Are Your Holiday Lights Killing Your Wi-Fi?

Holiday lights are meant to add some cheer to your day, but a British regulator has pointed out that they may have an unwanted side effect: interference with your Wi-Fi network.

On Tuesday, Ofcom – an agency similar to the Federal Communications Commission – named holiday lights as one of many electronic devices that can trip up your Internet connection. The agency has released a new app to check for interference that, alas, is only available in Britain.

How do lights affect a Wi-Fi network? Apparently the wiring in the lights can add to the radio frequency interference in your home, which in turn could confound the signals from your router. Lights aren’t the only culprit, however – the same is true of many other devices. Microwaves, older Bluetooth devices, baby monitors and cordless phones all get a mention in a Cisco white paper from 2007 outlining common reasons for Wi-Fi interference. Many Internet providers see complaints spike around the holidays, since networks can get congested when you’re all gathered for a family meal – but lights may be a contributing factor. The Irish Times reported a similar problem last year, saying that blinking lights are particularly bad for interference.

That doesn’t mean there’s any need to be less festive than you normally are. A string of lights won’t crash your network. All Ofcom is letting us know is that having more things, such as lights, plugged into your outlets could contribute to some Wi-Fi slowdown, and more ostentatious displays could certainly add to interference that’s already in your home.

If you’re really curious about how your lights are affecting your network, you could conduct your own home science experiment and see how your network performs with your lights on or off. Another option is to move them as far away from your router as is practical. That way you can still watch “White Christmas” on Netflix in seasonally appropriate lighting.

That may help solve whatever immediate, decor-related Wi-Fi issues you may have. But you can follow similar tips to keep your network running smoothly throughout the whole year, as well. Moving electronics away from your router is also a good idea, if you find that you’re dropping your connection or losing speed.

Also, if you don’t have a password on your home network, you may want to consider creating one for security and speed. Your neighbours may be hanging out on your network without your knowledge. Adding a password nips that behaviour in the bud.

Another option is to change the channel on your router. As with a radio, your router can broadcast over multiple channels, and switching this can help you avoid interference. That’s particularly useful if your problem is other people’s Wi-Fi networks, as is often the case in apartments or other close-quarter living situations. Since most people stick with the defaults, chances are most people around you on are the same channel. You can change this by heading to your router’s settings from any machine connected to the network, which you can find by typing your router’s IP address into the part of your browser where you normally type in Web addresses.

Most routers have similar addresses – some variation on 192.168.1.1 or 192.168.2.1 – but you can find out for sure by doing a little digging on your PC or Mac.