To WIFI or not to WIFI

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WIFI is everywhere, WIFI is your lifeline in many places, where would we be without that wireless connection!

How often do you look at the top of the screen on your mobile to see if you have at least 2 or 3 bars on the WIFI symbol? Are you really connected? And why is it so slow when you know you have a good internet connection?

All those radio signals, our wireless connection to our devices, invisible to our eyes, yet we know they are there and they just don’t play the way we want them to.

RF is affected by many elements, each other, and other apparatus sharing the same frequency spectrum. It’s hard to talk about this without diving into technical gobbledygook, but some basic understanding should suffice in getting a clear signal.

Firstly, you need to understand that WIFI works in 2 spectrum bands, that is to say at 2 different frequency sets. The 2.4GHz band and the 5GHz band.  Traditionally everything was on 2.4GHz and when it got too crowded the 5GHz started getting popular.

Both frequency bands are public, unlicensed bands, that is to say that if you are within certain limits you do not need to go to the government to ask for permission to use them. That brings with it the first problem… it’s free to use… BY EVERYONE!.  Let’s start with the loudest user in this band… Your Microwave sitting there on the kitchen bench, it shouts out at 600 Watts in the 2.4GHz frequency (but within a well-sealed container), comparatively your WIFI box hanging on the wall might just achieve 1 Watt (maximum set by the FCC in the US). But then there is also that cordless phone, your Bluetooth headset, the wireless CCTV camera, and a few more all sitting there chatting away at 2.4GHz.

And on top the 2.4GHz band only has enough room for 3 WIFI channels to sit beside each other. (Yes, there are 11 channels, but for efficiency and if set it up properly you should only use 3!)

So, problem 1. The 2.4GHz band is noisy!! Imagine you are sitting in a bar having a quiet chat with your friend. The bar is empty and you hear each other just fine, you can speak normal and fast. Now a group of 5 others enter, then another 5 and so on. As the bar fills up, the chatter (noise) gets louder and all you can do is speak louder and slower, and you need to concentrate more, start cyphering out what is being said. Until such a time you only hear every 3rd word and all you do is ask… WHAT? can you repeat that?

The same happens with WIFI… the more devices in the area the harder it’s for them to talk to each other.  Ever noticed that in port your WIFI quality decreases… with so many neighbouring WIFIs around?

Then often they are wrongly configured. I already mentioned above that only 3 channels should be used… yet too often any channel is used, and this causes overlapping. If only 1 channel overlaps with an adjacent one (i.e. they share frequency spectrum) the connectivity speed could be halved!

Most people then say, well make our unit shout louder! And here we are back in the bar, I shout louder, our neighbour shouts louder, we speak at the same time ….  And what do we do… we slow down, reduce speed, constantly repeat ourselves.

And now a couple of friends have joined, your conversation now criss-crosses, you have to take turns to talk. WIFI is extremely polite! WIFI waits for their turn to talk… do we have silence? Yes, ok I talk… oh somebody talked, I’ll shut up and wait my turn again…

And now there are so many friends, you need to take a couple of tables, and there is a small wall in the way, or a being a fancy bar, a fish tank. That blocks the sound. Well the same happens with those steel bulkheads, even a glass pane causes a noise blockage.

And here we are at our slow internet connection. Doesn’t matter how fast your internet pipe to the outside world is, when you can’t even connect at full speed within your own network. And the 15 other devices in the room (Mobile, Tablet, Stream Player, Smartwatch, IP camera, etc…)

If you believe you are facing such problems, it might be time to talk to your IT folk. A well set up wired and wifi network can make a big difference, like day and night, especially now that people are coming on board with more and more wireless devices!