Common Network Problems for Video Conferencing

With more people working from home and using on video conferencing, a lot of users are discovering problems with their home network they may not have paid attention to in the past. In this post, I’ll share common problems I’ve seen, and suggest solutions. I’ve seen a lot of people buy hardware or upgrade their internet service with little change, as they were fixing the wrong thing.

This guide should give you more confidence in making the right changes. Here are common issues with the symptoms and proposed solutions.

Unreliable ISPFrequent outages of internet service.Check downdetector to see if others in your area are experiencing the same issues. If not, call your ISP and work with them to identify the issue. Many modems have troubleshooting pages showing Cable signal strength and other important pointers.

Check DSL Reports, BroadbandNow or InMyArea to see if there are better ISPs available in your area.

Failing that, implement a failover internet solution using a second ISP, or buy an LTE backup device like the Netgear LB2120 with a cheap prepaid plan (T-Mobile in the US, for example).
Old Cable ModemCan’t use full bandwidth, slow uploads.Upgrade to a DOCSIS 3.1 32×4 cable modem, i.e. Netgear CM1000 or ARRIS SURFboard SB8200. This will enable you to use channels your neighbors are not using, and likely increase the available bandwidth.
Old Wifi RouterInconsistent coverage throughout the home, good quality internet on wired, but not WiFi.If your router still uses 802.11b or 802.11n, upgrade to new Wifi 5 (802.11ac) or Wifi 6 (802.11ad) router, or mesh system like Google Wifi or Netgear Orbi (depending on the size of your home and type of walls).
Poor Wifi ReceptionSignal indicator shows low signal in some areas in the home.Try elevating your Wifi router to reduce interference from furniture and other “ground level” objects. If that does not help, consider switching to a mesh network setup, as shown above. In cases where you have walls that are hard to penetrate, consider using wired ethernet, or a wired alternative like Powerline (using your home’s electrical wiring) or MoCa (using Coax/TV wiring in your home).
Noisy Wifi EnvironmentGood signal, but packet loss even when pinging local router IP.Use a tool like Wifi Explorer to survey your environment. Configure the router to use a channel that is least used. Configure an SSID that only uses the 5 GHz band, and make sure your devices connect to that SSID. Where possible, use wired ethernet, or use a wired alternative like Powerline (using your home’s electrical wiring) or MoCa (using Coax/TV wiring in your home).
Insufficient Upload BandwidthChoppy audio/video when video is enabled and multiple people in the home are on conferences.Make sure your upload bandwidth (as measured by allows for enough bandwidth – about 3 Mbps per video participant in the household (based on Zoom docs). Check DSL Reports, BroadbandNow or InMyArea to see if there are better ISPs available in your area.
Packet LossChoppy audio/video, “unstable network connection” messages.Use PingPlotter to confirm packet loss (pinging or and identify where it is occurring. Try a wired network connection. If the packet loss continues, try connecting your laptop directly to the modem (without the router). If you still see packet loss, contact your ISP.
Buffer BloatChoppy audio/video, “unstable network connection” messages.Confirm that buffer bloat is your problem using the DSL Reports Speed test. If your score is worse than B, have a look at the steps suggested in this blog.
Saturated NetworkChoppy audio/video, “unstable network connection” messages.Identify (via your router’s user interface, or process of elimination) which devices in your household are using up bandwidth (BitTorrent and other peer-to-peer protocols are particularly notorious). Shut them off, or limit their bandwidth consumption (in the client). Or use the QoS feature available on some routers to prioritize the devices used for video conferencing over others.
Common network problems and solutions

Conferencing Microphones, compared

As we spend more time working remotely, having good audio on Zoom and other remote meetings matters more.

Some of us develop strange hobbies. One strange hobby for me has been to try out and collect recordings from a selection of headphones, headsets and other devices used for video conferences.

Given the current situation, where a lot of people are looking to improve their audio, I thought I’d share my collection with a broader audience.

Dedicated Microphones (best quality)

These were tested through my M-Audio 2×2 interface. All were mounted on a microphone arm.

LESSONS LEARNED: The big learning here was that in my environment, condenser microphones pick up too much background noise. I ended up going with the Rode PodMic and had to add the FetHead to get the gain up to a reasonable range for my interface.

