It’s raining cats and dogs outside and your internet just went down. Is the thunderstorm the cause or are the two unrelated?
Wireless internet technology is perhaps one of the most important developments of the past century. It allows our smartphones, computers and navigation systems to receive data over the air. But internet technology isn’t perfect. It’s subject to all kinds of interference, including competing wireless signals, solid objects and even extreme weather.
To understand wireless interference, you first have to know that all transmitters, like satellites, radios and cell towers send ultrasonic waves to be picked up by the receiving antenna. For the best possible results, the transmitter requires an unbroken line of sight with the receiver. That’s why cell towers are so tall, and why satellite networks use multiple spacecraft at varying points in orbit.
However, real-world conditions are rarely ideal. Signals weaken on their way to your device because of things dust particles in the air, trees and even walls in your home. Electromagnetic waves have trouble penetrating these objects, so the signals get deflected and break apart, which causes disruptions like static in your car radio, or data loss over the internet.
When data is lost, the transmitter sends it over a second time, decreasing your device’s download speed.
This is also why signals become weakened during bad weather. Because the water, cloud, rain and fog also break apart and deflect the signals between the source and the receiver.
- Why Weather Affects Satellite Signals the Most
- Storms Still Mess With Cellular Data
- Bad Weather Doesn't Make WiFi Less Reliable
Why Weather Affects Satellite Signals the Most
Internet provided by satellite is the most likely to have issues during inclement weather.
Satellite TV and internet are fantastic conveniences for many users. Since their transmitters cast wide areas of coverage, they allow people access to high-speed digital connections in areas where other sources aren’t available. But, satellite internet is more likely to have interference during bad weather than any other type of internet service.
Satellites orbit above the sky, which means that any clouds overhead could be potential barriers for their signals. On clear or partly cloudy days, this isn’t much of an issue, but things change in the event of thunderstorms. The large, billowing clouds can easily cause interference. Data reception might slow down significantly, or it could even cut off completely for several minutes at a time.
If you’ve had to rely on a satellite for your internet connection, you’ve probably experienced weather interference for yourself. Bad weather can create other issues, like ice accumulating on the satellite dish, or heavy wind blowing the dish out of alignment. If your signal doesn’t return after the storm clears up, either of these two issues may be the culprit.
Unfortunately, there’s not much that can be done about satellite signal loss during a storm, apart from waiting it out. Weather interference is an inherent drawback of the technology. If you have a device that absolutely must have a stable internet connection during extreme weather, we’d recommend another method of transmission.
Storms Still Mess With Cellular Data
Like satellite transmissions, 4G and 5G internet connections can also have trouble penetrating through atmospheric moisture. However, cellular towers are typically well below the cloud layer, making this less of an issue.
In cases of thick rain or fog, you may lose a couple of bars of signal, though it could be worse if you’re several miles away from the tower.
In rare cases, lightning could strike the transmitter itself, damaging it and causing it to go offline.
When it comes to cell service, more permanent factors are likely to blame for poor reception. Objects like trees and tall buildings can block the radio waves. Large bodies of water can also emit a lot of vapor, scattering the signal. Distance to the transmitter is usually the most important factor. This is especially true for 5G connections, which only have an effective range of about 1,500 feet (457 meters).
Your cell phone coverage is unlikely to go out during a simple rain storm because cell towers are built well below the cloud layer. But in extreme weather situations, towers can be damaged or destroyed, and knock out service altogether.
Bad Weather Doesn't Make WiFi Less Reliable
Generally, weather won’t change the strength of the WiFi signal from the router to your device at home. What weather can do, however, is mess with the internet service that your WiFi uses.
Similarly to cell towers, WiFi routers are mostly dependent on line of sight and distance to your device when it comes to providing a quality connection. A router may be putting out a strong signal, but once it’s sent to the other end of your house, through several walls, it becomes much weaker. Ideally, the WiFi transmitter would be positioned equidistant from all devices with minimal obstruction. However, realistic conditions are hardly ever ideal.
And if your WiFi signal has to pass through an outdoor area on its way to your device, then rain or fog in the air could possibly have a negative impact on internet signal.
Of course there are those times when you might need to use an outdoor hot spot like at a concert venue or public park. If the weather is severe, the hot spot could go down.
If you’re having trouble with WiFi interference, you could always run a hardwired connection to your modem, but that is rarely convenient. You might want to install multiple access points in your home. For a quick and easy solution, a WiFi booster can effectively extend the range of your existing router.
Now That’s Interesting
Radio waves were first discovered in the late 1880s by German physicist Heinrich Hertz, and it didn’t take long for them to be utilized in wireless communications. In 1895, Guglielmo Marconi of Italy successfully crafted a machine that used these waves to send morse code telegraphs over the air. By the 1920s, wireless technology was widely adopted across the globe.