Wi-Fi is something we all use, but don’t really think about; It’s one of those things that, when it’s working well, you don’t notice – but when it isn’t, it can be a complete show-stopper. Wireless networking as a whole has come a long way in the past decade or so, especially as devices have gotten smarter and become more connected than ever before, and the importance of having a strong connection to the Internet has become greater and greater. These days, many people connect to the internet almost exclusively wirelessly. Whether they’re reading the news or checking their email, streaming movies or gaming, the demands placed on their wireless equipment have grown exponentially.
Not All Wi-Fi is Created Equal
As the technology has developed, different standards have been created to more effectively push those bits over the air. For several years now, the most mainstream protocol has been Wireless-N, offering connection speeds on the order of ten times greater than the previous standard, Wireless-G, as well as far greater effective range. However, a significantly newer standard has begun to enter the mainstream in a more prominent way, and that protocol is referred to as Wireless-AC. AC Wi-Fi gains an additional three-fold increase over Wireless-N in terms of raw speed, but it gains nothing in terms of range. Instead, AC serves to significantly increase the stability and effective speed of connections at the same maximum ranges as Wireless-N, allowing for only a minimal drop in speed even near the edge of the wireless signal’s coverage.
In the current standards of Wireless technology, there exist two primary signal frequencies, or “Bands” as they are commonly referred to, on which most wireless devices operate. These two frequencies are the 2.4 GHz (GigaHertz) and 5 GHz. Most devices currently on the market support both, and are thus referred to as having “Dual Band” wireless capabilities. Either band can be used for the same purposes, but they both have their strengths and weaknesses. Working in conjunction, devices which can access both bands are able to gain superior range and throughput than devices with access only to one band or the other. The differences between 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands, as well as how they relate to and are effective in different scenarios, are a bit beyond the depth of this article, and is a topic we’ll discuss at a later date.
Just as in every marketable technology, when it comes to Wireless there are many options with differing specifications, which usually fall into either the entry level, mainstream, or high-end. Depending on the price bracket, these access points (or routers, as they have colloquially come to be called) will have greater or lesser effective range, throughput, or featureset to fit a given situation. However, the truth of the matter is that even the most powerful routers cannot meet the needs of every situation, and one of the biggest causes of this problem is from obstruction and interference. Every home suffers from “Dead spots”: areas in which the WiFi signal broadcasting from your router or access point simply will not reach. Whether you’re in a studio apartment, a complex office building, or even a large mansion, there can be plenty of causes for interference or signal obstruction. While the causes of this are numerous, so too are the methods the networking industry has devised to get around them. Devices such as wireless range extenders, ethernet over powerline linkups, or mesh access points are some examples of such work-arounds, and are specifically suited to particular situations.
Unfortunately, wireless can be one of the most temperamental and finicky technologies to get working well, but when it is, it can also afford some of the greatest convenience in any situation. Each of these subjects deserves some further delving, as there are some very important details to consider when making an informed and educated decision on what solution will best fit a given scenario. This article’s main purpose was as an introduction to some of the technology available, as well as to raise awareness of the fact that many of the issues users encounter with their wireless can be worked around with the right equipment. Of course, as we always recommend for potentially complex scenarios like these, contact your local technician for recommendations and support in this endeavor.