Winterizing Your Wi-Fi: Does Cold Weather Affect Your Internet Connection?

By: Alex | Date Posted: February 12, 2024

When the weather gets chilly, there’s nothing better than curling up with your favorite shows or games. Conversely, there’s nothing that feels worse than realizing (in the middle of a snowstorm or polar vortex) that your Wi-Fi is out. Now you’re stuck inside on a snowy day without internet access. Welcome to the world of “Winterizing Your Wi-Fi”.

Could it be that the winter weather is affecting your Wi-Fi? Is it just a myth that wireless signals suffer in heavy weather, or is there something to it? And does weather affect fiber internet and other types of high-speed broadband? Let’s check out the facts about wireless internet in winter and learn some key tips for protecting your internet service when chilly weather threatens.

Can Cold Weather Affect Your Internet Connection?

The temperature of the air doesn’t directly affect the transmission of radio waves (which is what Wi-Fi is). However, there are several other ways that winter weather can disrupt your internet service.

  1. Rain Fade Effect

When the air is full of moisture, radio waves can experience something called the rain fade effect. Moisture scatters and absorbs the energy from the waves, disrupting your transmissions and making your wireless connections slower and less reliable. The effect is strongest at very high frequencies, but the lower frequencies used by wireless internet technologies are still potentially vulnerable.

Rain fade can affect your Wi-Fi signal itself if either your receiver or your device is outside. More commonly, it affects outdoor wireless systems, such as 4G/5G cell towers and fixed wireless base stations. These technologies can all see significant performance drop-offs in rain, snow, or fog.

Satellite internet service is especially vulnerable to disruptions from winter weather. A satellite signal travels a tremendous distance between your receiver and the satellite, so any interference can be a major issue for signal quality.

  1. Power Outages

In addition to the rain fade effect, winter weather can wreak havoc on internet infrastructure in your area. Power outages from downed trees or high winds regularly interfere with internet service by knocking out essential local telecom infrastructure.

Without this powered infrastructure, most forms of internet service will not function. Most ISPs do have backup generators that allow them to keep internet service functional during power outages, but even these fail-safes aren’t foolproof. In a worst-case scenario, local infrastructure may be non-functional for hours or even days.

  1. Equipment Malfunction

Cold, wet weather can also damage the equipment on your property that’s required for internet service. Cables are one common weak point. If cables are old, damaged, and/or not properly shielded, they can freeze and become damaged during a winter storm. This includes both cables on your property and common infrastructure owned by your ISP.

In addition, snow and ice can create interference and damage hardware when they accumulate on outdoor networking equipment. Satellite customers should know that snow in a receiver dish can block transmission, so it’s sometimes necessary to periodically remove snow from their dish to preserve internet access. To make matters worse, dishes can sometimes be knocked out of alignment by high winds, so see if your satellite dish is at a different angle than it normally is.

Troubleshooting Internet Outages in Winter

  1. Reset your router and/or modem.

Resetting your router and modem is a go-to solution that fixes many internet connection issues, so it’s always a smart first step. Follow the standard protocol for resetting your router, including giving it thirty seconds to one minute to reset before turning it back on. When you turn it back on, try running an internet speed test to see if the problem has resolved itself.

  1. Check for local outages with your ISP.

Sometimes winter weather knocks out internet service infrastructure over a wide area. So, if you think you might have a weather-related internet issue, check with your ISP first. Look on their website and social media to see if they’ve posted about outages, or call their customer service phone number.

  1. Examine your equipment.

It’s also worth checking the networking equipment at your house to see if it’s experiencing any obvious issues. Look for common issues of indoor networking equipment, like unplugged cables and interference-causing electronics. Then, check outdoor networking equipment like cables or satellite dishes to see if anything looks out of place. If you do spot a downed utility cable, call your ISP — it can be hard to tell if a cable is a potentially hazardous electrical wire.

Preventing and Managing Wireless Disruption in Winter

There’s only so much you can control about how your internet performs in winter weather. Most factors, like power outages and ISP-side disruptions, are out of your hands. However, there are a few steps you can take to prevent and mitigate the problems, including:

  1. Use fiber internet if it’s available.

Because fiber internet uses light instead of electromagnetic waves to transmit signals, it’s much less vulnerable to weather-related disruptions than traditional internet technologies are. While fiber service can be interrupted if an outdoor optical network terminal is damaged, the risk is overall lower than with copper-based technologies like coaxial cable internet.

If service is available in your area, consider investing in a fiber connection for improved all-weather reliability. While fiber isn’t available everywhere, it’s increasingly widespread, so check with your local providers to see if fiber is an option in your area.

  1. Protect outdoor hardware.

If you have internet equipment installed outdoors — such as a router, antenna, or satellite dish — it’s vital to keep it protected from winter weather. Electronic gear like routers should have waterproof housings; check for a NEMA or IP rating to determine if the housing will meet your needs. It’s also a good idea to keep routers in a covered area, such as a porch, where they’ll receive less exposure to the elements.

Satellite dishes can be trickier because covering them or placing them in a sheltered area may interfere with reception. Instead, you can simply clean your dish off with a snow brush (don’t use a scraper) or with warm water in a spray bottle. You may also be able to apply a chemical like Rain-X or de-icer to prevent buildup or install a compatible satellite heating device on your dish.

  1. Get an uninterruptible power supply.

A power failure can cause all kinds of headaches for your digital lifestyle, including potential data loss or corruption. That’s why many people choose to use an uninterruptible power supply to keep their home network equipment running during a power outage.

A UPS is an always-on system that kicks in with battery backup power if it detects an outage. While most UPSes aren’t designed for long-term operation, they provide a critical lifeline when an outage strikes unexpectedly. Your UPS will give you enough time to perform an orderly system shutdown and preserve your data.

Smartphone Hotspot in Snowy Landscape

  1. Use cellular data if your Wi-Fi is down.

Cellular data may be available when home Wi-Fi isn’t. If your home internet service goes out during winter weather, try using your smartphone or tablet to set up a mobile hotspot. A hotspot takes cellular data service and broadcasts it as a Wi-Fi network, providing a temporary connection that usually offers respectable speeds.

In our ultra-connected society, even a brief interruption to your internet service can be a problem. If you know that winter brings heavy weather in your area, it’s always worth thinking about how it could affect your internet and developing a plan to protect your access when it matters most. Consider “Winterizing Your Wi-Fi” to ensure seamless connectivity, rain or shine.

Thank you for reading!

Alex
 

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