Note that the recordings are all mono (left ear) because my audio interface sends input one to the left channel.

ProductForm FactorRecordings, NotesPrice (est)
Audio Technica AT2020XLR condenser microphonerecording$100
Marantz MPM-1000XLR condenser microphonerecording$60
MXL 770XLR condenser microphonerecording$80
MXL 990XLR condenser microphonerecording$75
Neewer NW-800XLR condenser microphonerecording$20
Pyle PDMIC58XLR dynamic microphonerecording$15
Rode PodMicXLR dynamic microphonerecording$100
Dedicated Microphones

Phone Headsets (purpose-built for calls)

These are purpose-built devices for conferencing or use in call centers.

LESSONS LEARNED: How they hook up is important. Bluetooth audio is often bad, so is reliability. Wired (USB) is best, DECT (like the Jabra Engage series) or a proprietary bluetooth dongle (like the Sennheiser MB Pro series) provides are a good middle ground. So: Wired >> DECT/proprietary BT >> bluetooth.

ProductForm FactorRecordings, NotesPrice (est)
Sennheiser SC30/SC60USB wired headset (mono/stereo)recording
awesome for the price
Logitech H650eUSB wired headset (mono)recordingdiscont.
Sennheiser MB Pro 1/2 UCbluetooth wireless headset (mono, stereo) with USB donglerecording (USB dongle)
recording (bluetooth)
Jabra 9470 DECT wireless headset with USB, bluetooth and desk phone connectivity (mono)recordingdiscont.
Jabra Engage 75DECT wireless headset with USB, bluetooth and desk phone connectivity (mono/stereo)[coming soon]
great option!
Sennheiser SWD 5000 SeriesDECT wireless headset with USB, bluetooth and desk phone connectivity (mono/stereo)[coming soon]
great option!
Phone Headsets

Headphones (good for music, but mixed results for calls)

Their primary purpose is to listen to content, but they include microphones, and the quality varies wildly.

LESSONS LEARNED: Results are very mixed, and some of the cheaper options are downright unusable. But even products like the Sony WH-1000xm3 do poorly here, because call quality is not their primary focus and the microphones are optimized to enable the ANC feature.

ProductForm FactorRecordings, NotesPrice (est)
Apple AirPods Probluetooth earbuds with ANCrecording
best form factor
PowerBeats Probluetooth earbudsrecording$250
BeatsXaround-the-neck bluetooth earbudsrecording
recording in car
great value
Sony SBH-80around-the-neck bluetooth headsetrecording$100
Apple EarPodswired earbuds, included with many apple productsrecording$30
CQM JR-E103 IEMwired IEMrecording
Xiaomi Piston 3wired IEM, now 1More Pistonrecording
Sennheiser Momentum On-Earwired on-ear headphonesrecording$100
Sony WH-1000xm3bluetooth ANC over-ear headphonesrecording
Anker Soundcore Liberty Airbluetooth earbudsrecording

Other Devices

These do not fit into any category, but may meet your needs.

LESSONS LEARNED: Many devices pick up a lot of room noise, due to compromised mounting (i.e. embedded in a laptop with a fan) or distance from the participant.

ProductForm FactorRecordings, NotesPrice (est)
Antlion ModMic USBwired add-on to existing headphonesrecording
sounds really good
Logitech BRIO webcamUSB 4k webcam with built-in microphonerecording
not great
Logitech HD Pro Webcam C910USB webcam with built-in microphone (similar to C920)recording
not great
MXL 404USB desktop microphonerecording
good for groups
Jabra 510USB/bluetooth desktop conference speaker/microphonerecording
great for groups
2019 16″ MacBook Probuilt-in “pro” microphonerecording
low frequency hum from laptop fans
2018 15″ MacBook Probuilt-in microphonerecording$$$
Apple 27″ Thunderbolt Displaybuilt-in microphonerecording$800
iPhone Xbuilt-in microphonerecording$$
Other Devices


So there it is, my little collection. My hope his this collection is helpful to somebody. If you find it helpful, please leave a comment! Please note that the links to Amazon are all affiliate links.

Video Conferencing – Overkill Edition

Due to the current work-from-home mandate as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, lots of us are spending time dialed into Zoom meetings from home. Coincidentally, over the past months, I’ve fallen into a trap of trying to build the best possible home office setup for this very task.

