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Home Technology Audit

As you start to understand how your home office will look for the next few months in terms of working and learning from home, it is a great time to assess your electronics to make sure you are ready for fall.

Like most industries, the home technology supply chain has been disrupted during the pandemic. With increased demand and fewer products being imported, the earlier you can secure your supplies the better prices that will be available to you.

This blog post will outline some areas that you may want to consider while you are heading into fall. Please note that any items listed in this post are just suggestions based on my personal experience, I am not affiliated with nor receive any compensation from these recommendations. When selecting the link, you will be taken to that store’s webpage. 

Check Your Internet:

If you haven’t reviewed your internet provider and service options recently, now is the time to do so – especially if you have started a business and may be able to switch from a family to a small business plan. Some points to consider are internet speeds, data throttling (slowing down of your internet speed especially during peak times of day), and data caps (which could cause overages or reduce speed for the rest of the billing cycle). 

PRO TIP: If you feel your internet is sluggish, run a speed test. Simply Google “Internet Speed Test” and it will be listed above the search results. A pop-up will appear and inform you of the average download and upload speeds. Keep in mind that your fastest speed occurs when you are hardwired into the modem and will drop some when using WIFI. From here you can see if your speed is close to what your internet plan says. It should be within 10% or so of the advertised speed. If it is not, you need to contact your provider as there may be an issue outside of your control. 

Upgrade Your Modem or Router: 

A modem is a box that connects your home to the larger network of your service provider. The router then assigns the information from your home network to your PC to allow you to actually get online. There are combo modem and router boxes that are usually provided by your service provider when you establish your plan. The problem is these often are inferior routers. Ask your service provider how much the charge would be to have just a modem. Perhaps you can provide your own and then look into purchasing your own router as well. 

A common misunderstanding is that routers cannot handle multiple devices. The issue is not the number of devices as most can handle over 200 different devices. The issue is that with all of your devices connected, you are spreading the wireless internet out over all of these devices causing slowdowns or bottlenecks. This is why you may want to increase your router so you have more available internet to start with.  When shopping for a router, you want to look for gigabit ethernet jacks and either N or AC wireless at a minimum. When looking at aftermarket routers, pay attention to the listed speeds. The higher the speed, the more devices can be online and not result in a bottleneck. Here is one we have purchased. 

PRO TIP: In most cases, it is cheaper to buy your modem and router outright than it is to rent it every month from your service provider. Check to see if this is an option for you.  

Wired or Wireless: 

A wired connection should always be preferred to wireless as the speed and consistency of the connection is best when you are directly connected to the router. This is important if you do a lot of Zoom calls, uploading or downloading of data, or require speed to avoid being timed out on certain transactions. 

If your computer is too far from your router, look at investing in powerline ethernet adapters as a cheap alternative to setting up an expanded wireless network in your home. This is also easier than running ethernet lines throughout your home. The powerline adapters will take an ethernet signal and convert it to run over your home’s electrical circuitry, allowing you to get a wired connection in places you normally would not be able to with just an ethernet line. Much like routers, powerline adapters come in a variety of speeds and costs. 600 Mbps is the minimum I would recommend for a family. This is the model we use.

The reason I recommend ethernet adapters over a Wi-Fi signal booster is that the Wi-Fi will always be slower than a hardwired connection and you may not see enough of a difference with just a Wi-Fi booster to justify the cost. 

Do You Need An Internet Back-Up Plan? 

Does your company require you to be online and working even if there is a power or internet outage? If you are not sure, be sure to clarify these expectations with your leadership team.

If you are required, you need to determine your back-up plan to get online and how long is that feasible for. In the past you may have been able to go to the office, but is that still an option? In the spring, some states had WiFi hotspots you could access from your car, but with the weather changing will that still work? (plus you need to look into this prior to losing service). Other factors to consider is how much time would you need on the device, how would you charge your device, and are there any security measures that would prevent you from working on an alternate device like a tablet (which typically has a much better battery life than a laptop). 

Some ideas include: 

  • Battery back-ups capable of charging your computer and phones (note laptop chargers can take several hours to charge themselves so you would want to charge yours in advance of an emergency as most will hold the charge for several weeks).
  • Understanding how to preserve your device batteries with battery saving modes and turning off options like Wi-Fi and BlueTooth.
  • If you have unlimited data from your cell phone company, does it offer hotspot options or a tablet alternative that would work like a phone on your plan? If you are using the phone for a company you work for, do they allow you to hotspot and/or will they reimburse you for data overages on your personal device? Hotspotting can take a lot of data and it is a battery drain on both your computer and phone.
  • Do you have a surge protector that will be able to protect your devices in the case of brown-outs or if you are running off a generator or car battery?

Cell Phones: 

  • If you live alone or use your phone for your livelihood, you may want to consider getting a back-up, just-in-case phone. This can be an older phone you have had in the past or a pay-as-you-go phone. I recently purchased two inexpensive pay-as-you-go phones for our house for an emergency. I have them set up with Google Voice (free minutes with wireless calling), but they are mostly for emergencies. Everyone knows where the phone is, it will be charged, and all phones are capable of dialing 911. You don’t want to be searching for a cell phone in the midst of a medical emergency. 

VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) 

One thing I can’t recommend enough is getting a VPN service for your day-to-day web browsing. Without a VPN, your internet service provider can see everything you are doing online, including sites you are visiting, where you go on the sites and for how long. Using a VPN allows you to mask your traffic so they can not see what you are doing, it will only show that the internet is being used. Some VPN service providers will also blacklist known malware sites to help protect the integrity of your network. For as little as $30-40 a year a VPN is a great cost-effective measure for safety and security. We use Private Internet Access.  

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