Seems we can’t get enough wireless connectivity these days.
It doesn’t matter where you are: in the office, down the pub, sweating it out at the gym or getting ready to board your train or plane… We just can’t help looking at that one extra email, that latest Facebook status or downloading that song that You Just Have To Hear Right Now Before You Board from GooglePlay or Apple Music. This seems to make us all very happy.
For the same reason, poor wireless connections seem to make us all very grumpy. Like we’re being deprived of a basic human right.
So what’s a wireless network manager to do? Here, in plain English, are five culprits behind bad wireless connectivity and some advice on how to avoid them to keep your users happy and content:
Culprit #1: Not enough radios in crowded areas
All wireless devices in an area share the radios’ bandwidth. So if just one device connects, it essentially gets 100 per cent of the bandwidth. If 10 devices connect, they each get 10 per cent (in theory) and if 200 devices connect, they each get a paltry 0.5 per cent.
That’s a problem: who cares if 200 devices can connect to a single access point if the user experience is maddeningly slow? It’s an experience that’s common at conference and exhibition centres and, in this scenario, impacts on people being able to get their jobs done while out of the office.
In fact, in our independently commissioned research, 85 per cent of respondents across the board said bad Wi-Fi has kept them from doing their job. Drilling deeper into the results, almost two thirds said that this was specifically the case in an arena or conference venue.
Remedy: When vendors tell you how many devices each access point can connect, follow up with how many can connect with a good experience. The answer will depend on what your users are doing (discussed next) but the quality of your connection, not the quantity of devices connected these days is king.
Culprit #2: Greedy applications
Wireless network performance also depends on the kind of applications that run on it and the ratio of data, voice and video content that is travelling on it at any one time.
A Wi-Fi network that works perfectly well when 100 users tweet and check email might collapse when just 20 users stream live high-definition video or upload photos.
This should be of particular concern to wireless network providers in stadiums, concert venues and sports grounds – anecdotal evidence that we have gathered suggests that DropBox is amongst the most frequently used application on wirelessly enabled devices.
This is because of the auto-sync default settings that are in place these days on many smartphones. If you stop and think about it, this means that every time someone takes a photo or films a short sequence of their favourite team or pop star (which doesn’t in itself require Wi-Fi connectivity), it’s immediately transferred over the wireless network they’re connected to and into the cloud.
Remedy: Use a traffic management tool to monitor network activity. Look for a tool that lets you assign priority to specific apps and to limit or block others. Just be careful how you use the block function – gather some intelligence over a period of time to see which are your organisation’s and users’ most valuable and popular applications and data sets, and use this to inform your prioritisation and blocking policies.
Culprit #3: Interference
Some electronics equipment produces interference that can degrade Wi-Fi performance. Examples include Bluetooth devices, baby monitors, microwave ovens, other hotspots, and even your neighbour’s networks.
Remedy: Plan and design the network to minimise interference. Techniques include selecting the right channels, adjusting power levels, and fine-tuning antenna direction.
In very high density areas consider the advantages of opting for APs with a directional antennae, as this creates greater isolation between radios. This, in turn, reduces the potential for interference and improves channel allocation capabilities.
It’s also worth considering a multi-platform radio. Traditional Access Points (APs) with two radio cells may be fine for some areas, but they have limitations when deploying Wi-Fi in public spaces and conference areas. Instead, consider APs that can support more than just two radios and also offer flexibility in number of 5GHz radios.
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