Why Reliable Business-Class WiFi Connections Are Hard to Find

NEWS ANALYSIS: Many WiFi products are sold to businesses and even more consumer products are used by business, but true business-class WiFi is rarer than you think.

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You know how annoying it is when you arrive at a business that advertises WiFi for its customers or visitors, but when you try to connect, you can't, despite a strong signal.

Or, perhaps even worse, you can connect, but the connection keeps failing. Just imagine what it's like when you work in that same company and there's nothing you can do to stay connected reliably to the network.

There are, of course, many reasons why you're experiencing poor connection reliability, but the root of the problem usually boils down to two things, both of which are frequently present. They are poor selection of WiFi access points and poor network design.

Of the two, network design is usually the most difficult to fix if only because most people don't have the background to understand microwave radio propagation within a building. And, yes, WiFi uses microwaves. In fact, WiFi operating at 2.4GHz operates in the same frequency range as the microwave oven that you used to heat your breakfast sandwich, just not with the same intensity.

Fortunately, the selection of the right WiFi access points (APs) will frequently do away with many of the network design problems you might face if only because the right hardware may be able to compensate. What's even better is that the right selection of access points can also do away with the capacity, dropped connection and reliability problems you're experiencing. What you need are business-class WiFi access points.

The problem comes with defining what constitutes business-class WiFi. The answer, I found after considerable study is WiFi that supports the needs of the business in terms of reliability, capacity and security. This means that your WiFi infrastructure needs to be able to handle the number of devices that you can anticipate will attempt to connect to the network in a worst-case situation.

The infrastructure needs to support speeds high enough for your employees or your customers to accomplish the work they want to do and to do it fast enough to meet their needs. And, of course it needs to be secure.

Saying all of this is a lot easier than doing it. "Being able to constantly manage and adapt the signal-to-interference and -noise ratio is one of the key to delivering a business-class WiFi service," said David Callisch, vice president of corporate marketing at Ruckus Wireless, a company that makes business-class WiFi products. This means that the access points in the network become actively involved in seeking out ways to deliver the best possible signal to every client.

Complicating the problem of providing the best signal to every client is the fact that so many people are using mobile devices to connect to WiFi. The problem that often exists with these devices is twofold. One is that their radios transmit very weak signals and have relatively ineffective antennas. The other obvious problem is that these devices, because they are mobile, tend to move around a lot.

"One of the most important things is receiver performance," said GT Hill, director of product and technical marketing at Ruckus. "WiFi clients are very weak transmitting devices," so networks need to be able to hear better, he said.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...