Potential Performance Issues in Wireless Networks

Instructor: Stephen Perkins

Stephen is a technology and electronics expert who has a passion for the work that he does.

Wireless networks are now more dominant than their hard-wired counterparts, but they can have some potential performance issues. This lesson will talk about those potential issues and explain how some of them can be remediated.

Wireless Networks are Important

Others are always telling us to stay connected to a wired network as much as possible for doing essential tasks since it has higher reliability than a wireless signal does. That may be true in most cases but is just not ideal in the mobile and always connected world of today. Mobile recently surpassed the number of desktop devices, which is why we rely on wireless networks more than ever now.

We may use wireless networks every single day, but that does not mean they are free of troubles in comparison to their hard-wired counterparts. There are four main areas that wireless networks face that can have a substantial effect on how well the network can perform. These areas are:

  • Physical interference
  • Radio frequency interference
  • Antenna issues
  • Hardware/software issues

We will discuss each of these in the sections below.

Potential Wireless Issues

Physical Interference

The age-old issue of physical objects getting in the way and causing a weaker signal with each object the wireless signal must pass through, is one of the most apparent and problematic issues with wireless. Location of the access point in regards to the devices that are connecting to the network is vital. Any number of objects can cause trouble for a wireless network especially walls, ceilings, metal lamps, metal cabinets, and other objects that might deflect the wireless signal and weaken it.

In the past few years, a real solution to this problem has been developed. Interference can be reduced by implementing the idea of mesh networks. A mesh network is a set of access points that communicate with each other while being located all throughout a building, home, or office as shown in Figure 1. They all talk to each other and create one giant unified access point for maximum coverage and speed.

Figure 1: An example of a fully-connected mesh network.
Mesh network

On top of maximizing coverage, a mesh network allows for both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequencies, helping to cut back on outside interference. New mesh networks, such as Google Wifi even makes use of machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to continually maintain the network for maximum performance without human interaction.

Radio Frequency Interference

The default radio frequency most wireless devices have relied upon for many years now is the 2.4 GHz band. For example, if your household has a wide variety of mobile devices that connect to Wi-Fi, i.e., various wireless mice and a few televisions, you can potentially have some signal issues from time to time. You may only be affected by intermittent performance issues if all devices being used at once. The good news, however, is that more devices are offering the 5 GHz band as well, making them dual-band capable.

Using the 5 GHz band is ideal for your primary devices located close by, especially if you have a lot of noise coming from other surrounding 2.4 GHz devices. A mistake many people make is to leave the channel for the router frequency at the default setting. Imagine a busy business or apartment complex with a massive number of wireless access points all set on the default channel. This would create an enormous wave of network interference. The signal overlap would strain all access point within range by making them work overtime while trying to stay interference free.

Antenna Issues

We usually do not think twice about the position of the wireless router's external antennas, but they too play a factor in overall network distance, speed, and reliability. By default, many external antennas on wireless routers are classified as directional. This means they must be pointed in the direction that you are trying to send the wireless signal to. This is useful if you expect all of your devices to be located in one area or location of a building.

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