Follow these tips to improve WLAN performance without breaking the bank.
Let’s say that your company’s 2018 budgeting process came and went without funding to upgrade the wireless LAN. That means you're stuck managing your existing WiFi infrastructure for at least one more year. While it would be far easier to simply "rip-and-replace" your aging WLAN with state-of-the-art access points, it simply isn't in the cards this year.
At the same time, the pressure on your already overtaxed WLAN continues to mount. The number of devices it must support is skyrocketing, user expectation for seamless WiFi performance is growing, and corporate mobile demands are increasing.
Fortunately, there are a number of ways to quickly boost WiFi performance using the existing WLAN architecture you have in production today. Moreover, these techniques are inexpensive, mostly requiring some time and effort rather than capital investments.
If you try one or more of our top WiFi boosting tips, you may just find that your existing hardware can indeed support increasing wireless demands until the next budget cycle. Let’s take a look at what you can do to help boost WiFi performance on your corporate WLAN.
Eliminate 802.11b data rates
In 2018, it's safe to assume that wireless devices operating on your network are at minimum, 802.11g capable. That said, many are still allowing 802.11b data rates. This can dramatically drag down the speeds of other devices connecting within the 2.4 GHz spectrum. On enterprise-class WiFi hardware, it's easy to disable 802.11b data rates. Doing so will force wireless clients to connect using 802.11g or higher and eliminate the incredible waste of spectrum for your users.
Identify and remove wireless interference
Next up on your quest to boost WiFi performance should be identifying and removing wireless interference however possible. This is where a WiFi spectrum analyzer comes in handy. A spectrum analyzer can scan for sources transmitting frequencies in the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz ranges that 802.11 WiFi operates. Some manufacturers allow you to turn an AP into a spectrum analyzer. Another option is to install special software on a laptop or tablet to do this chore. Ekahau Spectrum Analyzer and Netscout AirMagnet Spectrum XT are both popular choices.
No matter what method you choose, your goal should be to identify where interference is occurring and identify its source. In many cases, interference is caused by microwave ovens, cordless phones/security cameras or malfunctioning Bluetooth devices. Another common problem is surrounding businesses using WiFi and bleeding over into your space. Sometimes, it's possible to completely remove the source of interference. In other situations, it's more feasible to find an area of the 802.11 spectrum where interference is the lowest, and then manually set your channels accordingly. In either case, lower interference translates into more efficiency and speed for your users.
Reposition wireless APs
Shifting the location of your APs can make a world of difference from a WLAN performance perspective. Wireless signals can be reflected, absorbed or simply cannot penetrate certain physical materials between the AP and end users. Repositioning APs can also help to alleviate dead spots in critical areas. Of course, you could simply start moving APs around in the ceiling and hope for the best. But a better method would be to perform a WiFi site survey that will show you where dead spots and interference exist. Using that information, you can reposition APs far more appropriately and expect much better results.
(Image: Magnetic Mcc/Shutterstock)
Manage user and application throughput
As the number of wireless devices increases, more data is competing for a finite amount of WiFi bandwidth. There are ways, however, to prioritize user and application data to prefer some wireless data streams over others. For example, if your organization has a liberal BYOD policy, don't simply put end-user personal devices on the corporate network. Not only does this pose a security threat, it also makes it difficult to differentiate between mission-critical wireless data verses an employee streaming YouTube videos. Whenever possible, create a BYOD or guest SSID and rate limit on a per SSID or per-user connection basis. That way, you restrict the maximum throughput for non-important data transmissions, which frees up most bandwidth for business purposes.
Additionally, security tools on the network such as next-generation firewalls can inspect internet traffic at the application layer and limit maximum throughput that way. Policies can then be created to traffic shape or block application types such as social networking, peer-to-peer, gaming, and streaming media.
Many enterprise wireless manufacturers offer customers the ability to enable what's often referred to as band steering. What this essentially does is persuade wireless end devices to connect at 5 GHz where there is far less of an opportunity for wireless interference. This is especially helpful in urban settings where neighboring WiFi interference is a significant issue. While some believe that band steering is overhyped by manufacturers, it has proven itself to be useful in many environments.
Finally, for those of you that are struggling to provide wired-like speeds over WiFi, you have the option to bond channels for added performance. Channel bonding essentially combines two, four or even eight channels so communications between a WiFi end device and an AP can utilize a much wider spectrum -- mathematically doubling throughput.
Keep in mind, however, that channel bonding introduces more opportunity for channel interference. In the 2.4GHz range, for example, there is the opportunity to create only a single 40 MHz bonded channel. This also significantly increases opportunities for interference. That's why channel bonding in this spectrum is rarely recommended.
However, in the 5 GHz range, you can perform channel bonding to create 40 or even 80 MHz channels depending on the amount of surrounding interference. Remember, the more channels that are bonded, the fewer non-overlapping channels are available. While a 160MHz channel is technically possible, you are far more likely to run into interference issues similar to bonding 40 MHz channels together within the 2.4 GHz spectrum.