Pandemic teaching and research: A few simple tips to improve video streaming quality

By Justin Esarey

While this isn’t normally a subject I’d cover in The Political Methodologist, I’ve noticed that many people (students and professors alike) are having trouble with live streaming video interruptions during their videoconference meetings. I’m sure some of you have experienced this as well. Given that most people around the world are “sheltering in place” and doing their work via telecommuting, I thought it might be helpful to post some tips on how to improve your experience.

If you’re having trouble with videoconferencing, the problem is very often not the connection between your house and the internet. It’s more common for the problem to be the connection between your home router/modem and your computer. When you are connecting via WiFi, you’re likely to experience degradation of video/sound quality as well as frequent drops of the connection. This situation gets worse as you get physically further from the WiFi router, when there are more objects (e.g., walls) between you and the router, if there is EM interference in your house (e.g., from microwave ovens–which operate on the same frequency as WiFi!), and/or if there are many users simultaneously trying to use the internet on a single WiFi access point. If that’s what is happening, paying your internet provider to upgrade your service tier probably won’t help.

In this case, the best fix is to physically connect your computer to the router/modem using a Cat6 internet cable. If you’re in the same room as the WiFi router, this is just a matter of getting a long enough cable, plugging one end into your computer, and plugging the other end into your router/modem. Long Cat6 cables can be obtained cheaply on the internet, for example through Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00B3VSAX4/.

If your computer is far away from the router, this is a little trickier. I suppose you could run a 150 foot Cat6 cable through the house, but the other people living there might not appreciate it! Instead, consider using powerline ethernet devices like this one: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01H74VKZU/. That link leads to the powerline adapter that I use at home to conduct my class. There are some cheaper models available (e.g., that have fewer ports) that should work just as well as long as you’re using the HomePlug AV2 standard. There’s another standard, G.hn Wave 2, that also works well and is used in some brands (e.g., https://www.amazon.com/PLA5405v2-Powerline-Gigabit-Ethernet-Adapter/dp/B07ZHQRQS5/).

If you can’t do any of this, the easiest thing you can do is just bring your computer as physically close to the WiFi router/modem as you can get it. Ideally, you want your computer in the same room as the router with no walls in between you and the router. Your computer should have an indicator showing the strength of the WiFi signal somewhere in its control panel, and you want “full bars.” It also helps if you’re the only person actively using the WiFi during the time that you’re videoconferencing (including IoT devices, internet video streaming on a Smart TV, et cetera).

Happy videoconferencing!