Is Chicago's weather unpredictable? Yes and no. There are parts of the US that have much more chaotic and hard to predict weather patterns, but Chicago definitely gets its fair share of extreme weather. Blame Lake Michigan! Its influence can cause rapid temperature changes that make thunderstorms more intense, cause heavier snowfalls, and overall, make it harder to dress in the morning. You can wake up to freezing conditions and be wearing shorts by the afternoon. But Chicago's crazy weather doesn't just cause sartorial problems. Internet providers in Chicago have to deal with harsh weather conditions all year long, from springtime storms to winter snowfalls plus epic wind all year round.
There is a lot that broadband providers can do to shore up their infrastructure so changes in the weather don't cause service interruptions. When Chicago weather gets bad, though, it is BAD, and that's when ISPs have their work cut out for them. So let's talk about how internet providers in Chicago deal with the city's unique conditions and how you can make sure you are choosing an ISP that will deliver a broadband signal in rain, shine, sleet, or snow.
The Internet Providers in Chicago
Many Chicago residents only have two options - Xfinity and AT&T - for broadband delivery, though some areas (specifically around Hyde Park and Wrigley Field) are saturated with providers. Census data suggests that all Chicagoans have access to high speed internet, whether through the above mentioned providers or via RCN, WOW!, and Atlantic Broadband, though that doesn't mean that every resident has access to broadband that is both affordable and reliable. Fiber internet is available in Chicago, and in fact the city recently completed construction of a 17-mile, high speed fiber optic network in East Chicago.
Understanding Your Options
Chicago residents, like most people living in urban areas, can choose between multiple types of broadband technology.
DSL: This connection uses existing copper telephone wires to deliver a high speed internet signal to homes and businesses. Most households are wired for telephone service, so it's a near universal option. In Chicago, DSL is very reliable because most users are close to the telephone exchange. Pros: Almost always available and extremely reliable. Cons: May be slower than cable.
Cable broadband: It uses high bandwidth coaxial cables to deliver broadband internet access. Cable's top speeds are often faster than DSL's, though casual users probably won't notice a difference. Pros: Typically extremely fast. Cons: Can experience slowdowns during peak use hours and plans tend to have data caps.
Fiber internet: This type of broadband delivery uses bundles of ultra-thin, transparent glass filaments to transmit data. Fiber is ultra fast, usually has symmetrical upload and download speeds, and is becoming much more budget friendly as the infrastructure expands. Pros: The fastest broadband and extremely reliable. Cons: Tends to be the most expensive.
Mobile broadband: Some people access the internet via a cellular signal that delivers data to devices like laptops and tablets equipped with mobile dongles or 4G SIM cards. While mobile broadband is reliable in Chicago, it's also an expensive way to get broadband because data plans are pricey. Pros: You can take it anywhere. Cons: Very low data caps compared to other broadband types.
Satellite internet: This type of broadband is delivered via geostationary communication satellites in orbit to satellite dishes on users' homes. It requires a clear line of sight from your dish to the southern sky. Note that weather can interfere with a satellite signal. Pros: Available anywhere there's a line of sight. Cons: Can be noticeably laggy if you're a heavy internet user.
Fixed wireless: Using transmission towers called ground stations, this broadband technology delivers wireless internet to customers who don't have access to up-to-date wired infrastructure. Pros: Reliable alternative to wired broadband and fast. Cons: Tends to be more expensive than wired technologies.
Most people in Chicago use cable internet or DSL to get online, with fiber being a popular alternative, but you may decide that one of the other technologies makes the most sense for your individual needs.
Do Internet Providers in Chicago Get the Rainy Day Blues?
Small amounts of rain (or snow or wind) won't usually affect the speed of your internet connection. However, weather can slow down or even cut your connection in certain conditions. Here are some ways weather impacts broadband delivery in Chicago.
