'Christmas lights can slow your Wi-Fi', claims Ofcom

Posted Dec 1, 2015 by James Walker
Over the next few weeks, millions of fairy lights will be installed in homes worldwide. They may appear harmless but Ofcom, the UK telecoms watchdog, thinks otherwise. It has warned that Christmas lights can slow down Wi-Fi, prompting a mass debate.
Christmas lights illuminate a home in Hermitage Tennessee
Christmas lights illuminate a home in Hermitage Tennessee
Ofcom released a new Wi-Fi Checker app today that is designed to let residents of Wales improve their broadband signal. In the press release about the app, the regulator made a short reference to how interference from other electronics can slow down Wi-Fi, including "Christmas fairy lights" in a list of examples. Perhaps predictably, the media has been rather more interested in this than the app itself.
So could fairy lights actually be the source of your Christmas Wi-Fi woes? It is known that electrical components can interfere with each other, particularly when a device like a Wi-Fi router is trying to get radio waves through the walls of your home. The usual sources are devices which themselves also communicate wirelessly though.
Bluetooth, wireless home security systems, wireless video game controllers and cordless phones are all notorious for interfering with routers. According to Ofcom, fairy lights should be added to the list, a claim that has risen multiple times before in the past and usually resurfaces every Christmas.
Internet service providers reportedly see a spike in complaints about Wi-Fi performance during the Christmas season. This has apparently been attributed to all the flashing lights that home routers have to put up with.
Flashing fairy lights, particularly newer sets, are likely to be made from LEDs, a known source of electrical interference that can interrupt broadband signals. With so many lights around the house at Christmas time, it's therefore certainly possible that they could be responsible for a sudden drop in Wi-Fi performance.
Other possible causes should be considered too though. For most people, pulling down the lights won't be an option but some savvy placement could help with a weak Wi-Fi signal. It is recommended that cabling is kept at least 5m away from your router, if possible, giving it a space to operate in which it is free from interference.
An easy way to check how much interference your Wi-Fi is experiencing is to use an app like Ofcom's new Wi-Fi Checker. It lets you see how much data loss your router encounters as it communicates with devices on your network and can provide tips to help you optimise it.
If you're hosting a large party of visitors who are all using your Internet, any slow-down could be caused simply by this extra traffic. You could try to set bandwidth limits if your router allows you, preventing one person from using it all, or distribute connected devices between the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands of your router, preventing them from interfering with each other.
Cheaper routers, especially ones supplied for free by ISPs, aren't always designed to handle multiple devices at once and may have slow CPUs. If you regularly use multiple devices and experience signal drop-outs — or you just want a greater broadband range in your house — consider buying a new router altogether.
You don't have to spend a lot to get something better than what your ISP hands out and you could get a good deal in the holiday season. Anything in the £30 - £60 price bracket should suit most households but do try to buy from established names like TP-Link, Asus and Netgear.
One final technique you can always try when you encounter issues with your Wi-Fi is the oldest in the book: just restart your router. More often than not, this will cure any cases of devices refusing to connect and restore connection speed to normal if your network is feeling sluggish.
With a few considerations, your Wi-Fi should last you through Christmas. Just remember there are many factors that affect the quality of a wireless signal and you're almost certain to never encounter one on its own.