If you’re like many of us, you’ve done all you can to make hybrid work and school as productive and palatable for your family as possible. Maybe you upgraded your home internet service. Or maybe you bought a new router. You may even have armed everyone in the family with their own laptop or tablet to use while taking classes and attending meetings.
So why are your workmates still complaining that your video keeps cutting out on Zoom calls?
At this point, it’s probably worth looking around to be sure no one in the family can see that you’re reading this column. Because they are the crux of the problem we’re about to try to solve.
► Talking Tech newsletter: Sign up for our guide to the week’s biggest tech news
To be sure, what your partner, spouse, roommates or children are doing online during your videoconference is likely having more impact on call quality than any piece of your home technology patchwork. And at the risk of sounding like a divorce attorney trying to motivate a prospective client, some of them may actively be prioritizing their online experience over yours.
This isn’t paranoid – at least, not if you have online gamers in the house. Serious gamers grab every available bit to gain an edge over opponents – regardless of what it might mean for your meetings. Or your career.
But all is not lost. There are ways to give your important meetings a leg up on other family members’ activities – even if one of those family members is gaming away your precious internet capacity. Many of the techniques, in fact, come straight from their playbook.
But I upgraded our internet!
It’s quite possible that you unwittingly upgraded only the downstream component of your broadband connection. It’s easy to do, because phone and cable companies, which provide the majority of U.S. broadband internet, hype fast downstream data rates but obscure their upstream speeds, which are often far slower.
Fast downstream speeds are great for keeping Netflix, Spotify and YouTube humming. But the internet is a two-way street. And videoconferencing needs upstream performance to transport your slides, your face and your voice to workmates’ laptops.
Cable and phone companies have been restricting upstream broadband because they don’t have enough capacity. For years, they put more emphasis on downstream lanes to stay ahead of our mushrooming demand for streaming services. Then suddenly, everyone needed upstream capacity for Zoom.
Presenting to workmates in HD, for example, requires about 4Mbps of upstream bandwidth. Many games require about 2Mbps – plus several times that if your gamer is streaming their session for others to watch. With a typical cable or DSL broadband connection topping out at 10Mbps upstream, it’s easy to see how the digital path out the door can quickly become congested.
► Stop bothering me, Facebook: Not ready to quit? Try these 3 tips to quiet it down
Winning at Wi-Fi
There are several things you can try to help clear the path for your presentation. But first, if your home has at least 10 connected devices and you haven’t upgraded your router, then start there.
With that out of the way, try the following:
Close your browser or at least tabs you’re not actively using. Browsers suck up lots of resources, even when minimized.
Work as close to the router as possible. More to the point, be sure your laptop is closer than anyone else’s. That way, you’re most likely to lock in the fastest speeds.
If you have a mesh system, check to see if it has “dedicated backhaul,” an exclusive channel between the units. If it does, you can squat by one of the satellites as well.
Try a wired connection. You’ll probably need a laptop ethernet adapter. But it should help your videoconference swim better upstream against the competition.
If you’re willing to spend some money, there’s another option – and another one emerging. The first, Intel’s Killer Wi-Fi, is a hardware/software combination that’s built to optimize wireless traffic for gaming. Intel says it also improves Zoom performance.
And earlier this month, Microsoft announced that Windows 11 includes built-in support for something called Wi-Fi Dual Station, which stakes out two connections for your laptop to boost speed and minimize lag. Gaming companies are already writing titles to take advantage of it. Watch for videoconferencing apps to follow suit.
Thus far, Qualcomm’s Wi-Fi FastConnect chips are the only ones with the underlying technology needed to support Wi-Fi Dual Station. And they’re just starting to become available in PCs.
Most important, keep this between us! Your gamer is playing to win. So if they ever learn you bested them at the bandwidth battle, you can bet any gains you make today will be gone tomorrow.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Zoom video problems: How to speed up your WiFi