If you have a microwave, then you have probably observed that when it’s up and running, you may simultaneously experience problems in loading web pages on your smartphone, laptop or any other device. This is especially true if your router and microwave are in close proximity to each other.
Why does that happen? What does the switching on of the microwave have anything to do with the WiFi in your house?
Like most things related to ‘electric signals’, its answer starts with the following term:
We are basically surrounded by electromagnetic radiation all the time. Visible light, something that bathes every single thing around us, is a form of electromagnetic radiation. Similarly, many other things work on electromagnetic radiation, including cell phones, TV remotes, microwave ovens, WiFi and plenty more.
Electromagnetic radiation comes in different types, depending on its frequency. Gamma rays and X rays have high frequencies (and high energies as well), while radio waves and microwaves are on the other side of the band, as they have lower frequencies. You may recall the following diagram of the electromagnetic spectrum from your high school science class.
Microwave ovens and WiFi routers
As mentioned, many everyday appliances rely on electromagnetic waves to function. Two utterly common household appliances among these are microwave ovens and a WiFi routers. Both of these emit electromagnetic rays in order to function; microwave oven emits microwaves to heat the food inside, while WiFi routers emit radio waves.
The question is: do these waves interfere with each other?
Short answer: Yes, they absolutely do.
You see, microwaves and radio waves are physically the same thing, i.e., both are, in essence, electromagnetic radiation. Thus, it’s only fair that they interfere with each other in some ways. That sounds right, doesn’t it?
A clash of frequencies
You might have observed that your WiFi works just fine normally, but when you put something inside the microwave oven and switch it on, the WiFi connectivity suddenly starts behaving erratically. The connection either becomes too slow, intermittent, or in the worst case, it just freezes, which basically means… no more Internet!
The reason behind this problem is quite simple: both WiFi and microwave ovens operate on the same frequency, i.e. 2.4 GHz (note that microwave ovens do not transfer any data, but they still radiate signals in the unlicensed 2.4 GHz Industrial, Scientific and Medical (ISM) band).
In theory, a well-shielded and branded microwave oven should not let microwaves escape from within its metallic boundaries. It should, in principle, prevent all the microwave radiation generated inside the oven from escaping to the outside, but in reality, that’s not what happens.
Some microwave radiation leaks out and interferes with WiFi signals (i.e., radio waves of the frequency 2.4 GHz). Note that this interference (at 2.4 GHz) is caused by commonly used WiFi devices (e.g., WiFi routers, smartphones, cordless telephones, Bluetooth devices and so on) that work on 802.11a and 802.11g standards. Some other devices that can cause similar interference include electric blankets, electric bug zappers, toaster ovens etc.
How to fix the interference between microwave and WiFi signals?
In order to fix this interference problem, one thing you can do is buy and upgrade to new WiFi equipment, one that works in the 5 GHz band (modern 802.11n routers operate in this band), rather than in the 2.4 GHz range.
You see, 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz are two bands that your router can use for its signals. The advantage of using 5 GHz is that not only does it prevent interference from the aforementioned devices that operate in the 2.4 GHz band, but it is also capable of supporting better connectivity (even to the order of more than 1,000 Mbps).
Furthermore, you could simply move the microwave oven as far as possible from your WiFi router (and put as much walls and other stuff as you can between them). This will also have some positive effects.
Another simple and rather inexpensive thing that you can do to improve this situation is to pause your “Internet work” while your microwave is still switched on. Or, you could simply not expect your Internet to behave like its normal self when you are browsing the web standing next to your switched-on microwave. Remember, there are worse things in the world than disconnecting every once in a while!
- Old Dominion University
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- University of Washington
- State University of New York
- University of Colorado Boulder
- Illinois Institute of Technology