It’s hard to overstate the value that WiFi has in today’s customer-first, digital world. Retailers are using mobile technology to create new shopping experiences, hospitals are connecting more WiFi devices to improve patient safety, and schools are adopting tablets as a way of changing the way students learn. Regardless of the vertical industry, WiFi is playing a critical role in helping change the way organizations operate.
If this is the case, and few would disagree with this statement: Why is WiFi still so unreliable? It’s very common for someone to be sitting in an airport and streaming Netflix over WiFi while waiting for a plane. Slowly but surely, more people arrive at the gate area and the WiFi network gets more congested.
The person decides to run to the store and grab a snack, and when he comes back, he is unable to reconnect to the WiFi. If they do manage to, the performance is so poor that they are unable to Netflix, Facebook, tweet or do anything else. The problem isn’t coverage, because the user’s device indicates signal strength is strong, but stuff still isn’t working.
Many network managers I’ve interviewed almost seem resigned to the fact that poor WiFi is a fait accompli. While there are many sources of WiFi outages, the 2018 ZK Research WiFi Troubleshooting Survey found that WiFi association, roaming and related issues comprise more than half of the outages.
What is the most common cause of WiFi issues?
To help ease this pain, there are two different architectural approaches: multi-channel and single-channel, each with its own pros and cons. Most vendors have designed their products around multi-channel, but a couple of single-channel vendors exist. There is one vendor, Allied Telesis, that takes a hybrid approach bringing the strengths of each together to deliver what it calls “no compromise WiFi.” To understand how this works, it’s important to take a step back to know how multi-channel and single-channel differ.
Most businesses use a multi-channel WiFi solution, in which each access point (AP) connects to a wireless client using one of several radio channels. Good quality throughput is dependent on two factors: good signal strength and low radio interference. This requires ensuring that the APs are not too close or have overlapping channels as this can cause interference.
Problems can be avoided with good site surveys, but this doesn’t always do the trick when there are layout issues or situations where there are neighboring WiFi networks. Multi-channel solutions deliver very fast WiFi but do often perform poorly because of interference.
Single-channel systems, as the name suggests, use a single radio channel for all APs in the network. With this architecture, AP location is irrelevant because they all use the same channel, eliminating interference. Single-channel also has the advantage that if coverage is poor in a certain area, more APs can be dropped in to rectify the situation without the downside of interference. Single-channel may sound great, but it has some limitations–-the primary one being the total throughput is lower than multi-channel because only one channel is being used versus many.
Offers a Mix of Single- and Multi-Channel
Allied Telesis offers a hybrid wireless solution that enables customers to deploy a mix of multi-channel and single-channel using the same APs and one management tool. This provides the reliability of single-channel in challenging environments and the performance of multi-channel where it’s required. In dynamic environments with changing bandwidth requirements, the hybrid APs can deliver single-channel WiFi, and they can also deliver multi-channel for ubiquitous coverage.
In areas where bandwidth is an issue, the APs can be configured to support up to three single-channel “blankets” that run simultaneously, enabling more clients to be supported.
Single-channel is also better in environments where reliable roaming is needed; these are enterprises that use roaming voice or video over WiFi. With single-channel, all APs look like one logical AP, enabling the client to roam seamlessly between them without dropping the connection. The client acts as if it is connected to the same AP, so no data is lost and no latency is introduced.
I’m sure many readers of this post have never heard of Allied Telesis and think it is an unproven startup. However, that isn’t the case. The networking company has been around since 1987 with headquarters in Japan. It has focused most of its efforts serving the needs of Asian and European companies but has a North American presence in the heart of Silicon Valley that has focused mostly on federal and telco customers.
Under-Radar Company Has a Broad Product Line
Allied Telesis has a broad product line that includes WiFi, wired switching, SD-WAN, security and other network infrastructure and is ranked No. 3 globally by Dell’Oro in Ethernet ports shipped. The company has flown under the radar of buyers here because of its historical sales focus, but it has made a commitment to build a stronger presence in this region by serving the needs of enterprise organizations.
Businesses that require high-quality WiFi have always had to make a choice between the unreliable performance of multi-channel or the limited bandwidth capabilities of single-channel. The No Compromise WiFi solution from Allied Telesis brings the best of both worlds because it enables businesses to run both architectures simultaneously on the same APs with a single management dashboard to meet the needs of all applications.
Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. He spent 10 years at Yankee Group and prior to that held a number of corporate IT positions.