A particularly hot topic we’re constantly talking about at SecurEdge is wifi performance. Everyone, even long time IT professionals have had to deal with wireless performance issues, the challenge comes in when you have to diagnose those problems. The simple fact, is that with the explosion of mobile devices our networks have become increasingly complex, not only in their design but in the devices and applications they are supposed to support. So, when it comes to designing your network for optimal performance or diagnosing current performance issues, it’s difficult to know where to begin.
While we’ve gone over some of the most common factors in a previous blog post, we realized there were more factors that we couldn’t leave out.
Here are 4 more common reasons you’re having awful wifi performance.
1 - Interference
It should be said first that wifi can function in conjunction with other radio interferences such as bluetooth and microwaves. But those devices can certainly create a lot of problems. Especially in the 2.4 GHz frequency. We’ve seen hospitals with devices on an entire floor blown off the WLAN due to a faulty HVAC communication system transmitting a garbage signal on 2.4. A useful tip is to standardize on 5 GHz when possible. And if you’re on the market for WLAN gear, make sure you get a wireless solution that can do “band steering” which means it will prompt 5 GHz capable devices to use it, and leave the crowded 2.4 GHz spectrum for those devices with no choice.
2 - Capacity
Back in the old days of wireless planning, wifi service providers (like us) looked at a hospital or school as primarily a “coverage” design. In other words, we figured an AP could cover X number of square feet in a certain type of building construction. Let’s say 5,000 sq ft. So if a campus building is 155,000 sq ft it pretty simple that we’ll need 31 AP’s in the building evenly laid out on the floor plan. But that was before iPads, Chromebooks, and Wi-Fi enabled insulin pumps. Today’s design is more about capacity. How many devices will be in any given area? or how many devices will each student have? Your building will have pockets of density (or if you’re in the medical industry, your whole campus is dense). Many times performance is crappy because your access points are over subscribed.
3 - Device Power
This is a pet peeve of our chief technologist Michael McNamee because it’s not discussed very often but it creates so many problems. Wifi communication involves an access point talking to an end device (iPhone, Chromebook, Laptop). But those end devices have differing ability to communicate back to an access point because of different power capabilities in the wireless chipsets in the device. For example, the average smartphone has 10-25% the radio strength as as standard laptop. This means that in many scenarios, a laptop will work great (good chipset with lots of power) but an iPhone may be able to connect but safari is slow or won’t refresh. What you’ve got here is an issue with device power...and bad wireless design. What most folks don’t know, is that when the iPhone is connecting but can’t go anywhere, it’s dragging down the performance for everyone else who is connecting to that AP as well. How do you fix it? Well, you design for low powered mobile devices on the front end.
4 - Bandwidth Hogging Users and Applications
Each organization has critical functions, in a hospital it’s the EMR platform, Nurse Call Systems, wireless VoIP, etc.. In a school environment that might be the online testing platforms or Moodle. All of those are applications are more important that someone streaming Spotify to the teachers lounge or Netflix to the men’s restroom. The problem is that many wireless systems look at all traffic as web traffic and don’t know Microsoft Lync from YouTube. What you end up with is non-critical application sucking up all the bandwidth while students can’t take online tests. The way to resolve this is to prioritize the critical functions (via QoS) and lower the priority of everything else. Bandwidth is now a limited asset that has to be managed and protected.
Again when it comes to wifi performance these are just some of the most common reasons why you might be experiencing awful wireless performance. A unique solution is application performance testing, which gives you insight from the viewpoint of what you are trying to do, you can read more about the specifics here.
At SecurEdge Networks we have been using customized application performance testing, wireless, network and security assessments to help schools, hospitals, industrial companies and retail businesses diagnose their wifi performance issues to produce detailed results to optimize their wireless networks. If you want to find out more about our performance assessments or need help designing your next wireless network design, you can get in touch with us here.