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Do Christmas Lights Disrupt Your Wi-Fi?

It’s a famous urban legend of sorts, every year someone suggests that Christmas lights will interfere with your Wi-Fi signal. This year, the guilty culprit is Ofcom. The independent regulator for the UK communications industries (and maker of a Wi-Fi related app), recently suggested that Christmas lights may slow down your Wi-Fi signal and everyone went a bit crazy. So is it true? I think it's time we get to the bottom of this mystery!

The theory

WiFi uses radio waves. Christmas lights emit a very small electromagnetic field that could (theoretically) interfere with the radio waves being transmitted from your home router. The more lights, the greater the chance of a disruption. Also, some have suggested that the closer the lights are in relation to the router, the greater the risk that they might interfere with your Wi-Fi signal.

According to Stuart Lipoff, a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Fellow Program, if you are affected boils down to what type of lights you use every year. Lipoff says, "The older technology that was used to make the lights blink can indeed cause radio interference. In this case, the lights were arranged into a string of small low voltage incandescent lamps in series with each other. The total number of lamps in the string were such that the combined voltage of all of them was equal to the 110 volts in a typical US home.”

Today most modern homes decorate with LED lights, often using an external electronic flashing controller, which does not create radio noise. Lipoff goes on to state that “There are some LEDs that have an additional blink controlled chip right inside the LED bulb. It turns out that these devices also create significant radio interference as this internal controller cycles the LED chip from on to off. The reason is somewhat analogous to the spark problem in incandescent blinker bulbs in that when the LED is between fully on and fully off it can exhibit negative resistance that causes it create radio energy."

So what’s the verdict?

In an attempt to keep things merry and bright this holiday season I decided to conduct my own field test. Please be aware that I am a self-proclaimed novice! By no means is this a scientific test and we all know that internet speeds tend to fluctuate. So my results are not definitive. Before I put up my LED lights, I ran a speed test on my laptop, followed by an additional test once the lights were placed close to the router.

Before the lights my download speed was 82.63 Mbps, with an upload speed of 86.23 Mbps (yikes, not very impressive). After I plugged in the LED lights, and by plugged in I mean I sat those twinkling beauties directly around the router, my download speed was 81.22 Mbps, with an upload speed of 85.15. So there does appear to be a very slight variance, but there is no way to determine if that variance is a direct result of the lights or simply the a normal fluctuation. 

My internet speeds appear to be not very impressive to start with, so for me this variance is not shocking. I think that generally speaking most of us can rest assured this Christmas that our festive lights are not interfering with our W-Fi signal. One thing remains clear, I think it’s time to upgrade my Wi-Fi speed capabilities. Or perhaps Santa will bring me a better router! 

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Monday, 18 June 2018
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