• Using a microwave oven can slow down your internet connection.
  • With everyone in your home going online, avoid streaming videos live.
  • Demand on the UKs biggest broadband network is up by a fifth.
  • Online video companies have reduced quality to free up bandwidth.

A quarter of the world’s population is under some form of lockdown because of coronavirus. Confined to their homes, most people have turned to the internet to work remotely, keep in touch with family and friends, or just to watch movies.

As demand mounts on global broadband networks, people are starting to notice that web speeds are slowing down. But it’s not just our computers that use up valuable bandwidth. Some domestic devices are also slowing us down online.

Broadband providers have experienced a surge in demand in recent weeks. On the UK’s biggest broadband network usage is up by 20%. Vodafone says data traffic on its global networks is up by 50%. But internet service providers insist they can cope with demand.

Percentage Change in Fixed Test Volume in select European Countries
Percentage Change in Fixed Test Volume in select European Countries
Image: Speedtest.net

Too many users

Within your home, it's a different matter. If everyone is trying to use data-heavy online services to stream movies or play games at the same time, your Wi-Fi network is likely to get overloaded and slow down.

Some solutions are relatively simple, like downloading movies in advance instead of streaming them. But some are more surprising, like avoiding using your microwave and even turning off the TV.

According to the UK’s media regulator Ofcom, microwave ovens reduce Wi-Fi signals. So you shouldn’t use your microwave if you are making video calls, watching HD movies, or when someone else in your home needs an uninterrupted connection.

Microwave ovens use the same 2.4 Ghz frequency as Wi-Fi routers and can disrupt or even shut down your internet connection. Some routers offer the option to switch to 5Ghz, which is what Microsoft suggests doing if your Wi-Fi signal is interrupted.

What is the World Economic Forum doing about the coronavirus outbreak?

Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic requires global cooperation among governments, international organizations and the business community, which is at the centre of the World Economic Forum’s mission as the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation.

Since its launch on 11 March, the Forum’s COVID Action Platform has brought together 1,667 stakeholders from 1,106 businesses and organizations to mitigate the risk and impact of the unprecedented global health emergency that is COVID-19.

The platform is created with the support of the World Health Organization and is open to all businesses and industry groups, as well as other stakeholders, aiming to integrate and inform joint action.

As an organization, the Forum has a track record of supporting efforts to contain epidemics. In 2017, at our Annual Meeting, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was launched – bringing together experts from government, business, health, academia and civil society to accelerate the development of vaccines. CEPI is currently supporting the race to develop a vaccine against this strand of the coronavirus.

Wi-Fi disruptors around your home

With several people in the home all using the same connection, another option is plug directly into your router, using an ethernet cable, says Ofcom. If you opt to still rely on Wi-Fi, you should make sure the router is on a table or a shelf away from other devices.

Cordless phones, baby monitors, halogen lamps, dimmer switches, stereos and computer speakers, TVs and monitors can all reduce your Wi-Fi speed. And you should plug your router into your main phone socket to avoid interference caused by using extension cables.

Mobile phones and tablets also often use your home Wi-Fi network, so you can improve speeds by switching off Wi-Fi on these devices. Using a landline phone will also reduce demand on your home network.

Online companies are also doing their bit to ease pressure on global broadband networks. Facebook, Netflix, Disney+ and YouTube have already announced that they have reduced the quality of streaming videos in an attempt to cut the amount of bandwidth they take up.