Wireless Access

Guest Blogger

Are We Asking Too Much From Our Wireless?

Just a random thought I had today when I was banging my head against my desk because the wireless was acting slower than usual: do we ask way too much from our wireless?  I find it very funny that I almost expect the wired network to go down once a month or so.  If I pick up the phone and there is a delayed dial tone it doesn't really bother me that much.  But if the wireless is down for an instant I get crazy and wonder how things could be so wrong.


When you think about it, wireless is probably the most likely candidate to have issues of those three networks.  It's the only one that really has to take things like wall composition, water pipe location, and microwave oven usage into account when planning and operating.  The fact that more devices use it than any other connection media could also be a contributing factor.  Ethernet doesn't get overloaded when 25 computers connect to one segment.


What do you think?  Should we treat our wi-fi like we treat the power grid?  Or should we accept that there is always going to be some chance of failure and just shrug our shoulders if things don't run at top speed on Monday morning?

Re: Are We Asking Too Much From Our Wireless?

I don't think it's asking too much, but there are so many more links in the chain with WLAN versus wired or phone. For wired or phone, you have physically protected paths (single wired device over a physical wire to a switch over a wire to another switch etc), whereas wireless has (in effect) a 'single medium "air" to share for all the users. In addition, the 'air' can be dirtied up with 'noise' from cameras, microwaves, bad lighting ballasts, large transformers, etc. 

So couple wireless (a shared medium) that has capacity for X number of users with a maximum Y bandwidth, to APs that also depend in your wired network to work correctly, and add in noise/interference, and it's much more variable day-to-day than any physical medium. Aruba handles this well with ARM and other mechanisms to maintain strong connectivity (choosing the least interfered with channel, providing optimum channel selection for the area, etc), but everyone has to play by the same rules (physics), regardless of what their marketing states :)

That said, the benefits are enormous! No wires means complete flexibility to move and work wherever and whenever I want (so long as I have signal). I can put devices with no wired ports on the network (phones, tablets, etc). I can put network access in to areas cheaply without trenching fiber, at a fraction of the cost (wireless bridges to temp or outbuildings, monitoring stations, etc). 


We have education and corporate customers that have gone nearly all wireless without many issues. The trick is understanding that medium and planning accordingly. If you put up a building with all cinderblock walls and loads of microwaves everywhere (my customers usually), they will have a harder time of it doing all WLAN, but it's doable. Those who design infrastructure and buildings to be RF-friendly, who limit use/deployment of things that interfere with wireless, will flourish (which is why some education customers see issues, and it boggles the mind when you look at see every dorm room with a cheapo microwave that leaks so bad that the door might as well be open while cooking popcorn). 

My house is all wireless, except my servers in the closet. I have two APs that service approx 16-20 client devices in my house. 2 streaming cameras, 3 streaming video players, phones, tablets, laptops, printers, and desktops. They will all work on a single AP because I put all 5Ghz capable devices on the 5Ghz radio and put the lower bandwidth devices on the 2.4Ghz. That does mean though that I put thought in to what I buy, and usually only get 5Ghz capable devices when possible. 

TL;DR, my home wifi is my power grid and when it hiccups, I hear about it. But when designed and managed correctly, in most cases it will be as reliable as the grid.

Jerrod Howard
Sr. Technical Marketing Engineer
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