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.

Where Minor Adjustment = Big Improvement

Sometimes we need to adjust the car radio dial a little to avoid crackly interference and receive a cleaner signal.  A minor adjustment, a millimetre or two to the right or left, can make all the difference.  When that wireless radio signal is being affected by external interference, there is an audible impact; our personal antennas (our ears) pick that up and we go about trying to improve it.

So how do we achieve that with WiFi?  How does one make those slight, minute adjustments that may improve wireless performance by 20%?

Professional Analysis is the answer.  The ability to understand the data presented by specialised software allows wireless network professionals to know where to make those minor tweaks that result in measureable performance improvements.

The key thing to realise here is that the solution maybe quite simple but the general user just doesn’t have the toolsets or the knowledge to find those simple settings to tweak.

Remember the old story of when a factory called a guy to fix a sudden stop in machinery; he came in, examined it, then used a hammer to tap a particular point and bingo, everything started working. His subsequent bill of $200 for the work was questioned.  His simple response, “For the tap, $10. For knowing where to tap, $190.”

 

 

Netflix on the business network

While the network is carrying business critical applications, all well and good.  But Netflix and Soundcloud streaming?  They’re usually red flags.

Enter Application Awareness. One of the most useful outcomes from deploying enterprise-grade wireless is obtaining valuable insights into what the network is actually busy doing and the ability to act upon that information automatically.

The network is an asset that an organisation uses like any other tool to run its business.  Having visibility into how that asset is being utilised is of tremendous value.

Application Awareness leads to a higher level of detailed visibility into an organisation’s actual, ground-level operations, of how users are using the network services.  From this a business is able to identify trends, prevent threats, or recognise that it may need to improve the overall service experience e.g. an increase in capacity.

Many enterprise wireless vendors build Application Awareness into their products.  They also make it easy for administrators to enforce a differentiated service based on profiles;  triggered by application sensors built into the product.  When sensors detect a voice call for example, a certain level of network resources can be awarded to it.  When the sensors detect music streaming, the network can be configured to respond to that differently.

The system can generate regular reports on all of the above, including the health of the network.  The information that these reports provide to the business becomes valuable from Day 1 and indispensible in supporting and optimising the utilisation of this business asset.

An organisation that before was somewhat blind to what the Wi-Fi was busy doing, and not entirely sure of how their asset was being utilised, now has valuable insights and an input for future planning.

Coverage, Capacity, Density.

Last year at a seminar, wireless coverage inside the convention centre was excellent.  The numbers of people (density) jumping on the service however, affected the capacity of the centre’s network. While accessibility was excellent, the use of the application on the service was really slow.

Enterprise wireless coverage is more than just reach. It usually has to support x numbers of users seamlessly roaming between business areas without dropping connectivity and support a connection quality to complete business activities in an expedient manner.

Wi-Fi should invisibly and reliably, work in the background.  A slow network or a blackspot area quickly becomes noticed – internal social media is often the place where problems are ‘discussed’. Plugging these gaps usually has a cost involved but the value gained from increased productivity and job satisfaction, often outweighs this.

In the wired world, coverage means both ends of the link are connected.  With wireless, the strongest device has the better coverage. The power and ability of antennas (and therefore the reach and signal quality) on a tablet or smartphone will not match that of a laptop or the wireless infrastructure.  Both ends of a Wi-Fi link should therefore be aligned in order that the quality of coverage expectations are consistent.

So what are the factors that determine our Wi-Fi service experience? Fundamentally, it is a combination of coverage, capacity, type of business activity (e.g multimedia), numbers of users and the types of devices being used. Client device selection has a measurable impact in a wireless environment; since Wi-Fi is a shared resource, too many ‘slow’ devices will lower performance for everyone.

To sum up, coverage and capacity define the infrastructure needed to deliver a certain level of service, to an expected density of user devices.  Get it right and you won’t notice the network at all.

802.11ac – Is it worth the investment? Part 1 of 2.

Why would you invest in 802.11ac technology?

It’s a good question, and a common one.  For most businesses to invest in 11ac (IEEE 802.11ac), the business value of the technology needs to be measured.  This can be hard.  To assist us, it is worthwhile to set a baseline. Before we look at that however, just what is 802.11ac?

In a nutshell, it is the latest technology advancement in the IEEE standard for Wi-Fi performance or speed. Before this, there was [IEEE 802.11] a,b,g and n.  Each amendment progressively supplies faster, more efficient service to Wi-Fi clients and consequently better performance for all over a wireless medium.  From a business standpoint, you may ask how faster Wi-Fi helps your productivity?  I will attempt to answer that below.

Back to the baseline.  The baseline can be measured in two parts.

  • First, we can look at which stage of evolution your business Wi-Fi is at.
  • Second, we note which benefits 11ac can bring to an organisation’s network and what it promises in the future.

