As voiceover talent, most of us understand the importance of having a good mic, a proper recording environment, a great coach and/or mentor, and stellar demos. These are critical components for our business success. Another item that is absolutely necessary these days is a reliable and stable Internet connection. Because this topic can be somewhat technical and dependant on your service provider, it's not always brought up in great detail in the typical VO social groups. However, our internet connection is our lifeblood to marketing and delivering our product reliably to our customers. And that reliability - needs to start with you and your home network. Here are some important points to consider:
But I have really fast Wi-Fi...That's my Internet, right?
Well, actually, Wi-Fi and the Internet are not one and the same. Wi-Fi is the (wireless) technology, or protocol, that most of your home network devices, such as your computers, laptops, and smart devices, use to communicate with each other and to your Internet router in your local network. If your computer or device is configured for Wi-Fi, it will send all of its data destined to the Internet to your main router. This router will then send your packets out to the Internet and back using a configured routing protocol (which, BTW, is not Wi-Fi). Traffic is then routed back to your device through the wireless network.
There’s no doubt that wireless technology has changed the world. Now, we can connect to anywhere from the palm of our hand. Over the last few years, Wi-Fi has gotten incredibly fast, especially for those of us who remember when Wi-Fi would cut out if you got too far away from the router (so frustrating!). With the advancement of the 802.11ac and 802.11n standards, Wi-Fi can provide speeds of up to 866Mbps (megabits per second) or 300Mbps respectively, and let you work from just about anywhere in your home.
Unfortunately, there can be a lot of potential performance issues with a Wi-Fi connection due to signal interference and environmental factors. Thick walls and metal objects (such as refrigerators or microwaves) can totally throw off your network performance, not to mention all those smart devices in your home taking up bandwidth that you don't even know about. You can typically get better results by placing your router near your computer in your home or office, but it’s still challenging to achieve the same stable performance of hard wired - or Ethernet connections. That's one of the reasons studio/client live streaming connectivity software like Source Connect, ipDTL, and others - advise you to use your computer’s ethernet connection. Typically, your router will have both wireless and wired options for any devices you wish to connect to the Internet.
So, What is Ethernet?
Wired or Ethernet connections use an Ethernet cable that connects to a hub or router which transmits data over a network. An Ethernet connection delivers consistent speed and is more suitable and reliable than WiFi, especially for streaming audio and videos. Ethernet network speeds have improved significantly over the years and typically range from Ethernet (802.11) at 10 Mbps, Fast Ethernet (IEEE 802.3u) at 100 Mbps, Gigabit Ethernet (IEEE 802.3-2008) at 1000 Mbps, and 10 Gigabit Ethernet (IEEE 802.3a) at 10 Gbps. The combination of better speed, lower latency, and more reliable connections make for better streaming audio sessions, such as that critically important ipDTL and Source Connect studio sessions.
As a producer, I have been known to cancel recording sessions when my client's wireless connection has been less than sufficient to hold an ipDTL or Source Connect session successfully. This unfortunately happens more often than you would think. You certainly don't want to let a poor-performing or unstable network force your client to look elsewhere for reliability! If you can, consider having ethernet wall jacks installed in your studio if possible. When I moved into my new house, I literally had 3 ethernet jacks installed in my office alone!
Ping’s the thing
So here's the thing: When you’re on your phone or streaming videos to your laptop, Wi-Fi can be amazing. Rarely do you need to wait for buffering or find yourself with anything less than instant gratification on those Netflix videos. But for the professional voice actor, the Internet is a two-way street. Not only do we need to be able to receive data, but we also need to upload it back. When a program like Source Connect or ipDTL is active, it’s constantly sending and receiving data packets. The time it takes for one of those packets to be transmitted from your computer, be received by a server, and then send that packet back is called latency, or more commonly known as “ping.” Ping is measured in milliseconds (ms). The higher the number, the higher the ping, and the longer it takes you to send and receive data. While Wi-Fi is great at receiving and streaming, your ping on Wi-Fi tends to be significantly slower than if you’re using an ethernet connection.
