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Can Christmas Lights Really Slow Your Wi-Fi?

Expecting a new iPad Pro under the tree? Your Christmas lights could be slowing down your Wi-Fi signal.
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Expecting a new iPad Pro under the tree? Before you start streaming holiday classics on Netflix, you should know that your Christmas lights could be slowing down your Wi-Fi signal.

On Tuesday, British telecom regulator Ofcom released a Wi-Fi checker app (available for Android and iOS) for judging the speed of their connection. It also noted a few things that can slow wireless Internet, including TV monitors, stereo speakers, and Christmas lights.

Is Ofcom just being a Grinch? Or can the lights on your tree really put a damper on holiday streaming?

"Yeah, it's possible that your Christmas lights will have some effect on your router and broadband performance," said Daniel Carpini, vice president of marketing at xG Technology, which develops interference-resistant wireless communications for clients like the U.S. military.

Electronic gadgets generate elecro-magnetic fields. Some create stronger fields than others: microwave ovens and cordless phones are two of the worst offenders when it comes to creating interference.

Christmas lights, however, "emit such a small amount of energy" that they don't pose much of a problem, Carpini told NBC News. Other experts agreed.

"If you use lights with unshielded wires, then it’s possible it could slightly affect radio frequencies of any kind," a spokesperson for Linksys, the popular maker of wireless routers, told NBC News. "It’s unlikely to be noticeable or detectable, unless you wrapped the lights around your Wi-Fi clients."

(Decoration tip: Don't cover your Wi-Fi router with Christmas lights).

Those with smart homes might want to reconsider their high-tech holiday set-up — at least while trying to stream funny cat videos around the tree.

"We have not seen any significant Wi-Fi interference from LED Christmas lights," a Cisco spokesperson told NBC News. "But consumers may experience interference from Wi-Fi enabled controllers and switches that are used to turn on and off their Christmas lights."

That interference would only come when the controllers are turned on, so eliminating the problem is pretty easy. In fact, turning off electronic devices that you're not using is a good policy overall, both for preventing interference and saving energy. Moving electronic devices a few feet away from your router can also help.

Overall, Christmas lights don't pose much of a problem, according to Carpini. Collectively, however, the glut of devices using Wi-Fi radio frequencies (especially as the "Internet of things" expands) could degrade signals.

That isn't terrible for Web browsing, but it's not great for voice communication software, which is very sensitive to dips in Wi-Fi quality.

"It's going to become a bigger and bigger issue," Carpini said. "Are Christmas lights going to be end of human communication? No. But a lot of things are making the problem worse."