With the first part, your business may be one of three places right now:

  1. There is no existing wireless solution but there is a new business need that requires it.
  2. The business has an existing Wi-Fi installation that is over three years old and due for an upgrade. Or it is opening a new site with no Wi-Fi and is considering deploying the latest Wireless Access Points there.
  3. The business needs cutting edge technology.  It has a relatively recent installation of 802.11n and is looking to take advantage of the latest Wi-Fi enhancements in 11ac.

The second part of the baseline is understanding that 11ac technology is essentially coming in two waves.  Wave 1, the 11ac that we can buy today, provides at least a 30% speed increase over 802.11n, sometimes even 150% – but this comes with lots of caveats – more on that later. Wave 2, where the promise of the real spectacular is (at least to Wi-Fi professionals like myself), are anticipated to be released by some enterprise wireless manufacturers sometime in 2015.

Why is the speed increase important?  More throughput usually equals higher productivity.  Users can do their work faster if they are not waiting to “use” the network.  Unlike the dedicated network cable connected to your laptop with all that bandwidth just for you, wireless is a shared medium; where only one device can talk at one time and where all devices connected to the same Wi-Fi Access Point queue up, to send and receive traffic on it.  The speed increase means that devices with faster technology use the shared medium for less time to send the same amount of data.  Basically, you’re on and off faster which means a quicker performance for everyone.

So faster speed = better productivity.  But to a business, it must examine the material benefit: if my Wi-Fi transfers data say, 50% faster than before, does that provide any real value?  If I sit at my desk sending emails, preparing documents and browsing the web, is this network performance increase going to equate to markedly improved productivity on my part?  Perhaps not.  If the Wi-Fi is doing a lot of file transfers, video/voice or other downloads, then yes. I believe it is something that only each organisation can calculate for themselves.

It all ties back to the “Should I invest” question: the answer is entirely dependent upon where your business is at in the adoption of wireless.  I will talk about this in Part 2.

 

 

Business Agility and Wi-Fi

Often in business, time = money.

In a competitive market, a business must stay agile; whether it is rapid development of new ideas to open new markets, reaction to competitive threats, or using new intelligence gained from data mining (Big Data) to improve their market share.

For a business to be agile in supporting the primary business objectives, technology is considered more and more of a competitive advantage but only if it can enable the toolsets (applications and infrastructure for example) needed by staff.

The computer network is enablement.  This is not to say it is more important than any other business asset;  just that we all know what happens when the network goes down.  Productivity stops. People complain.  Customer Service is impacted.

Wi-Fi has shown that it can improve productivity in the workplace.  Staff have the flexibility to move around the office or campus environments.  By not being tied to their desks they are able to participate and work where and when required; improving not only productivity but often staff satisfaction/morale and staff retention.  It takes less time to install a wireless network than to run wired infrastructure cabling throughout a building – it is certainly cheaper – hence the office is available earlier and the business of doing business is accelerated.

BYOD devices such as tablets and Smartphones drive Wi-Fi adoption in business even further.

The ‘consumerisation’ revolution has been elevated largely through maturing Wi-Fi technology.  iPads in hotel rooms for guests to order services, restaurant waiters with Wi-Fi connected devices to order reliably,  immediately and error-free, self-registration through your smartphone at events…Companies or organisations are constantly innovating using technology over the Wi-Fi network to showcase new services and/or new products.

I see Wi-Fi as a true enabler of improved agility in today’s business environment.

When Wi-Fi is professionally designed and implemented, it will always be there. Invisible, reliable and immediate, like turning on a light switch.

Enterprise Wi-Fi differences

Although not obvious, there are substantial differences to Enterprise or Corporate-grade Wi-Fi to those systems for Home/SOHO use.

For a user, these differences can be transparent.  For them it is business as usual: a password gets entered and their devices are able to connect to the Wi-Fi network.  For a business, there are valid features in enterprise grade equipment that are of important, if not essential, operational use.

To many mid-size to large organisations, requirements are usually more demanding to those of the SOHO/SMB market. The most common needs for wireless services in a corporate environment typically include the following.

  1. Coverage, Capacity and Density – servicing many clients in a contained area or vice versa.
  2. Differentiated services experience – to support critical business applications, BYOD or Guest-only WiFi for visitors.
  3. Performance and reliability – an exemplary user experience regardless of numbers and loading on the network.
  4. Advanced security – leveraging centralised authentication and dynamic data encryption for users, plus network-wide protection through wireless intrusion detection systems.
  5. Network Integration – a seamless service across wired & wireless networks.
  6. Support – the supported environment is consistent with existing operations.
  7. Centralised Management and Reporting – global visibility from one portal; leveraging common toolsets, processes and metrics to produce business performance objectives.

Most of these deliverables can only be achieved with enterprise-grade wireless solutions.  SOHO devices, as the name suggests, are otherwise perfect for a single instance of a small or home office, but do not have the ability to scale or to offer enterprise features.

In the end, its worth considering your business requirements from a different perspective.  It’s possible that you may arrive at a solution that was not expected.