Go ahead and test your Internet speed along with your Ping statistics using Spedtest.net . BTW if you can use an ethernet connection to your router along with a Gigabit(Fiber) connection to the Internet, your remote studio sessions will have the greatest chance of being super reliable and amazing! My upload speed after my latest test is a whopping 922.09 Mbps (see below)! That's fast!
The “Droppler” effect
In recent years Wi-Fi connection stability has seemingly become so reliable that we almost take it for granted. It feels like we’re able to connect anytime and anywhere. And due to hardware buffering, even if we lose connection for a few milliseconds, we would never know it. But if you’re in a directed session over ipDTL or Source Connect and your Wi-Fi cuts out, even for just a few milliseconds, you’ll be able to hear it. This is because these connections demand high bandwidth for high-quality streaming audio. When that stream has a drop in the connection, you'll know it and so will the studio and your client! And more than likely - they won’t be happy with it. Especially if happens more than once. It can absolutely ruin your take. (You know, that amazing take that you may never be able to replicate again)
While Wi-Fi connections are more stable these days, they can and do drop out. Your neighbor’s Wi-Fi signal can cause your Wi-Fi router to lose connection. I lose connection just through my walls in my newly constructed home! More interference with a Wi-Fi signal also means poorer signal quality, which will result in a slower connection speed. Professional voice actors can’t afford that.
Bandwidth priority is one of the most critical advantages of connecting your production computer to your router via ethernet. There can be multiple devices accessing your wireless router in your home. Phones, laptops, smart TVs, smart thermostats, Alexa, Google Home, and even the Internet of things like appliances all use a chunk of your Wi-Fi signal. Every device that uses Wi-Fi is eating a piece of the bandwidth pie. When you use an ethernet cable, you’re bypassing all that traffic. Your data is guaranteed to arrive to the router unimpeded. In effect, your wired connection is getting priority over the other Wi-Fi competition in your home. Connect directly to the back of the router if you can. If your router is far away, you may consider hiring an electrician to install an ethernet wall jack to connect to your router. You may also consider temporarily getting a long ethernet cable (up to 200 feet) to connect to your router during important sessions when you need reliability and stability.
Lock it Down
While you may not think security is a factor with your home Wi-Fi router (especially if your network is named something like “FBI Monitoring Station 1”), it’s important to consider. More than likely, no one cares about hacking your directed session for your next commercial voice over; however, you should be aware of potential security issues. When you’re on Wi-Fi, unless you have secured your wireless connection with encrypted data and a secure password, your data is transmitted via radio waves for all the world to see. You know when you search wireless networks to connect your device and you see all of your neighbor's networks too? Sometimes you can even connect with them <gasp> and surf the Internet or browse other interesting devices. Well, they can also see yours as well unless you have it secured. With an ethernet or wired connection, your data is secured within your own network and not broadcast for your neighbors to see.
Plug it in
One last thing to consider is that your data bottleneck may not simply be an issue with your in-home Wi-Fi or wired connection. A bottleneck could be due to your ISP or Internet service provider. It’s worthwhile to conduct regular Internet speed tests to make sure you’re getting what your service provider promises and that you can connect at the speeds essential for a professional home studio. If not, make sure to get them in your home to help you troubleshoot any areas of intermittent or poor connectivity.
The bottom line is, in order to have the most secure and reliable connection to conduct your voiceover business seamlessly, your professional home studio should be connected to your internet router via a wired connection. Remember, your business is on the line! Thanks for listening. Best of luck and Happy Networking Bosses!
Much love and Keep on rockin' your health and your biz!
About the Author: Anne Ganguzza is a full-time voice talent and award-winning director and producer who works with students to develop their voice over and business skills - including VO demo training and production. She specializes in Conversational Commercial and Narration styles, including Corporate, E-Learning, Technology, Healthcare - Medical, Telephony, and On-Hold. Located in Orange County, CA, Anne offers private coaching and mentoring services to students in person and via Skype, ipDTL or Zoom.