Getting The Most Out Of Your Wi-Fi


Deciphering Wi-Fi standards and getting the most out of your wireless network

To anyone who remembers using the Internet in its early days, when you required a dial-up and 56kbps was considered unbelievably fast, Wi-Fi is a modern miracle. Information seems to pour from the surrounding air. You can download movies, documents and pictures without even needing to plug your computer into a socket – it feels like magic. So why can Wi-Fi so often be a source of frustration?

The truth is that, as with any technology, Wi-Fi isn’t magic at all and as we place more demands upon it, its limitations become apparent – dropped signals, slow connections and congestion can all frustrate your attempts to use the Internet for work or pleasure. What’s more, as there are so many of us using mobile devices, often for work, Wi-Fi has gone from being a luxury to a necessity for many businesses. This is why it is always important to make sure that you have the best system in place for your needs – this means not only managing your usage but also ensuring you’ve got the best and fastest network you can afford. So for a start let’s look at the current Wi-Fi standards out there.

State-of-the-art 802.11ac

If you keep your ear to the ground when it comes to Wi-Fi technology, you’ll know that for the past couple of years the rather awkwardly named 802.11ac Wi-Fi has been making headlines. It is touted as the best system for businesses and even homes that use a lot of data and tech.  But what exactly is it? 802.11ac is simply the latest version of Wi-Fi technology, and offers faster speeds at a longer range. It is claimed that it offers highly impressive speed improvements over the current 802.11n standard.

It is worth acquainting yourself with some jargon behind Wi-Fi if you’re planning on updating your system or setting up an office network. Basically 802.11ac is the wireless networking standard and, as these have developed, so 802.11a/b/g/n have been released, each an improvement on the other. 802.11ac is the latest and is sometimes referred to as 5G Wi-Fi. Phones and laptops that have Wi-Fi connectivity will probably support b, g or n, but 802.11ac will (in theory, as we will see later) boast throughput and data transfer speeds up to three times faster than the ‘n’ incarnation (up to 2600Mbps rather than 900Mbps). This makes it great for streaming media and HD video and Blu-ray. What’s more, 802.11ac also offers more coverage by extending the range of your Wi-Fi networks. This means that it’s possible to cover a whole business via a single powerful router.

Another advantage of 802.11ac is that it is now available on a wide range of devices, such as smartphones, tablets and laptops. Its speed also makes streaming so much easier – be it HD movies when you’re at home or large documents and files in the office. You can also browse the web and perform other tasks at the same time, thanks to the extra bandwidth. 802.11ac also makes use of beam forming, which means that, rather than simply broadcasting radio waves in every direction to reach your device, the Wi-Fi signal is shaped to find the best path from your router to where it’s needed.

Is it worth paying a little more for 802.11ac?

In the world of IT, most tech is out of date by the time it’s hit the shops, so it is good advice to get the best you can afford to enjoy longer use from it. Most devices are now made to work with this latest version of Wi-Fi, but they are usually backwardly compatible with 802.11a/b/g/n too. But with more and more 802.11ac hot spots appearing all the time, you may as well take advantage of the new tech if you use your Wi-Fi on the move. Remember, though, that you can only take advantage of this extra Wi-Fi speed if you’ve got a good Internet connection to begin with. And if you just use your home computers and devices for reading the papers, emailing or watching TV shows, an 802.11ac router may not make too much difference to your life.

Routers don’t always do what they say on the box

Low-fat muffins taste nothing like their full-sugared counterparts, and your phone battery won’t give you 20 hours of talk time on a single charge – they are but packaging lies. This is also true when it comes to Wi-Fi routers. You will probably never get the full maximum speed, since the signal is affected by distance, user traffic, obstacles such as walls, and interference from other devices. It is best just to see the touted data speed as a benchmark.

Don’t overload your router!

If you run a small and growing business, you and your employees may need to make use of many different devices, especially if you operate a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy. Your staff is armed with smartphones and laptops at a minimum, and may also be carrying Kindles, tablets and other devices. This can put a strain on your Wi-Fi networks and if you are only using an entry-level wireless router, it won’t be able to cope, especially with modern devices like IP cameras or Network Access Storage (NAS).

The answer is to not use your Wi-Fi for all your Internet needs. It may feel that you are harking back to old technology, but it is still often worth considering an old-fashioned Ethernet connection, especially if you know you have a fixed number of devices and are not planning to offer Wi-Fi to everyone who stops by your home or workspace. A properly wired Ethernet connection can offer you up to 10 GB/s, but this depends on the type of cable you might be using. If you need to transfer files quickly between computers or devices on the same local network or within the same office or at home, then Ethernet does still have the edge in terms of speed. By migrating Ethernet devices like desktop PCs and printers to wired networking, you reduce the stress on your Wi-Fi network.

Placement of Wi-Fi points

Avoid putting access points or routers out of line of sight, behind pillars or in alcoves. An elevated spot is better; also be aware of furniture like desks or cupboards causing an obstruction.

Wi-Fi for visitors

If you run a business such as a coffee shop, bar or workspace, you will probably want to offer Wi-Fi to guests and visitors. A separate wireless router is ideal for this. Many of these now have guest features, with a separate signal for public access that helps to keep your private network secure.

If you want any more tips on setting up an efficient Wi-Fi network, contact the IT experts at Empower IT Solutions.