Physicist explains why your WiFi signal doesn’t always work


You’re finally in bed with your significant other and after a few lazy swipes of either your laptop, tablet or smartphone, you are ready to watch an episode of your favorite show before sleep. Unfortunately, instead of wiggling your toes and basking in the frivolous habits of modernity, you suddenly find yourself the victim of “buffering”, or grainy video due to a weak WiFi signal that doesn’t quite reach your bedroom. Even after a series of curses and restarting your router and media device, signal consistency is seldom achieved. And your ability to fall asleep ruined.

After enduring similar first-world “problems”, Ph.D student Jason Cole set out to diagram how exactly WiFi signals degrade in confined environments. Using a Helmholtz equation and an absurd amount of mathematics that’s brilliantly detailed on his blog, Almost looks like work, Cole charted the electromagnetic distribution coming from a router and created a visual representation of the strength of these signals as a router moves around a room. Not surprisingly, the best location for your router is in the center of your home. Still, watching these radiation signals change as the router is moved is fascinating and a wonderful example of what physicists do in their spare time while making the rest of us look like intellectual toddlers.

Cole concludes that “with the router in approximately the correct place, you can see the radiation initially stream out of the router. There are a few reflections at first, but once the flat has been filled with field it becomes static quite quickly, and settles into an oscillating standing wave.”

About Author

Kristian strives to enlighten and entertain readers. In addition to his teaching and editorial responsibilities, he is working on a science-fiction novel that promises not to include exoskeleton suits and anemic aliens floating in mysterious vats of green-tinted goop.

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