPNs can experience performance problems and outages. Issues of this type will likely decrease as the campus VPN infrastructure adjusts to meet the higher demand.
 
When attempting to identify the source of a network problem, network pros use a secret technique that's been passed down for decades: they try a different computer. If laptop A can't connect to the video bridge over the WiFi, then they try computer B. If B works, it's unlikely to be the network.
 
Do you have any working-at-home troubleshoot tips to share? Please pass them along so we can add them to this blog.