Remote 101: Cables

So you want to work remote. Or you want other people to be remote. You want space. Perspective. Distance. Escape the corporate cubicle farm and work in your pajamas.

First, you need to get some network cables.

Wi-Fi is terrible. No, really, it is. “But my super-duper Wi-Fi router can do 200 zottabits per second!” you say. Nope, that’s bandwidth, and while you need at least a minimum threshold for audio/video, anything above that doesn’t matter. What matters are latency, packet loss, and jitter. In less-technical terms, it’s about how quickly and reliably a network can deliver a single piece of data.

Wi-Fi, like nearly all wireless communication technology, sends electromagnetic waves through the air, where anything and everything can interfere with them — walls, furniture, appliances, you, your cat — not to mention every other Wi-Fi-capable device nearby.

As Wi-Fi has become more popular, the situation has gotten worse. Even if you live alone in a cabin in the woods, you probably have at least half a dozen devices connecting to your Wi-Fi network — computer, phone, media players, “smart” devices, your cat. An apartment building or office might contain hundreds of devices, all interfering with one another.

Modern Wi-Fi networks are designed to keep working in the presence of interference, and they do a pretty remarkable job of it. That’s why you can watch YouTube in one room while your spouse is surfing Reddit in another and neither of you notices anything wrong (other than the content on Reddit and YouTube).

But videoconferencing, unlike most web surfing, is “live” and in real time. Human senses can detect delays as short as a tenth of a second, sometimes much less. The brain adapts, which is why telephones work, but only up to a point. Beyond that point, conversation becomes difficult or impossible.

Gamers have known this for a while. A few milliseconds could mean the difference between life and (virtual) death. Steam’s first recommendation for networking is wired. PC Gamer magazine agrees.

So get yourself some Ethernet cable (and adapter, if needed) and connect your computer directly to your home or office router. This is the single most effective thing you can do to improve your remote experience, especially if you’re in an apartment complex or office.

The next most effective thing you can do is get a headset, which I’ll cover in a future post.