20November 2020

How the cold weather might affect your internet connection

We all know the winter and the cold is inevitable living in Canada. But did you know when it gets colder, your internet connection might get affected as well?

Frequent internet users often complain of slower Wi-Fi speeds during bad weather. When a major snowstorm sets in, and the wind's howling outside your door as the temperature drops. You're not going outside in the snow except for snow shoveling later, so you curl up with a hot coffee and your laptop, only to discover your internet speed or cell phone connection is moving at a snail's pace. What happened? Why does my internet slow down when the weather turns lousy? We know that rain, moisture, snow, etc. weakens or reduces cellular signal propagation from cell towers to your mobile device whether indoor or outdoor.

Indirectly, however, there are several ways winter weather can mess with your internet or cell phone signals

High winds, heavy snow, ice, and rain can all damage infrastructures, tearing down power lines, causing power outages, and damaging broadcast towers. You don't have to see evidence of this damage locally to feel its effects: A power outage in one part of the city can limit the routes internet traffic takes through the infrastructure during transmission. With higher than normal traffic along those routes, internet speed slows down. Extreme cold can also cause the ground to heave as it freezes, potentially damaging cable lines.

Another factor is our response to inclement weather. If you have decided to cocoon at home to ride out the storm, chances are many other people have decided to do just the same - and reached for their smart TVs, gaming devices, laptops, eBooks, and smartphones. With everyone inside or at home because of the weather, internet traffic spikes, and internet speed drops for everyone with all the added congestion.

Some anecdotal evidence suggests that even rain droplets can absorb radio frequencies of 2.4 GHz, partially blocking Wi-Fi or cellular signals. Rain won't interfere with indoor Wi-Fi, but could theoretically slow a signal moving across open outdoor spaces from one building to another. Again, the evidence is mostly anecdotal, and what research has been done doesn't include studying snow to see if it has a similar effect.

Your habits may explain, at least partially, why internet weather seems to be a thing. Do you move away from your wireless router on cold days? If your router is on the first floor and you usually access the Internet there, you may find the signal is weaker if you decide to ride out severe weather upstairs all curled up in bed and binge-watching your favourite TV show. The floor will absorb some of the Wi-Fi signals, slowing your connection.

If roommates or family members are also home for a snow day you might be encountering some wireless interference. Wireless devices and transmitters operating at 2.4 and 5 GHz can interfere with some networks, as can microwaves close to the router.