When upgrades are not about technology

While at a customer’s slightly unusual site (let’s just say, heavy machinery with very custom hardware and applications) they suggested upgrading their wireless installation to the latest technology.  Suddenly foretelling an unanticipated event while upgrading – and subsequent disruption to production, a brief look of alarm crept out.

Actually, similar to the somewhat alarmed look my wife gives me when I reach for another piece of cake.  A look that urges one to ‘reconsider’.

The existing solution works fine, quite well in fact.  The known cost and unknown consequences (for now) of such an upgrade activity were a little alarming considering the as yet unproven benefits of a new solution working with their existing custom devices.

Turns out however, the upgrade had nothing to do with improving the WiFi.  Bigger things were happening; which would impact the wireless network.  And while not near end of support, the existing wireless network in some parts is four years old.  So, End-of-Life in accounting terms.  We all know that the bean counters love to have expensive new items to depreciate.

All the customer needed from me at this time was to call out anything they might be missing.  I noted a couple of things for consideration and then basically, got out of the way.

Reminder to self: technology upgrades may not always be about the technology.  They may be just be a side impact of bigger commercial decisions that are going ahead.

As for the wireless installation, don’t know what I was worried about.  Might have some cake to celebrate.

How to get 1.3Gbps throughput over WiFi

Most manufacturers advertise impressive speeds of up to 1.3Gbps (Gigabits per second) for their latest WiFi gear.  That’s pretty quick.

However, WiFi is a half-duplex technology that relies on substantial protocol overhead to transmit and receive. 1,300Mbps is actually only roughly 650Mbps in the equivalent wired domain, the domain that we are used to comparing speed and throughput.  Also, that target of 1300Mbps will not have a sustained throughput rate like a wired connection, it will be decidedly ‘spotty’.

That said, to get 1.3Gbps [half-duplex] throughput on your WiFi, start with a high performance enterprise-grade wireless Access Point (AP) and a modern high performance laptop i.e. minimum of 3x antennas built-in.

Next, we need to remove everybody else’s devices.  Turn off EVERY other WiFi capable device within 100 metres.  This includes all devices outside of your control.  Neighbouring WiFi modems and wireless Access Points, all other laptops, tablets, smartphones, SmartTVs, Chromecast, Apple iSomething, microwave ovens, IoT emitters, baby monitors and so forth.  Nothing else should be left on.

By now, we must be in a cave somewhere.

Next: tune the specific enterprise-grade features on the AP for high-performance.  Left at default parameters out of the box, key settings critical to high performance would not be enabled.

Then (very important): place laptop within 3 metres (10 feet) of the AP.

Alternatively: go to a specialised wireless testing facility where just you and your laptop sit in a special little room that repels all wireless interference (roughly akin to a recording studio with soundproof walls).

Either way, this is the only way that we will come even close to the advertised speed.

Back to the real world.  Undoubtedly, from time to time your laptop may be in an insanely good position relative to the AP and environment and advise that your connected data rate is indeed 1300Mbps.  In the wired world, this would actually be what you are getting.  In the wireless world, this is not what you get.  You get (substantially) less.

Consider the wireless data rate to be similar to the maximum speed on a car’s speedometer.  Your actual speed, will be limited by the traffic and environment around you.  Just like wireless.