UK TELECOMS TERRIER Ofcom has welcomed in the start of December with a warning that Christmas fairy lights might ruin your home wireless internet experience.
Fairy lights are a common Christmas thing, so this is a timely warning. It is also timely because Ofcom has some sort of WiFi speed checker that it wants to push.
This is 2015 so the Ofcom WiFi Checker is an app. It is available now, and Ofcom reckons that it will help people to iron out their connections, and make an example of interfering systems and speed hogs.
Flickering annual decorations are one element of the threat landscape, Microwave ovens are another. Ofcom is not short on home-based threats - anything electrical could be an enemy - nor it is short on advice.
"People can check whether their in-home WiFi is giving them the best service by using a simple, powerful app launched by Ofcom today," said the watchdog.
"The Ofcom Wi-Fi Checker, which runs on smartphones and tablets, allows consumers and businesses to discover the quality of their wireless internet signal wherever they live or work - as well as offering practical steps to help people get the best from their connection."
The app is Android and iOS friendly, naturally, and Ofcom said that as many as six million UK homes and offices could benefit from its emotionless assessment of your networking setup.
Ofcom told The INQUIRER that fairy lights and other gear can cause problems because of "electromagnetic waves".
"Wi-Fi uses electromagnetic waves to send information to and from your broadband router and device," the regulator said in an informal statement. "So electrical devices cause small electromagnetic fields which can interfere with electromagnetic waves trying to travel through it."
Fairly lights are the bad man here, but the same problem could apply to any old lamp. "Wireless broadband may not be working as well as it could in nearly six million UK homes and office. This is often caused by the WiFi setup in the house slowing down broadband," added Ofcom in a wider statement.
"It could be down to something as simple as interference from other electronic devices, such as a microwave oven, baby monitor, a lamp or even Christmas fairy lights."
The app tests the WiFi set-up and, if it finds a problem, provides some troubleshooting tips to help improve broadband.
Solutions to any home-found problems should be evaluated by the end user. We suspect that moving a router away from the Christmas tree is probably better than banning Christmas decorations.
Readers of The INQUIRER will not make do with a vague explanation, and we did run the fairy lights question through Ofcom a couple of times.
Eventually we got to radio waves and transmission, but even that is vague. Fortunately your tree has a saviour in Rob Wells, senior director at Netgear, who has taken a step towards un-ruining Christmas by explaining things from a networking position.
"It's important to keep your equipment away from these devices in order to prevent conflict with the WiFi. With Christmas just around the corner, it's particularly important to make sure your WiFi is running smoothly. Having family and friends over to celebrate the festivities will put even more pressure on your home networking device," he said.
"Whether they're sharing photos on social media or trying out a new game on the Xbox, the connection of multiple devices will put extra strain on your router, and slow down the wireless speeds even more."
He added that if you are struggling with the lights and the WiFi you might as well give the Ofcom thing a crack.
"If you are trying to work out what is affecting your WiFi, the Ofcom app is certainly useful as it should detect any environmental interference and make recommendations on where to place the wireless router to give you the best possible performance."
He added, perhaps unnecessarily, that you shouldn't keep your router in a cupboard, and that if you connect a lot of things it is probably worth an upgrade. We are stumped to think of the names of any hardware providers. µ
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