It may have a silly name, but this phenomenon is real. When there is heavy rain, snow, or fog, the moisture in the atmosphere can eat up radio signals. Users who get online with satellite internet, fixed wireless, or mobile broadband may find their signal is sluggish even though the weather outside doesn't seem all that frightful. Wired services aren't typically affected by moisture in the air, though some cable and DSL users report slowdowns during heavy rain even when there are no downed lines.
High winds can knock out power to telephone exchanges, take out cable lines and telephone wires, and otherwise interfere with wired broadband delivery. And the weather can be the indirect cause of a severed connection, too. If a weather-related automobile accident involves a utility pole, connection points between the ISP's hub and your home may be affected.
Very low temperatures can cause ground heaves, which can tear, break, or otherwise damage copper lines in the ground, causing shorts that lead to downtime for cable and DSL customers. Cold can also cause issues in electro-mechanical components of an ISP's technology like switches and breakers, leading to connection problems. And even though copper itself is immune to the effects of extreme cold, other wiring or equipment in your home or on the provider's end may experience problems when the temperatures dip below Chicago's usual lows. Fiber optic cables, on the other hand, are much more resistant to temperature extremes.
Ice and Snow
There's nothing you can do about the effects of ice and snow on equipment that your provider maintains but you can do something about the impact of weather on your termination box. This is where the wires that deliver your broadband signal actually come into contact with your home. When ice and snow build up on the box or on any exposed wires, the weight and moisture can cause lines to short out. In winter, check on your termination box regularly to make sure it's not damaged or snow-logged. Satellite users should make sure that snow and ice haven't built up on their dish, as that can block the signal.
Blizzards, thunderstorms, and high winds can all take out part of the city power grid. You may still have power, but if your ISP is affected by the outage your connection will stay down until their power is back on. Mobile broadband customers may still be able to get online, and satellite customers will typically still have a signal depending on the cloud cover.
Internet providers in Chicago have to cope with higher demand in inclement weather. During storms and other weather events, more people stay home. Some will work remotely, others will get cozy with a movie or play games with friends, but chances are most will spend part of their snow day online. The uptick in use that is the natural result of bad weather can cause noticeable slowdowns for cable customers and can even cause a server overload in DSL systems.
Some Effects of Weather are Specific to Satellite Internet
Modern satellite broadband is a great alternative to wired internet until there's a storm. Any inclement weather (even when it's not right over Chicago) can interfere with a satellite signal, interrupting your service or even taking it down completely. Sustained winds can take down antennas at satellite gateways, which will cause a disruption in service until the equipment is repaired. Wind can also move your dish so it's no longer aligned with the satellite. When snow and ice coat your home dish, you can't receive a signal. One way to prevent buildup is to coat your dish with baking spray or silicone spray that will help snow and ice slide off. Be aware, however, that even moderate rains can interfere with a satellite signal.
Is the Internet Slower When It's Cold in Chicago?
The quick answer is no. While bitter cold alone can affect mechanical components of broadband systems and cause physical damage to underground cables because of freeze/thaw cycles, the result of those types of issues will usually be downtime not slowdowns. Data moves along copper wires and fiber optic cables at about the same speeds regardless of how cold it gets. And internet providers in Chicago are used to the city's unique weather patterns, so there are safeguards in place to ensure that wind, rain, snow, and ice won't take out a neighborhood's broadband service. The only way that cold can impact the speed of your connection is indirectly in the ways described above. If infrastructure damage occurs due to cold, the result may be slower service or service interruptions that look like a slowdown on your end.
The good news is that today's digital infrastructure in Chicago was created to stand up to the city's sometimes harsh weather conditions. And fiber, which uses light instead of electricity to deliver a broadband signal, is even less susceptible to issues caused by weather than older technologies. While you should always look into an ISP's reliability using unbiased sources like BroadbandSearch, none of the internet providers in Chicago should have any trouble handling a little crazy weather.
Are you ready to start comparing and contrasting the ISPs in your neighborhood? The first step is finding internet providers near you.