Unless you have been living under a rock you have heard the clamor about high-speed gigabit wifi for your home. It sounds great, blazing fast speed for your binge-watching, games, and videos.
This sounds great. In theory, this option can:
- Download 100 photos in 3 seconds
- Download 100 songs in 3 seconds
- Download an HD Movie in 7 seconds
More than 106 million households in the United States have broadband internet access.
So, why doesn’t it work?
Gigabit refers to speeds at 1,000 mbps, and before gigabit, the highest speed household wifi was clocked at 150 mbps.
Gigabit should run at 2 speeds:
- 400 mbps at 2.4 gigahertz
- 800 mbps 5 gigahertz
Gigahertz is a unit of measurement for alternating current (AC) or electromagnetic (EM) wave frequencies. (A radio wave frequency). Wifi is simply a radio wave.
First and foremost, the faster the frequency radio wave the less it can pass through and high-speed frequency radio waves (like gigabit wifi) bounces off of just about anything including household walls, metal, concrete, and just about any thick barrier. At these high frequencies, even a thick door will block the signal, especially at distances past 25 feet.
Materials Which Block Cell and Wifi
Which materials block wifi and cell signals? Believe it or not clear glass can block cell and wifi signals along with the more obvious things like sheetrock and insultation, plywood, solid wood, brick, and of course metal. Copper is especially good at absorbing radio signals.
Read this article for more details.
The second issue is one of distance. Lower frequencies travel further and penetrate more. The higher frequency you use the less it will travel and attenuates (loses focus, and power) extremely rapidly.
Low frequencies are used to communicate with submarines because they can penetrate into deep water where normally used radio waves cannot go. Remember scenes from World War II movies in which submarines had to surface and risk detection in order to communicate? We use lower frequencies now so that submarines do not have to surface to send and receive a signal.
The bottom line here is that if you live in a large, well-built house gigabit routers will not work. Don’t let the cable companies try to sell you on it which they are aggressively trying to do. Gigabit will not work with any kind of ‘signal extender’ like the Xfinity Orb which they are pushing. In order for these plugins to work properly, you have to have a line of sight at very short distances. They might work in a single story home in a large, open area.
According to tech support at Xfinity, these orbs can actually disrupt the signal so don’t be tempted to buy them or use them.
Very importantly, there is also another issue which causes gigabit wifi not to work well, it uses an unregulated frequency which means that any other device that you have in the house can use the same frequency and interfere with your signal. This includes baby monitors, telephones, and even Skype.
The only time that you should consider buying a gigabit router is if you live in a small efficiency apartment with no walls.
According to the Xfinity techs I spoke with the actual effective range of the gigabit box is 25 feet. I am 6′ tall so that means 4x my height lying on the ground which in my mind is very poor performance.
In my humble opinion, the Internet providers have created a lot of hype to promote sales but are not being genuine about the limitations inherent in gigabit routers. They are doing this intentionally, selling unusable equipment and then trying to upsell things like Orb extenders and in my case ‘cabling’.
The gigabit box obviously is not working in my home and after a month of hours on the phone with tech support, 5 technicians in my home they could not get it to work. The symptoms are very slow speeds (not faster), and a continuously dropping signal.
An interesting note is that even though I did infrequently register very high speeds for brief periods the key indicator of poor performance is not the speed test that the techs love to show clients to indicate that the high speed router is working but rather something called latency.
It is true that your gigabit router may produce high speeds in your home which at least one tech considered as ‘working’ because he ran a speed test while he was standing right next to it. However, the issue is that the fast signal cannot travel far or penetrate normally built walls.
The symptoms that accompanied the poor gigabit performance included very low speeds and frequently being dropped from the Internet. We also experienced very slow page loading in social media. Every time that this occurred I ran a latency and speed test and even the though the speed was significantly lower than it should have been the key indicator was latency which was noticably higher every time that we had issues.
What is Latency?
Network latency is the term used to indicate any kind of delay that happens in data communication over a network. Network connections in which small delays occur are called low-latency networks whereas network connections which suffers from long delays are called high-latency networks.
Think of your wifi cable as a pipe carrying water. In this analogy gigabit pushes more water towards you in a bigger piper so that it comes more rapidly. However, what is happening is like shutting off the water every few seconds or sometimes minutes at a time so that it only reaches you periodically.
Test your signal now: http://www.speedtest.net/
Latency, in simple terms is the speed at which the data or information reaches you from the Internet. High latency numbers mean that your data (video, content from social media, whatever you are viewing) is reaching you very slowly and in my situation so slowlyl that the signal was dropped. Ping is the signal which is sent to test the latency.
In my humble opinion it seems logical that these symptoms were being caused by the obvious factors.
- That the fast signal has a shorter range and could not reach us where we used it the most and…
- The signal could not penetrate the walls and hallways.
All 4 of the users in my house had continuous connectivity issues after gigabit was installed. Xfinity then tried to upsell on the Orbs knowing that they would not work in my multi-level, large, well-built home.
After continuously contradictory advice from the techs they wanted me to pay extra for cabling service to install the existing wifi signal boosting equipment upstairs. This is after the first tech told me to uninstall it because it was interfering with the signal.
The bottom line is that gigabit will not work in your large, home and it will not work in a home built from the ususal materials like brick and drywall. Don’t waste your time and money on it. Also, don’t get sucked into the upsells like those orbs which according to the Xfinity techs can actually disrupt the signal.