Basic Advice

For “normal” people, here are the top 3 items to focus on, in my opinion.

  1. Make sure your network connection is bullet proof.  A speed test alone is not sufficient, make sure you have no packet loss and consistently good ping times. I recommend pinging using PingPlotter to test this. If your network is not good, you will sound choppy and your video quality will be bad. Recommendations to fix your network:
    1. Try wired ethernet straight to your router. If that helps, look at upgrading Wifi (either a mesh system – I’ve heard good things about Nest Wifi, or a single, powerful router – I can recommend the – slightly older – Netgear R7000).
    2. If you have problems despite going wired, look into replacing your cable modem (assuming you have cable – I recommend the Netgear CM1000, which gives you DOCSIS 3.1 and more channels than most of your neighbors).
  2. Get the audio right. There are many choices here, but record yourself into a “solo” Zoom session and listen back to see how it sounds, and how much of your background sound is being picked up. The best solution is a wired or wireless headset with a microphone worn in front of your face.
  3. Get video right. The cameras in most laptops are not a good choice, as they show your face from a suboptimal angle and are of poor quality. Ideally, get a USB web cam and put it on your external monitor.  Make sure the lens is clean (otherwise the video gets blurry) and you don’t have light sources behind you (unless you’re going for that “protected witness” esthetic).


In this post, I’m going to share what is part of my setup. I’ll caution that for the average person, all of this is MAJOR overkill and not recommended. So without further ado, here we go. (all the links are Amazon Affiliate links).



  • Zoom
    • Enabled “HD” and “Touch up my appearance” settings.
  • Audio Hijack + Loopback + some free plugins
    • This is used to set up a voice chain in software to add a gate, compression and de-essing (I keep playing with the exact chain).
  • Webcam Settings
    • Helps me re-frame the image quickly with saved presets (changing from sitting to standing)


Here’s a snapshot from a call I was on today. This is with natural light from my left, the ring light at 4000K and 27% brighness, and the SYLVAIN lamp set to blue (notice the slight blue hue).


I keep on tinkering with this setup, but am happy with the results so far (and yes, I have spent way too much time and money on this, but everybody needs a hobby these days…).

RAFC, Home Edition

I previously blogged about RAFC, “Redundant Array of Flaky Connections” – a way of bundling inexpensive internet connectivity to achieve reliable internet service. When I talked about it, I described our setup at work. Shortly after that post, I replicated the setup at home. Since I hadn’t blogged in too long, I figure, I’ll share a few tips I’ve learned in the two years of living with it.

Why do this at home?

There is an increasing number of use cases in modern households that depend on internet connectivity:

  • Many people work from home on a regular basis and increasingly rely on cloud-based services when doing so.
  • VoIP, Skype and Google Hangouts are becoming the de-facto way for holding remote meetings and conversations with family abroad.
  • TV is being replaced by streaming media services (like Netflix).
  • Other media, books, newspapers, are replaced by eReaders and tablets.

When internet service goes out, the effects range from annoying to disruptive – for you and other members of your household. Unfortunately, few home ISPs have good SLAs (service level agreements), and outages occur regularly. To quantify downtime, I actually measure the uptime of my own home ISPs. Each of them has had between 15-20 hours of downtime over the past year. Just today, my cable provider was down for more than 3 hours.

How do you make it bulletproof?

Here are the steps I recommend to make your home internet connection bullet proof.

