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5 bad Wi-Fi culprits and how to avoid them

Say it’s up to you to pick a Wi-Fi solution. If the Wi-Fi experience is great—fast and dependable—you’re a hero.

But if performance is slow or connections drop, people get grumpy. Here, in plain English, are five culprits behind bad Wi-Fi and how to avoid them.

Culprit #1: Not enough 5GHz radios

You’ll need a mix of 2.4GHz and 5GHz radios in your access points. Newer wireless devices can connect to either type, while older devices can only connect to 2.4GHz radios. Connecting as many devices as possible to the 5GHz band avoids congestion. That’s because the 5GHz band has far more capacity—23 available channels compared to just three for the 2.4GHz band.

Remedy: Match the percentage of 5GHz radios to the percentage of devices that support it—often 70-90 per cent of the total. Avoid access points rigidly configured with one of each type of radio because you’ll be paying for far more 2.4GHz radios than you need. Look instead for “multi-state” radios that you can configure for either band.

Culprit #2: Not enough radios in crowded areas

All wireless devices in an area share bandwidth equally. If just one device connects in an auditorium, it gets 100 per cent of the bandwidth. If 10 devices connect, they each get 10 per cent. When 200 devices connect, they each get a paltry .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?

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.

Culprit #3: Greedy applications

Performance depends not only on the number of devices connecting, but also the apps used. A Wi-Fi network that works great when 200 users tweet and check email might collapse when 20 users stream live high-definition video.

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.

Culprit #4: 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 neighbor’s networks.

Remedy: Hire a partner of your Wi-Fi solution vendor to plan and design the network to minimize interference. Techniques include selecting the right channels, adjusting power levels, and fine-tuning antenna direction.

Culprit #5: Lack of flexibility

Better Wi-Fi technology comes along every few years. But if your network can’t adapt, you’re stuck with an unpleasant choice: either replace the network sooner than expected or settle for slower performance.

Remedy: Choose a Wi-Fi solution that you can upgrade to new standards with a quick and inexpensive software or hardware change.

Perry Correll is Principal Technologist at Xirrus.