Wireless Network Coverage: Definition & Limitations

Instructor: Lyna Griffin

Lyna has tutored undergraduate Information Management Systems and Database Development. She has a Bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering and a Masters degree in Information Technology.

In this lesson, we will study wireless networks and the definition of wireless network coverage. We'll examine the limitations to the scope of coverage in wireless network infrastructure with a focus on wireless Local Area Networks (LANs)

What is a Wireless Network?

A wireless network is a computer network architecture in which nodes within the network are not connected by conventional cables (Ethernet cables). Instead, data is transmitted over radio signals operating typically between 2.4GHz -5.0GHz. Communication between each node connected to the network is by these radio signals. Devices stay connected and can roam within the wireless coverage area without being physically tethered to any fixed point.

Wireless network coverage is defined as the extent of the area to which the wireless signals are transmitted. Let's compare this to sound energy. The further away you are from the source, the less audible the sound becomes. In addition, you may be within audible range of the sound but some form of obstruction (earplugs or a soundproof barrier or another louder noise) may also make the sound source inaudible to you. In the same way, wireless signals are strong within a certain physical parameter and beyond that parameter, the signal strength significantly weakens. This leads to slowing or an intermittent or total break in network connectivity. Depending on the router specifications there is a fixed recommended coverage perimeter as seen in Figure 1.


wifi coverage perimeter


There are different types of wireless networks but we will be focusing on the issues that impede the wireless LAN (local area network) coverage.

Limitations To Wireless Network Coverage

Wireless LAN is commonly referred to as WiFi and the most commonly used wireless networking technology. It is used by individuals in homes, as well as in offices and large corporations. Like any technology, it has its optimal capacity and limitations. Limitations refer to the various factors that impede signal strength and consistent network connectivity.


Signal Strength


Distance

Distance is defined as the recommended physical parameter over which the signal strength of the connection is optimal. When we examine Figure 2 we see that the nearer a connected device is to the wireless router or access point the stronger the signal and faster the connection. As this relative distance increases the signal strength drops.

Physical Obstruction

Whether it is a home environment, office, public cafe or business, trees and walls are always a physical factor. The WiFi network, depending on its system specifications and setup, can yield a solid and high-speed connection within its defined physical parameter. The strongest signal is when the receiving node is within the specified coverage perimeter range and in the line of sight (no objects are situated between the direction of the signal and the receiving node). This is seen in Figure 2. The devices within the room where the router is located receive the best signal. The number of walls (wooden or steel), trees or objects through which the radio signal has to traverse, the weaker the signal strength received and the slower the speed of connectivity.

External Radio Signal Interference

Wireless connectivity is not limited to computer networks. It is a technology that has been adapted to many other devices. Today a typical home may have cell phones, tablets or computers, microwave, wireless game controllers, and numerous blue tooth devices. Surprise! They all use radio signals within the 2.4 GHz -5.0 GHz range, the same radio frequency range with which WiFi technology operates.

What does this mean for wireless networks? Suppose you are listening to a discussion between two people who are speaking as loud as they can, both at the same time. It will be difficult for you to make sense of what's being said. You will probably catch snippets of the discussion. In the same way, when your home WiFi router is transmitting signals at 2.4 GHz and competing with the other home devices that we mentioned, transmitting at the same frequency, there will probably be signal confusion (technically called signal interference). The external radio signals from the microwave, game controller and baby monitor may be interfering with your WiFi network signal. This causes a drop in the signal strength with slow or intermittent connectivity.

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