Is something wrong with your company’s WiFi performance, and you just can’t put your finger on it? Are you starting to wonder whether your wireless network design is keeping up with your company’s growth and how much your employees depend on your WiFi? Does slow WiFi make your team more irritable than running out of coffee, or battling through broken air conditioning on the hottest day of the year?
The Root of the Problem
Business leaders, and even some IT leaders, often mistakenly think that installing a wireless network is a one-and-done project. However, that isn’t the case.
While wireless network design is often treated as a discrete project that comes before installing a wireless network, wireless networks are a complex IT infrastructure that needs proper care and management.
In much the same way that you start troubleshooting a slow PC by closing out of unnecessary applications, rebooting, and running a disk cleanup and defrag to optimize hard drive performance, slow WiFi is often symptomatic of months or even years of neglected maintenance and optimization.
In this post, you’ll learn about four of the most common reasons why your network’s WiFi performance stinks and what you can do about it.
1) It’s Been More Than Three Years Since the Wireless Network Was Deployed
Let’s call it like it is: Some IT users prefer to focus on myopic, out-of-pocket price comparisons rather than true IT costs. After all, if your business doesn’t care about productivity, security, and network performance, nothing matters besides the cost of the WiFi hardware.
For most rational business and IT leaders, however, reliable WiFi is as essential as electricity and running water.
Granted, there will always be some executives that feel like, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But even those will generally concede that upgrading to a higher set of supported standards is a legitimate reason for investing in a new wireless network design.
Others will consider upgrading their WiFi hardware when they need functionality not offered by their current wireless networking hardware.
On a broader level, when you think about IT hardware, your company has likely grown comfortable with a certain refresh cycle.
If you’ve ever heard of Moore's law, named for Gordon Moore, the co-founder of Fairchild Semiconductor and Intel, it is the observation that the number of transistors in a densely integrated circuit doubles about every two years.
Or more simply, most IT hardware gets a lot better every two or three years. For example, a few months back a flaw was discovered in the Wi-Fi Protected Access II (WPA2) protocol, allowing a key replay attack, known as KRACK.
2) Slow WiFi, Slow Download Speeds, and Slow Page Load Times
While your end users might not be able to vocalize this need, website pages -- text and images -- are growing much larger each year.
Many people may also be watching videos or engaging in video conferencing on your wireless network. In other words, there’s a lot more data running on your WiFi than ever before.
There are also almost certainly many more devices on your wireless network than just a few years ago. Between desktop computers, notebook computers, tablets, smartphones, smart watches, personal assistants, and a litany of the Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled devices, it’s a wonder that your WiFi performance isn’t even worse.
Your slow WiFi or slow download speeds could be caused by having your access point (AP) located way too close to a device or object that’s interfering with it.
WiFi performance problems can also be caused by misconfigured hardware, as well as merely selecting the wrong AP for the improper purpose.
And there’s always a chance that your wireless network performance problems and slow page load times are caused by a more fundamental problem: issues with your Internet Service Provider (ISP).
3) Devices Having Trouble Connecting (Or Staying Connected)
When your employees’ devices are having trouble connecting to your wireless network, or staying connected, there are always some basics to check.
For example, is the device properly configured for WiFi settings? Is the Access Point (AP) functioning properly and receiving utility power? Is the networking hardware that the AP is plugged into also working and receiving power?
However, the AP may also be severely overloaded relative to its natural capacity.
Or the devices may be out of the range of the AP.
Again, as mentioned earlier the AP also could be misconfigured. Or be the wrong kind of AP for the need.
And that assumes that the AP was installed correctly, which is often a dangerous assumption to make.
4) Applications Crashing and Not Responding
Certain kinds of applications are also more sensitive to WiFi performance problems than others.
For example, if most of your users are loading pretty standard-order, static website pages, bandwidth requirements are likely relatively low.
However at the other end of the spectrum, if several of your users heavily utilize high definition (HD) video conferencing applications -- such as GoToMeeting, Skype, or Zoom -- lousy WiFi performance could very easily lead to applications crashing or just merely being non-responsive.
Along the same lines, other sources of streaming video such as Facebook and YouTube can also be just as network-intensive.
As a general rule of thumb, if a user is running a particular app on their smartphone that would rapidly drain their mobile data plan (for example on 3G or 4G LTE) when that user is not connected to a wireless network, there’s a good chance that app will also majorly hog your WiFi bandwidth in your facility.
And while it may not be a problem with one or two users, what happens when five or ten employees in the same department are all using apps like that at the same time?
Sound wireless network design needs to take application usage into account.
IT managers and executives that are faced with WiFi performance problems often don’t know where to start. Is it a problem with the devices?
The operating system on the devices? The applications on the devices? The AP hardware? AP configuration? AP installation? There are a lot of variables that need to be considered.