With the recent boom in the remote workforce, we’ve seen a shift from desktop PCs to laptops and tablets for businesses. Because many of these devices lack traditional wired ethernet ports, Wi-Fi has become more critical than ever to the function of the business. Who hasn’t experienced someone breaking up during a Teams or ZOOM call or dropping out of the call altogether? This is often because the Wi-Fi network has been neglected and simply can’t handle the workload that’s being thrown at it today.
Most organizations have limited knowledge of their Wi-Fi infrastructure’s age or configuration. Often, it is little more than a wireless router tucked in a corner somewhere or, at best, a few aged access points scattered about the office. Few businesses consider that Wi-Fi standards change every 3-5 years, which means that every 3-5 years, the devices they’re purchasing are likely not going to be able to connect to their current Wi-Fi network at their maximum potential. There is also the possibility that the new standard may not support old standards any more.
A Brief History of Wireless Standards IEEE 802.11 Convention
The Wi-Fi Alliance naming system runs concurrently with the IEEE 802.11 convention. Here’s how the naming standards correlate:
- Wi-Fi 6: 11ax (2019)
- Wi-Fi 5: 11ac (2014)
- Wi-Fi 4: 11n (2009)
- Wi-Fi 3: 11g (2003)
- Wi-Fi 2: 11a (1999)
- Wi-Fi 1: 11b (1999)
- Legacy: 11 (1997)
Replacing Wi-Fi equipment should be a standard part of your business’s hardware lifecycle planning. But understanding the impact of the changes in the standards is just as important as having the latest equipment when it comes to having a Wi-Fi network that performs well for your business.
The Anatomy of Wi-Fi
With the proliferation of Wi-Fi these days, it is essential to understand the various components of the technology to maximize your investment. The days of simply having a bunch of access points are behind us. You now must factor in not only what you have, but what your neighbors have, the composition of the environment you need to enable, and a variety of settings that are critical to performance.
You’re likely familiar with 2.4G and 5G when it comes to Wi-Fi connectivity. These represent the two primary frequency bands used in wireless connectivity today. While these two frequency bands tie to the various standards in specific ways, you can simplify them as follows:
- 4 GHz equipment has a more extended range and requires less power from connected devices but is limited in overall speed.
- 5 GHz equipment has a shorter range and requires more power from the connected devices but has a much higher speed limit.
As Wi-Fi technology evolves, companies are finding new ways to leverage these existing frequency bands to compensate for their inherent shortcomings and developing new bands, such as the 6 GHz band.
Choosing a channel
Choosing the right channels for your Wi-Fi network is critical to its overall performance, especially in densely populated areas. With so many devices broadcasting these days, it’s not uncommon for some channels to be completely saturated by neighboring broadcasting devices. Many devices use the same set of default channels, so knowing what is in use around you and tuning your network to less saturated channels can significantly impact performance. Many enterprise-grade devices will routinely scan channel usage and automatically adjust what they’re using to avoid performance degradation.
More is not always better. The misconception that poor Wi-Fi performance can be resolved by adding more access points is common, but not always true. Wireless equipment often comes configured for maximum performance, which means maximum power output. If you don’t make adjustments to work with the environment you’re deploying into, you can create interference for yourself and degrade performance significantly. Wireless devices may also have difficulty deciding which access point to use or when to roam to another to maintain the best connectivity.
Access point positioning
Access point (AP) placement is easy to understand but challenging to master. You must factor in easy-to-see obstacles such as walls, shelving, and cabinets, but you also must be aware of less obvious things such as electronics and lighting. Fluorescent lighting can significantly impact wireless performance. The height of the access point and the angle at which it’s mounted, relative to how the antenna is placed in the device, can also significantly impact both effective range and performance.
Assessing the Health of Your Wi-Fi network
A surefire way of determining your Wi-Fi infrastructure health and performance is by having a site-wide Wireless Survey.
Site surveys can discern all aspects of wireless connectivity, from AP placement, channel usage, physical obstructions, and radio interference. Surveys can be done in various ways, either using your existing Wi-Fi equipment to identify issues and shortcomings in your deployment or by using temporary APs to help design an optimal solution. It is even possible to do a predictive survey that uses software to simulate the conditions and placement of equipment without the need to be on-site physically. However, these are not as complete as a full site survey.
How can Abel Solutions Help?
With the continued push towards mobile computing, the demand for mobile devices such as phones and tablets, and the explosion of connected Internet of Things devices, the need for a high-quality, high-performance wireless network will only increase. Whether you need assistance in getting the most from your existing equipment, planning and implementation of new wireless infrastructure, or a complete site survey of your environment, Abel Solutions has the expertise to help. Contact us today to get started!