The Future of WiFi – Getting Better Performance at Home

Speed TestWe are starting to see staggering internet speeds available to the home. Last year Comcast launched “Extreme 250”, a new 250 Mbps Internet speed tier for California customers. They even have a plan called “Gigabit Pro” that boasts 2 Gigabits per second (available in limited areas). Assuming these plans actually deliver that level of performance, we still need a great network to get that speed to our mobile devices. This is where the bottleneck often occurs.

High-end, high performance commercial networks have been developing best practices for years. Here are a few of the rules we have adopted:

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Wired vs. Wireless network speeds

Wired is always better than wireless
Without question a wired connection will provide faster, more reliable service than wireless. We want to connect as many of the devices as possible to the wired network. Not only does a wired connection get those devices a better, more reliable connection, but it cuts down on wireless traffic that may interfere with the devices that have to be wireless. In order to minimize wireless interference we want to take as many devices off the wireless network as possible.

Hops

More than one wireless “hop” is not ideal

Only one wireless “hop”
WiFi devices connect to the network via a “Wireless Access Point” or WAP. The WAP should be connected to the wired network so that when a mobile device sends a signal, the WAP picks it up and feeds it into the wired network. Sometimes when we do not get signal into a part of the house we use a “Wireless Booster” or “Repeater” that picks up wireless signal from one device and “Boosts” or “Repeats” it into another part of the home. When our mobile device is communicating with a “Booster”, it has to send a wireless signal to the booster, which then re-sends that wireless signal to the WAP that can then send it into the wired network. If this sounds cumbersome and slow, that is because it is!

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Just like our conversations, multiple wireless devices need to wait their turn to communicate.

Less is More when it comes to WiFi devices
Each device that is outputting a WiFi signal is creating “Noise” that the other WiFi devices have to overcome. The “Noisier” the environment, the more interference we are going to have to put up with. This will result in a much slower and less reliable connection. We make an effort to turn the wireless off an all devices that do not need to be on the wireless network.

Wireless Scan - Poor

From this SF residence our scan shows over 70 networks creating interference

Wireless Scan - Good

This a a low interference environment that is ideal for faster performance

The External Wireless Environment Matters

Most network devices are tested in a laboratory environment with no interference. Unfortunately, our real-world environments are rarely free of interference. Often times we see so much interference that the WiFi communication environment is similar to us having a conversation in the front row of a Metallica concert (VERY DIFFICULT!). WiFi devices have to wait for a break in the other WiFi “conversations” and other general wireless noise or “chatter” before they can communicate, and they are often interrupted and have to start over. This results in very slow speeds.

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Outdated network equipment cannot meet today’ demands

Wiring and Equipment Matters
Residential network equipment that is 3 or 4 years old is often obsolete by today’s standards. We have found that the number of devices and throughput required by today’s average residence is multiples above what it was just a few years ago. To offer the best performance possible we want to make sure we; wire to the most current standard, use proper topology and enterprise grade devices and locate WAPs in optimized locations.

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There is no silver bullet

By using the best practices noted above we are going to get the fastest network performance possible in a given environment. We are starting to see “silver bullet” network devices that claim they can solve all the network issues with their technological innovations. We continue to test the new devices as they come to market, and we have not found one that work better than the best practices noted above. I am optimistic that we will get there eventually, but we have not seen it yet.

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