It’s a common question. One we hear often.
So, where do we start?
Firstly, let’s not concern ourselves with the challenges of consumer WiFi in the home – we look after businesses, after all. But, those businesses are now working from home. So, we can’t ignore that problem altogether. We’ll return to that at the end of this article.
Probably the biggest problem with WiFi is that people think it’s easy, and that all WiFi is the same. Therefore, they buy based on price, without understanding what they are buying. And they don’t think about upgrading older parts of their network.
WiFi itself is currently on Gen 6 (the 6th Generation). It’s known as WiFi 6. But, we don’t see manufacturers referring to the different generations too often. Likewise, we don’t see the devices, such as Mobile Phones, Tablets or Laptops saying which version they are using. The details are there, in the tech specs, but you have to go looking.
So, what happens if you’ve got a mixture of Gen 3 and Gen 4 WiFi Access Points in the office, and your MD turns up with the latest iPhone sporting WiFi 6?
Actually, let’s rewind a bit further. Do you have a Managed WiFi solution? Or, have you expanded your WiFi network, over time, by buying additional unmanaged Access Points? Because, if you’ve done that, you’re likely to be in a mess, manually having to reconnect your device in different areas of the same building.
That first WiFi Access Point that you bought, when you set it up, you gave it a name (the SSID). Let’s say you gave it the name ‘projectfive’ and the password of ‘orange’. Then, as the office grew, and more people joined the team, you went and bought another one. You set it up with the same name and password as your first one, and placed it somewhere else in the office. Maybe near the meeting rooms.
When you connect your laptop or phone, you check for available networks, and you see just the one projectfive network (or SSID) and you think that’s because you’ve only got one WiFi network. You haven’t. You’ve got two! They just happen to have the same name and password as each other. So, your laptop connects to whichever one it chooses (normally the one with the strongest signal). If you don’t move, then you’ll be OK.
But, when you get up and move to a different part of the office, closer to the other Access Point, your laptop retains its connection to the first Access Point – even though the signal is now really weak. You may be sat right next to the other Access Point, that has a really strong signal, but you’re still connected to the first one, moaning that the WiFi is rubbish.
A Managed WiFi network allows the laptops and phones to move their connection between the different Access Points, depending on which is stronger, as you move around. All of a sudden, you’ve got a completely different WiFi experience.
But, how many Access Points do you need?
Well, you can get ones that have a really strong signal, and the range is brilliant. But, that’s because they’ve got ‘big’ antennas. But, your phone hasn’t. So, you can see the WiFi signal, it’s nice and strong, and you think everything is all right. But, your tiny little antenna in your phone isn’t powerful enough to push the signal back to the Access Point. Which leaves you with a powerful download speed, but a rubbish upload speed.
All of a sudden, having more less-powerful Access Points gives a better experience to having fewer more-powerful ones.
Then, there’s the signal itself. Have you mounted an Access Point that’s designed for a ceiling, onto a wall by mistake? If so, it will be pushing out a signal, like a giant donut standing on its end, straight up into the air and down into the floor. Put it on the ceiling, the donut lays flat, and the signal pushes out throughout the room.
And, what’s the point of pushing out a donut-shaped signal, and placing the Access Point on the end wall? 270 degrees of that signal will be pushed to places where you don’t need it. Wouldn’t it be better to use a narrower ‘beam’ to push the signal where you do need it?
Let’s get back to the question of the older Gen 3 Access Point and the new WiFi 6 iPhone that your MD has.
Well, everything will run at the speed of the slowest component. Which might be your Gen 3 Access Point, or it might be your ‘back haul’ through the cabled network to the router, or even the upload speeds through your router (we once found a new client who had 120 staff in their office, with traffic routing through a Firewall that was designed for a 5-person office!).
So, what’s the answer?
Well, we’ve spoken to some of our techies, and what we’ve learned is that WiFi is an awful lot more complicated than most people think. No wonder it’s confusing! WiFi 6, Wave 2, 802.11e…
What we do know is that to have a seamless WiFi experience, it means engaging a techie with knowledge and experience, and not attempting to DIY it. Luckily, we have a few of those techies, so our WiFi is awesome.
But, what about the home?
Well, there’s lots of consumer solutions out there that can help. WiFi Mesh systems can be a tremendous improvement over the built-in WiFi that you got with your free BT, Sky or Virgin Media router. Is the problem actually with your WiFi, though? (Some people mistakenly call their Internet Connection their WiFi – they are two very different, but important, parts of your ability to get onto the Internet).
The biggest question, though, when it comes to sorting out your home’s WiFi is…
Are you needing this so that you can Work from Home?
If so, then there’s a lot more that you need to sort out first. Your office network will be fully compliant, and meet the standards demanded by the ICO (restricted Firewall Rules, regularly applied Security Patches). But, in your home, you’ll have the kids’ gaming PCs, the Ring doorbell, Amazon Alexa, and god knows what else (especially if you have teenage children).
When the Covid-19 Pandemic is over, and you’ve gotten used to Working From Home, you should expect to see regulations enforced to make sure your Working From Home environment is as secure as your Office Environment.
Luckily, we’ve got another blog about that which you can read in full here.