The Secret to Caribbean Remote Working: WiFi 6
The single most important consideration when weighing the feasibility of working remotely from the Caribbean is connectivity. I mean, you want/need to keep your job, right? If you have kids, you’ll also want them to continue their studies at school. The Caribbean is known for many amazing things, but robust and reliable high-speed internet service isn’t really one of them. So, how can you manage multiple Zoom calls for several people while simultaneously uploading and downloading files and essentially keeping your family’s career and educational trains on the rails all from a remote corner of the Caribbean? The best answer, I’ve found, is WiFi 6.
Caribbean internet speed scare
When I began thinking about relocating my family from New York to Montserrat to take advantage of their 12-month Remote Worker Stamp, one of the first things I did was check internet speeds.
I started by running a Speedtest on my Spectrum account in NYC. The results were steady at around 353 Mbps down and 22 Mbps up. As internet speeds go in the United States, these are pretty decent. It’s not fiber by any means, which can easily double those rates, but it’s good nonetheless.
Now that I knew my baseline, I asked Susan Edgecombe to run speed tests from her home in Montserrat. Susan is the owner of Tradewinds Real Estate, Montserrat’s premier villa rental company and our choice for our extended stay home in the Caribbean’s “Volcano Paradise.”
Her results, frankly, were frightening.
Umm… 12 Mbps down and 2 Mbps up?! Seriously?! The stats were so low I felt compelled to ask Susan if she was sure she had done the test correctly. She humored me and ran more tests – one from her home, another from her office, and still more from a few of her villas.
Again and again, the results that came back unnerved me. I was beginning to think this relocation to Montserrat wasn’t going to work. I needed my entire four-person family to hop on Zoom calls for school and work simultaneously.
WiFi 6 to the rescue
Luckily, I had already solved this problem at the beginning of the pandemic when the entire family initially took refuge in our tiny Brooklyn apartment.
You see, back in the early days of 2020, even though my internet speeds routinely tested above 350 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up, we still had trouble getting the entire family on Zoom calls simultaneously. Feeds would stutter, calls would freeze, and sometimes, a family member would get kicked off their call the moment someone else jumped on theirs.
This was a bit like someone flushing a toilet while you’re taking a shower in an older home. Annoying, to say the least.
I did a tremendous amount of research to solve the problem. The solution: WiFi 6.
The moment I installed Netgear’s Orbi WiFi 6 routers in our home, all of our internet woes vanished. No more bottlenecks, or freezing. No more asking people to get off the internet when it was time for an important call.
Everything just worked.
What is WiFi 6?
WiFi 6 is the next generation of the WiFi standard (no longer going by its code name 802.11ax). Instead of boosting speed for a single device on a network (like previous WiFi versions), it’s now optimized to increase all devices on the network.
This new focus is a game-changer for home WiFi networks, and it came just in time!
It allows more devices to send and receive data more often by making them play nice with each other and take turns.
We really all do get more when we share. Science proves it again and again!
Caribbean Internet and WiFi 6
So, hot off my success at home, where I transformed our congested WiFi network into a finely tuned data delivery service, I hatched a plan for our trip to Montserrat.
I’d bring my WiFi 6 router and extender with us!
Sure, the Netgear Orbi WiFi 6 routers aren’t exactly small, but they felt like essential items if we were going to make this remote worker life actually, well, work.
So, we stuffed them in our oversized (and overweight) luggage and brought them down with us. When we arrived at our villa and began unpacking, they were one of the first things out of our bags.
We then plugged them in, connected them directly to the Digicel router in the house, and waited.
A moment later, our familiar network from home was available. We logged on, and boom—we were in business.
I ran a few speed tests. Download speeds that were roughly 10x slower than at home in New York. Upload speeds were about half what we were used to.
I believed, though, that this was precisely where WiFi 6 would shine.
I asked the entire family to hop on Zoom calls with friends. The result: it just worked! No freezes, pops, stutters, or drops.
Putting WiFi 6 to the Real Test
A quick test was all well and good, of course, but the real proof in this pudding would not be known until we all returned to work and school.
Thankfully, again, it just worked. Days of schooling and work Zooms passed while we were stuck in quarantine in Montserrat without incident.
I can’t stress this enough: the WiFi here would never have managed the stress we were putting on the network. The first day, I tried to do a straightforward video call with my brother Steve which stuttered and strained under the relatively light load.
With WiFi 6, I could have four or more Zoom calls running while viewing cloud documents, streaming video games, and watching shows. All on internet speeds that seemed impossible for the task.
Which WiFi 6 to Buy
OK, so WiFi 6 really works. It can take anemic internet speeds and make them do the impossible, or it can allow you to downgrade to slower internet at home to save some cash while still getting the service you need. But which one should you buy?
Well, for me, I wanted a product that was highly rated and felt reasonably future-proof. My choice? The Netgear Orbi Whole Home Tri-band Mesh WiFi 6 System Router with 1 Satellite Extender. With over 3,000 ratings on Amazon and a near-perfect score, it has impressed many. The price is a little steep ($500), but the output speeds, multiple antennas, ports, and more make the Orbi a solid choice.
The one downside is size. Orbi routers are big. Not heavy, but just big and a little cumbersome.
If you’re looking for something smaller and a bit less expensive, consider the Amazon eero 6 dual-band mesh WiFi 6 system. While I haven’t used them personally, they look good, have great reviews, and are much smaller than the Orbi.
Make Remote Work from the Caribbean a Reality
We ran a poll early in the remote work era, and the number one thing on everyone’s must-have list was fast WiFi. So, of course, it was number one on my list, too. Less than ideal internet speeds even almost derailed my remote work plans until I realized that WiFi 6 could make them go a long way.
It’s the #1 secret that has made my dream of working remotely in the Caribbean a reality.
As I write this, I am typing into a cloud document and streaming music while one son is on a Zoom call with friends playing a Nintendo Switch game online and the other son is watching a show on Netflix. Oh, and the wife is on a work Zoom call and editing large files in the cloud.
And we’re doing all this while the West Indian sun eases toward the Caribbean Sea, and a Montserratian breeze cools us and our devices.
Naturally, we didn’t come here to spend our entire time on devices. Our “Real World” responsibilities, though, require us to have that capability. Whether during the work/school week or in between adventures on the weekend, WiFi 6 has enabled a remote worker lifestyle I’ve been dreaming of for years.
Join me with the Montserrat Remote Work Stamp.
See you in the Caribbean!