Is Wi-Fi Interference Causing Unseen Problems in Your Enterprise Network?
Wi-Fi is an essential part of business networks, and mitigating interference is key to keeping your network running well.
Though Wi-Fi offerings have improved in terms of speed, strength and scalability over the last decade, reliability is still a concern. The single biggest issue plaguing Wi-Fi networks is radio frequency interference. Though a host of factors have been identified as causing radio frequency interference, Wi-Fi networks themselves are the biggest causes of interference. Various approaches are used to mitigate the problem, but they do not address the problem at its core.
Here we will discuss the sources of Wi-Fi interference and the how we can eliminate this problem in a scientific way.
Impact of Wi-Fi Interference on Business
The bleak impact of Wi-Fi interference in any business is heavy. Today's internet-driven businesses demand a strong and uninterrupted data connection in order to stay connected 24/7. Moreover, with each passing day more brick-and-mortar businesses are stepping into the web with a hope of building a better future.
So, what does it mean to get online? What does it mean to get connected? For one thing, a strong data connection which is the pathway to access the web. Now, long gone are those days of wired connections where your digital life was chained with long Ethernet cables. Nowadays, connectivity doesn't require a wire. We are in the Wi-Fi arena where most of our devices are connected wirelessly. Wi-Fi connections are the new industry standard. Up to this it sounds great, right?
Undeniably, every scientific discovery, every technological breakthrough has its negative side. And, Wi-Fi interference is that curse with the Wi-Fi connection.
What Interference Does to a Wi-Fi Network
The list is long. Any Wi-Fi interference causes inconsistent connection problems, loss of data packets during data transfer and a slashed overall network throughput. These connection hiccups are closely linked with productivity drops, lost work hours and ultimately, loss of business revenue.
Cash-rich businesses can handle these issues easily, but this situation is like a dark abyss for the smaller and home businesses who have to depend on regular Wi-Fi networks.
Causes of Wi-Fi Interference
Wi-Fi interference is a technological phenomenon, and the chief cause behind this phenomenon is other Wi-Fi or radio frequency networks emitted by other electronic devices. The main causes of Wi-Fi interference are:
- The Wi-Fi network itself can cause the biggest interference. When there are other Wi-Fi devices connecting to a single Wi-Fi AP, their combined Wi-Fi signals create Wi-Fi interference.
- Wi-Fi networks work within stipulated radio frequencies which are unlicensed within the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz range. So, this radio frequency range is also open to numerous other RF networks which can interfere with any Wi-Fi network that falls within their working range.
- Electronic devices which emit electromagnetic waves or pulses can cause interference with other Wi-Fi networks. These devices include microwaves, smart controllers, cordless phones, Bluetooth-enabled speakers and others. Now, these home appliances are too common to avoid and the interference caused by their emitted RF signals are inevitable.
When Wi-Fi devices, mainly 802.11 clients, receive other signals, their current signals are interrupted. The interruptions can continue until the signals cease completely. This can happen when the Wi-Fi networks have too many interruptions in the form of Bluetooth, microwave and other RF signals generated from nearby electronic devices.
Now, this interference causes data packet loss which forces the Wi-Fi network to retransmit the lost data packets. These quickly occurring Wi-Fi retransmissions slow down the overall network throughput, which causes flaky performance for all the connected devices sharing a single Wi-Fi access point.
Common Approaches to Solve Wi-Fi Interference
The common approaches are:
- When there is too much interference, Wi-Fi networks tend to reduce the data transfer rate to reduce the possibility of packet loss.
- Wi-Fi devices or access points may also reduce the transmission power of the affected AP.
- Another approach is to change the channel’s assignment.
However, none of these approaches addresses the root problem.
The main way is to reduce interference and have stronger signals. This can be achieved by having a higher signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) and by mitigating interference with stronger and smarter antennas. New technological designs are creating tailor-made devices which can combat these Wi-Fi interference problems and can eventually eliminate them.
The first step in this procedure is to adopt a new Wi-Fi network standard, namely 802.11ac. This Wi-Fi network standard is the first to provide gigabit data transfer. The maximum data transfer rate in this network is 1300 Mbps, rather than the existing 600 Mbps in the 802.11n network standard.
So, what can this enhanced data transfer rate achieve?
- Faster data transfer rate for individual users sharing a single Wi-Fi AP
- Manage a higher number of connected devices without severe performance drops
- Stronger radio channel bonding, as it uses a 80 MHz frequency channel and will soon be able to use a 160 MHz frequency channel
- Denser modulation, as it uses 256 quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) whereas 802.11n standard uses 64 QAM
Moreover, a technology has been introduced as a key to battle this Wi-Fi interference problem. The new technology, namely MIMO (multiple-input/multiple-output), enables a Wi-Fi access point to transmit multiple frames to its connected users on the same frequency band. Now, these multiple frames act as a Wi-Fi switch rather than a regular hub to the connected users. Put simply, this technology enables existing Wi-Fi networks to support more users using a single AP.
The exciting part of the story is that this new technology can be deployed along with existing Wi-Fi network standards which integrate two important aspects: maximizing network throughput while supporting older devices. Moreover, this technology troubleshoots Wi-Fi problems like Wi-Fi interference and others to ensure high-level network performance.
Additionally, there are now easy-to-use devices for identifying networking problems and their sources. Rather than simply mitigating the effects of Wi-Fi interference, it is now possible to determine its root cause and eliminate it. These devices even enable network managers to troubleshoot network-related problems remotely through a remote user interface for collaborative troubleshooting, making it easier than ever to identify problems and correct them.
The most effective way to address the problem of Wi-Fi interference is to eliminate the core issue. Channel changing and lowering transmission rates are temporary solutions, but they don't eliminate the underlying problem. For any business that wants to scale up their sales and revenue, these solutions aren't viable for the future. They need a smarter solution which can reduce interference at its source, and modern diagnostic tools are now helping even novices in networking to locate problems quickly and efficiently.