What the Heck is Wifi?

As the pandemic continues, all those who are now able to work from home are, and they are across the entire World. This is obviously a strain on our internet providers which can be questionable even at the best of times. So what the heck is wifi and how on earth does your microwave affect it?

My partner and I are amongst the many people who are lucky and able to work from home in the UK during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, to ensure our days are busy and thus to avoid killing each other, we need the wifi to work efficiently enough for us both to access work from home. With the entire nation requiring this, there has been a strain on internet providers and already, services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and YouTube have reduced their image quality to lessen the burden on Europe’s internet infrastructure. For anyone who has seen The IT Crowd, let’s not be like Jen and instead start at the beginning: what the heck is wifi?

Theinternet Theitcrowd GIF - Theinternet Theitcrowd Itcrowd GIFs

The GIF is from Tenor.com

Much like posting a letter, when using the internet we do not see how our message or command gets from A to B, just that it has happened.  The data we send, be that an email, a photo etc., can take different routes to its destination. Information is shared via a global network of computers (the internet), all of which have a common language (TCP/IP – Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol). This language means we can send information to one another as digital data at sub-second speeds. So where does wifi come into this? WiFi (or wireless connectivity) enables us to quickly connect our laptops, TVs, phones etc. to the internet without the use of a cable.

How does it work? WiFi uses radio waves to transmit information between our devices and the internet. Radio waves lie to the left of visible light in the electromagnetic spectrum (you may remember from school). They have a long wavelength covering several metres to kilometres in distance, meaning they can travel far without losing energy. Your internet provider would have given you a “hub” or “router” (also known as a wireless transmitter) for WiFi setup. This transmitter receives information from the internet via your broadband connection, and converts the information to radio waves which can then be emitted. This creates an area around the transmitter where a connected device (such as your laptop) can pick up the radio wave information; this area is a WLAN (wireless local area network).Electromagnetic spectrum

Why do things interfere with wifi? Radio signals used in WiFi are not the strongest, meaning they don’t travel very far. For example, you may be able to pick up your WiFi signal around the house but go to the back of your garden, and you may struggle (depending on the size of your garden…). One of the top interference problems is with distance and walls. The further away you are from your router, and the more walls there are between your device and the router, the weaker the connection as the radio waves lose strength. As well as physical barriers, one which you may have heard more about recently is interference from your microwave. I refer you back to the electromagnetic spectrum.wifihouse

Your microwave uses (unsurprisingly) microwaves, whilst your WiFi uses radio waves, both types of electromagnetic radiation which can interfere with one another because they usually operate on the same frequency (2.4 GHz). While working on the same frequency it is possible for the waves to interact either constructively (amplifying signals) or destructively (cancelling signals). The easiest way to avoid this disturbance is to simply move your microwave much further away from a WiFi router, or to just not work whilst using it… If neither of these are plausible for you (and why not?), you can upgrade your WiFi router to work on a different frequency (5 GHz) which usually means faster internet as well.interference

It was expected that by the end of 2020, 50% of the UK workforce would be working remotely/from home, reducing company costs and improving environmental impact. Well, that has come forward much faster and to a greater extent than we could have ever imagined. However, if we are to work from home and get the most out of it, we need to ensure the best WiFi signals we can. Here is a link with 10 ways to improve your signal from the PC Mag website, last October. I hope that this has given you an insight into the system you’re so used to using without much thought. I also hope you’re all well, stay safe and be kind.


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