Dealing with High Internet Usage

As discussed in the previous article, Understanding Bandwidth, the average user will be bound to the limits of their available Upload speed rather than Download speed (which will be referred to as bandwidth for the rest of the article). Many internet plans do not offer much upload bandwidth. Since online video communications use just as much available upload bandwidth as download bandwidth, it is very important to manage how your upload bandwidth can affect your video lesson quality.

If you find that you are prone to degrading video call quality, such as robotic or distorted audio, blurry or pixelated video, extreme delay between you and your participant, and randomly disconnecting from your call, you are most likely suffering the effects of low bandwidth. Here are some common causes that can help narrow down what internet related issues may be causing your video call misfortunes.

1 - You are on a budget internet plan.

Maybe you casually surf the web, do some online shopping or banking, go on Facebook, and watch a few YouTube videos here and there. These common activities can feel fast on a budget internet plan. However, as discussed above, video calling can push the limits of these lower-end internet plans, especially when it comes to uploading/sending data. Your overall internet speed ALWAYS starts from the plan you pay for. If you're on a budget plan, it doesn't hurt to contact your service provider to see if they can give you a temporary deal to get through online lessons successfully.

2 - Your meeting participant is on a budget internet plan.

Now maybe you have upgraded to a faster internet plan, but some video meetings with certain individuals still suffer from all the video and sound issues you're trying to fix. It takes two to tango, and it also takes (at least) two to have a successful video meeting. Keep track of which individuals or groups of participants are most prone to quality issues. They may need also need to upgrade their internet plan.

3 - There are too many devices connected to the home internet.

It has become more common for multiple family members to rely on the internet for entertainment, such as streaming, video gaming, and video calling friends and family. If these activities tend to happen around the same time as your online lesson, it can spell trouble for everyone connected to your home internet network.

Talk to family members to allow for internet-free time during lessons to minimize the impact on your lesson's video/sound quality. If this is not possible, at least attempt to minimize upload heavy internet activities such as other video calls, or uploading pictures and videos to your Facebook, YouTube, or other social media accounts, since these activities can bog down your limited upload bandwidth.

Remember that everything mentioned above also applies to your lesson participant. If you are a teaching, ensure your student's family has taken the same precautions mentioned where possible.

4 - Your modem/router has been on for too long.

It is almost a universally accepted joke in the IT world that you can fix anything by turning it off and on again, and in many cases, it can actually be the simplest fix. Many ISPs will in fact recommend that you try unplugging your modem and/or router if you are experiencing connection issues like losing and regaining internet randomly, or your connection speed slowing down to almost a standstill for a second or two (casually referred to as Lag Spikes).

The simplest explanation as to why this works is that our modems and routers are also computers, just specialized ones, and that when they've been on 24/7 for many weeks, the combination of heat and processing large amounts of data can cause minor errors to build up within them until we start to notice the effect on our connection. Unplugging the modem and/or router for a minute or two will allow it to reset and refresh itself, effectively cleansing its software of built up junk. You can also call your provider and they can also refresh the connection on their end as well. Either method is quick and risk-free, so give it a try.

5 - Your device may be prone to connection issues.

Electronic devices have an operational lifespan, especially those with internal moving parts such as cooling fans or hard drives. If you have done all of the above and still find that you are experiencing connection related problems on your end, your current device might be showing signs of age.

If you are able to, try borrowing a friend or family member's mobile device to use your video calling app. If you own multiple types of devices, such as a smartphone, tablet, and computer, give each one a try and see if your app of choice works better on those devices.

For those who are experienced enough with Windows or macOS, you can also try performing a fresh reinstall of your Operating System (Windows 10 or macOS) to ensure that you're free of any odd software issues that can build up over time. Remember that you will lose all your personal data if you perform a reinstall, so be sure to back up all your important documents and files before performing this. Also, ensure that you have the necessary license key needed to complete the reinstall.

6 - Your WiFi connection is congested, unreliable, or unstable.

Many devices now connect to the internet wireless through WiFi, but as convenient as it is to be free of cords and cables, WiFi is not perfect and varies widely from household to household. First of all, WiFi is bound to the laws of internet bandwidth, and many modern modems/routers operate at a maximum bandwidth of 200 Mbps over WiFi. Now that sounds great until you learn that a wired Ethernet connection normally operates at 1 Gbps (1000 Mbps). Add the fact that many households use multiple devices over WiFi, and suddenly 200 Mbps of bandwidth shared between many wireless devices is not that much anymore.

Depending on the complexity of your home network, and the size and build of your home, WiFi is also prone to experiencing dead spots. This is very common when using older routers, and/or living in large homes, basements and apartment buildings with concrete walls. If you are trying to use your WiFi connected device in proximity to a dead spot, you have a greater chance of experiencing issues related to poor signal and connection.

Where possible, try to use a wired connection to a modem or router if you have ruled out the previous 5 problem areas and still experience connection problems. Options are available for both computer and mobile devices, and can be explored in Using a Wired Connection. WiFi has become commonplace in our world, but it still does not replace the speed and dependability of a wired connection.