Wi-Fi routers taking a hit from connected devices: Get back up to speed

April 27, 20164 Minute Read

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Wireless connectivity in the office isn’t negotiable— it’s a do-or-die aspect of work life. If you’ve ever felt like Han and Luke roaming the surface of Hoth while you wandered around the office searching for a wireless signal, I don’t need to tell you how fickle Wi-Fi routers can be.

Is the microwave next to the router causing issues? Maybe it’s the constant feed of YouTube videos, Twitter updates, Facebook posts, and Periscope sessions from every mobile phone, tablet, and smartwatch causing the congestion. There are plenty of reasons for wireless degradation, but there are also plenty of ways to fêng shui your office and create a consistently productive wireless environment for the entire space. Here are some of the culprits and tips on how to combat them.

Shrinking airspace

The first and most obvious culprit for wireless signal degradation is the sheer number of devices clamoring for Wi-Fi attention. In any given office, you’ll have wireless signals trumpeting through the airwaves from your own infrastructure, as well as devices users bring into the environment.

As far as company-owned capital, these devices can range from laptops and printers to cellphones and tablet devices. With the BYOD movement in full force, it’s likely that each user in your environment is adding their own touch to the Wi-Fi panorama.

Don’t forget about the Internet of Things. That watch you’re wearing—if it’s not connected to the Internet now, don’t be too surprised if it is by Christmas. Same goes for the toaster, coffee maker, and even the light bulbs in the ceiling. There’s a limited amount of wireless airspace for these devices, and when it fills up, performance can take a noticeable hit.

Invisible competition

To better understand why this competition hurts performance, let’s look at the current mix of wireless devices and routers. Most routers sold today are dual-band AC devices that offer up wireless coverage on two bands (2.4ghz and 5ghz), as well as a smattering of channels to support legacy and modern mobile devices.

The issue begins when you or your office neighbors use the same band and channel for all your devices. There’s no reason to settle for this wireless competition. Think back to when you were a little kid—when walkie-talkies were your only high-tech means of communicating with friends and siblings who were out of sight. Even as an eight-year-old, you were saavy enough to drop off a channel when you noticed someone else using it—why treat your Wi-Fi routers any differently?

All that’s needed to clear up this issue is to find a channel that’s not in use (a quick Google search will yield plenty of free software that can help). It’s helpful to know that in the 2.4ghz spectrum, most channels overlap with at least one or two others. The exceptions to this are channels 1, 6, and 11, which are usually a good place to start.

Equally important is separating traffic into different bands. While legacy G and N devices may not be able to access the 5ghz band, this presents an opportunity to take the guesswork out of network planning. Legacy devices unable to join 5ghz should be apportioned to the 2.4ghz band, while newer devices should be placed on the 5ghz band. There you have it: quick and painless bandwidth organization.

Arbiter of peace

Taking this idea one step further, you should capitalize on your Wi-Fi router’s ability to prioritize traffic. This can help you reduce any unsanctioned BYOD hogs that might be congesting your network and give priority to more productive endeavors.

As far as actual placement of routers is concerned, common sense will make all the difference. Knowing that wireless signals emanate from a router in a more or less 360-degree radius, routers should be placed as centrally as possible. Likewise, the great signal poachers (a.k.a walls) should be avoided at all costs when determining a good location. If you still find your signal lacking in the far reaches of your office, a little elbow grease and a spare beverage can make all the difference.

Finally, there’s nothing like a good reboot to fix any nagging wireless issues. This is especially true if you find yourself resorting to this tactic on a regular basis. To automate this task, like any good IT professional should, investing in a timed outlet can make regularly scheduled Wi-Fi reboots a simple matter that can occur after hours. If all else fails, your routers may need to go for a spin.

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