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The Problem with Measuring WiFi Performance

Written by Michelle Pierce Michelle Pierce | September 20, 2018

There’s no shortage of advice on how to measure WiFi performance. Heck, a quick search on Google turns up a mind-numbing 231 million results. But when you dig in, how much of this information is valuable to you if you’re trying to remedy problems with slow WiFi?

Most of these tips fall into one of two camps: how-to information for SOHO (small office/home office) WiFi installations and self-serving product content from the likes of AT&T, Charter Communications/Time Warner Cable, NETGEAR, and Xfinity.


So where does that leave IT professionals like you? You already have a lot on your plate -- trying to keep your network up to date and running smoothly. You’re juggling dozens of other IT-related tasks -- getting pulled in so many different directions -- that have little to do with optimizing WiFi performance.


What Exactly is WiFi Performance?

At first glance, your end users may have a tough time distinguishing between problems on your wireless network, as opposed to issues with your Internet Service Provider (ISP).


After all, with mobile broadband becoming so pervasive -- with 5G right around the corner and 4G LTE as table stakes for most carriers -- at least in the U.S., the end users you support have high expectations.


But if you start rambling on about antennas, power levels, and channels, most of the staff and managers at your company will look at you like you’ve got two heads.


So what exactly is the root of the problem? What makes it so difficult to size up your wireless network's performance problems? And more importantly, what can you do about these issues before they create a terrible user experience?


1. Measure WiFi Performance at the Device Level

Many wireless network performance tests are living in the past -- only measuring speed or connectivity issues.


But the end users you support care only about their problems and their productivity -- not the specs that WiFi access point vendors post on their websites.


True performance needs to be measured instead at the device level. How well are your end users’ devices doing at executing tasks, such as using the software applications that are most important to their jobs?


There’s no shortage of websites that recommend software applications for everything from broad use cases (such as small- and medium-sized businesses) to hyper-specific vertical markets (such as healthcare finance departments).


As an IT professional, if you want the users you support to love their WiFi network, you’ve got to focus on their needs, their software applications, and how their devices interact with your WiFi infrastructure.


And if you have external end users, such as in a hospitality or retail environment, there’s even more at stake. Your company’s WiFi performance can build, or destroy brand loyalty.


Translation: If you have trouble getting budget to address slow WiFi issues, meet up with your marketing and sales counterparts. And ask how much more difficult their job is when they’re reacting to nasty online reviews about easily preventable issues -- like grumpy employees, dirty restrooms, or slow WiFi.


2. Focus on WiFi Visibility

Traditional network monitoring tools make it pretty straightforward for IT professionals to understand and pinpoint fluctuations in bandwidth utilization or connectivity speed.


But most of these tools cannot visualize how WiFi is functioning for your supported end users. And that shortcoming is a big problem.


By visualizing your WiFi coverage, you’ll be able to pinpoint dead zones, optimize configurations, determine if additional or different hardware is required, and provide greater coverage.


In other words, if you want to measure and improve WiFi performance, make sure you arm yourself with the right kind of heat maps -- that document your WiFi visibility -- before your end users and management turn the heat up on you.


Otherwise, the traditional approach is like a help desk technician rattling off a list of troubleshooting steps, but never bothering to ask, “Did that help?”


3. Include the Internet of Things (IoT)

In concept, the Internet of Things (IoT) is not particularly new or revolutionary. All the way back in 1982, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University modified a soda machine to become the world’s first Internet-connected appliance.


The difference today, however, is the massive uptick in commercialization and popularity of IoT-enabled devices.


With consumer applications, IoT is seeing robust growth due to home automation, wearables, connected health (especially elder care), and appliance monitoring.


On the commercial side, there are all kinds of IoT innovations being deployed in building automation, healthcare, and transportation. Among industrial applications, IoT is becoming a big hit in agriculture and manufacturing.


And IoT is also behind much of the long-term innovation with energy management, environmental monitoring, and smart cities.


So what’s there not to love about a global IoT market achieving a 28.5% company annual growth rate (CAGR)? With manufacturing, transportation, and utilities leading the way?


IoT is a blessing and a curse -- depending on who you ask. The huge growth in IoT deployment mean more devices on your network.


This makes it way more difficult for you to get accurate visibility of what’s happening with your WiFi infrastructure. And IoT-enabled devices can often be the culprit of slow WiFi.


That’s why it’s more important than ever for you to accurately measure your WiFi performance to make sure that you’re providing the best possible WiFi speeds for your end users and their devices and applications.


Just as critical: If you want to be seen as your company’s IT leader, and not just a network administrator, take time to understand your industry’s emerging IoT trends. There are all kinds of blogs, videos, webinars, groups, and podcasts for even the most time-strapped IT professionals that want to spend a few minutes each day keeping their skills sharp and upping their game.


The Bottom Line

WiFi performance monitoring is super-important for addressing problems that can stand in the way of a great end user experience. While there are indeed industries where there’s more on the line, and consequences of slow WiFi can be even more dire than others, your company is counting on you to deliver high performance, reliable, and secure network infrastructure.

But unless you have the luxury of growing your team with several in-house specialists that focus just on your WiFi network performance, you’re going to have to get a little creative to make this happen.

And that’s the reason why SecurEdge performance monitoring sensors can be so valuable to you and your company. By installing sensors at the device level in any network coverage area, you’ll get real-time analytics reported back to your easy-to-understand SecurEdge cloud dashboard.

You’ll not only see which devices are connecting to your WiFi network, but you’ll also be able to understand how well these devices are connecting. So you gain a leading indicator of end-user happiness, while you have time to address issues proactively.

While useful for even relatively small environments, the SecurEdge performance monitoring sensors become even more valuable for large enterprise networks such as hospital and university campuses that struggle to detect and to troubleshoot under-performing WiFi.


Want to learn more about how performance monitoring sensor technology from SecurEdge? Give us a call!

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