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Onion Approach to WiFi Troubleshooting Basics - Knee Jerk Reaction

Guest Blogger

In this onion approach we will be discussing the knee jerk reaction. Less experienced and new wireless engineers have a tendency to stress under pressure and as a result will make changes without really understanding or narrowing down an issue. I know from experience, because I was there once myself. Today I mentor a number of folks and I see my old self in some of them. 


As wireless engineers if you are designing, deploying, troubleshooting or managing a WiFi network we have a tremendous amount of responsibility. Along with this responsibility comes accountability. We don't like when someone calls our baby ugly. But sometimes we have some very ugly babies. 


A previous blog post  “WiFi Mental Checkbox” I shared why we as wireless engineers need to have a mental checkbox when it comes to our wireless networks. All to often when faced with problems and not truly understanding the issue we get that twitch to change something. You know that twitch we all have been there and sometimes more then a few times.  I discovered that this knee jerk reaction can be the result of a number of things:


Not knowing how to troubleshoot an issue

Under stress to resolve a problem

Not having the proper tools

Unable to read debugs

Overwhelmed with tickets 

Unsure how to capture over the air frames 

<You fill in the BLANK here>


The results of the knee jerk reaction:


Add more access points

Remove access points

Power up access points

Power down access points

Changing configurations on the fly 

Blaming things other then our network

<You fill in the BLANK here>


Ask yourself. Is your knee twitching when wireless issues come in ? It is, lets fix that twitch!


I would like for you to read my previous blog post: Onion Approach to WiFi troubleshooting basics - Do You Have A WiFi Network Mental Checkbox ? 


As wireless engineers we aren't afforded the luxury of plugging in a cable and it just working. The connection between the wireless radio and access point, while small in the overall communication, is the most important in our world. In most cases the knee jerk reaction is the result of not knowing where to look next. 


  1. Do you have a mental checkbox that the wireless is not the problem, YES
  2. Interview the users having the problems and collect as much info as you can
  3. Boots on the ground to reproduce the issue. If you can reproduce the issue  you are in a good position to identify it more quickly. 
  4. Collect debugs from the infrastructure, logs from the client and OTAC (over the air captures). 
  5. Baseline against known working devices
  6. Wireless solid — Look at the application layer. Put wireshark on the wireless box to collect packets captures. 

At the end of the day we need to understand the issue first and make changes second. 


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Good insights, totally agree.


There's a  methodology in the medical world: "Evidence Based Practice", that I like to adopt as a mantra for wirelss fault finding.  Hopefully the name is self explanatory (but here's a link just in case:


Any diagnosis of issues, particularly on wireless networks must be based on solid diagnostic information. Making changes on the fly based on your "gut" or because this issue looks quite similar to something else you saw recently will more often than not land you in trouble.


Educating yourself in the theory of RF networking and equiping yourself with the correct tools to gather the required evidence is the only way to diagnose wireless network issues, and provide high perofrmance networks.


Resist the urge to "have a go" and gather solid evidence for your technical decisions and actions. 

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