It’s that time of year again. Named storms have started heading our way, one after another poking their drizzly heads around the corner.
With many of us still working from home, a good internet connection needs to be more reliable than our ever-changing weather! So when your Netflix stream drops out, or your Teams call freezes thanks to a buffering signal, is it possible that this awful weather could be to blame?
The weather can have a range of effects on the speed of your internet connection.
Physical damage to the network, water getting into electrical connections, and wireless signal interference are all examples of this. Some connections are more susceptible to the elements than others.
Sadly, most of Wales is still reliant on an old copper infrastructure*. These cables were designed to carry voice signals rather than data, and on average they are more than three decades old.
Copper cables carry electrical signals. Mostly underground, moisture, caused by rain and flooding can get into the cables or their connectors resulting in problems just when you’re about to log onto that all important Teams call. Rainwater can significantly interfere with signals and even block them entirely, reducing the bandwidth or causing an electrical short-circuit. This slows the broadband coming into your home down and can even make it stop working completely.
In fact, residents and businesses in some particularly weather-prone parts of Wales, with old infrastructure, are experiencing the results of water-logged underground ducts on their connectivity right now. We already know about issues in Llantwit Major, for example, where we’re seeing first-hand a direct correlation between slow internet and the rain in the village. Only yesterday we were shown pictures of copper cables submerged in a 10-foot deep puddle!
Derek has all kinds of bad news for old connections.
Rain can cause real, physical damage to cables, particularly where networks are old and tired. But it isn’t just your home connection that can be impacted. Wireless signals outside the building can be affected by rainfall as droplets can partially absorb the signal, which can result in a lower level of coverage. Even once the rain stops, the effects can still be felt. High humidity can continue to affect the strength of wireless signals, potentially causing slower connection speeds.
The sun can be problematic too – although we don’t see much of that over in Haverfordwest! When devices are subjected to excessive heat, they can function slower. Even wires can be physically damaged, resulting in a loss of connectivity. Imagine your computer’s fan isn’t working and overheats; it will eventually fail. While the device itself may work properly, the power supply is prone to fail at extremes. The networking equipment that handles our internet connection can be affected by the same problem too.
Because satellite signals need to travel large distances through the air, satellite internet services for rural users might be vulnerable to extreme weather. Wind does not normally disrupt radio signals, but satellite dishes are able to move, vibrate or sway in the wind.
For most users, the impact of the weather will be slight – unless they are physically affected by a significant issue such as submerged cables… but if you are one of those struggling with crashing Zoom meetings or crackly voice calls, then it’s hard to be patient and wait for the storm to blow over.
Full fibre is much less impacted by environmental factors.
Only 27% of homes in Wales have the faster and more reliable full fibre connections (known as fibre to the premises – or FTTP), according to Ofcom – and these connections are far less susceptible to weather problems. The fibre cables carry light pulses, so they don’t suffer from short circuits like electrical circuits carried over copper wires do. This is one of the main reasons fibre is generally more reliable than copper.
Fibre isn’t entirely immune to environmental effects mind you – we still need to maintain the network by keeping connectors clean: but it is generally much more future-proof, resilient, green and reliable than other forms of connectivity.
So next time your latest Netflix boxset is running slow – and you’re still using an old copper network (that includes a ‘Superfast’ service – where the fibre only goes as far as the green box down the road), then look outside! It’s quite likely the weather is to blame – so you’ll either need to ride out the storm or think about upgrading to a full fibre network.
*Ofcom’s Connected Nations report 2021.