  • Get two connections. Instead of subscribing to a single, fast internet service, subscribe to two slower services that add up to similar bandwidth. In most cases, that’s almost price neutral month-to-month. When I set up RAFC, I switched from a single 50 MBit/s cable connection to a 25 MBit/s cable connection and a 24 MBit/s VDSL connection and paid only a few dollars more per month.
  • Different technologies. If you have the option, get two connections that use different underlying technologies, such as cable, DSL or fiber. Find out what’s available in your neighborhood, and, ideally, find out whether the cables travel the same path. Optimize for diversity to decrease the likelihood of a physical incident, such as a telephone pole falling over, affecting both your connections.
  • Get a Peplink. After several years of using their products now, I still have nothing but praise for them. Granted, they’re costly compared to most consumer routers, but they are supported for longer, are more stable and have the unique Multi-WAN features you need to make RAFC work. You can often find them on eBay or Craigslist.
  • Buy your own modems. Many ISPs give you a “free” modem when you sign up for their service. In many cases, these devices include Wifi and router functionality. Most of these devices are notoriously unstable, and often insecure. With some ISPs, you also pay a fee to rent the device ($3-4 per month). Buying your own modem allows you to chose a simple and dependable, well-reviewed modem for $60-80.
  • Power cycle modems regularly. Consumer-grade modems are known to become unreliable and crash the longer they run. Use some cheap digital timer switches to automatically power cycle both modems daily. Stagger the times and pick times when you’re unlikely to be online. Mine are set for 3am and 4am.
  • Get a UPS. A UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) allows your internet connection survive brief blips in power and tripped circuit breakers. This type of equipment doesn’t draw a lot of power, so a “fat surge protector” style unit with 350 VA for $40 is plenty. Run both modems, the Peplink and your WiFi Router off the UPS,
  • Run your WiFi Router in AP mode. Get a good quality Wifi router, preferably with many antennas (SmallNetBuilder is a great resource) and run it in Access Point mode. In this mode, it doesn’t perform NAT or DHCP services, but simply becomes a good Access Point. Extra tip: Position it in an elevated position, since your furniture degrades the Wifi signal considerably.

Is it worth it?

Ultimately, it depends on how much you value dependable connectivity at home. There is definitely a considerable investment to set this up. Comparing to a “normal”, good quality home network configuration, the additional items are the Peplink ($300), the UPS ($40) and the timer switches ($10).

Out with the old…

This Christmas break, I revamped Let me explain why and how.

Web Site: Old

Old Site Design

Old Site Design

Back in 1999, I registered and signed up for a hosting account at pair networks. I then painstakingly came up with the web site design that was on the site for the past 13 years. The HTML was hand coded, the (sparse) imagery manually cobbled together in Photoshop. This took a considerable amount of time, mostly since I’m a web design amateur, at best. Getting the design to “look right” simply involved a ton of trial and error.

The site content evolved over time, and I added several “features” to it:

  • A blog, via
  • A photo site, using home grown HTML generator.
  • Calendars to manage capacity in our ski leases in Kirkwood.

All of them were crude, and tedious to run. Lack of time and laziness got the better of me, and I replaced the features gradually with other services:

  • Twitter/Facebook instead of brief/sparse posts on my blog.
  • flickr for pictures.

Earlier this year, a colleague smirkingly noted that I hadn’t updated my blog since 2007. I had to agree with him – all of the content was stale. I resolved to scrap the site, and replace it with something simpler when I got the time.

Web Site: New

Today, I set up the new site. I signed up for, selected a theme. Customized it a little, until it looked “good enough”, then started writing a little. Setting this up took about an hour. It looks more modern, since a professional designed the theme I selected, and I have the peace of mind that a group of professional worries about security, uptime, etc.

Email: Old

pair networks includes email as part of their hosting offerings. You can set up mailboxes, access them via POP3/IMAP and a crude web interface. Over the last 13 years, I’ve set up email addresses for all my immediate family members, and cobbled together mechanisms to get those emails to them: My mom’s PC was set up to pull via POP3 into Windows Mail. For my dad and my brother, the email addresses were simple forwards to their GMX accounts. I myself had originally used POP3 directly into my mail client, but later on switched to Gmail, configuring Gmail to pull the emails from pair via POP3.

This setup had a number of disadvantages. Some of the mechanisms introduced lag, wherever POP3 was used, email landed on a single machine, and if that machine was lost, so was the email archive. Multiple spam filters along the way could potentially eat up non-spam messages.

Email: New

Luckily, I signed up for a free Google Apps Standard account a few months before Google discontinued offering it. Having managed Google Apps at Sumo Logic, switching our email over to Google Apps felt like the path of least resistance, and I knew Google Apps was a solid offering. After switching everything over, I just had to spend a few minutes showing my family how to use it. Now, I don’t have to be nervous about lost emails.


At this point, I’ve not moved DNS hosting for over to, but instead dropped a PHP redirect into Once I’ve convinced myself some more that hosted WordPress is sufficiently flexible for me, I’ll pony up the $13 per year for a hosted domain.


Overall, I feel like I finally moved into the 21st century — better late than never, as they say…