People Have WiFi Questions. Here’s Why My Answer is Often “It Depends”
As the co-founder and CTO of Wyebot, I get asked a lot of WiFi networking questions. When it comes to questions from non-networking specialists, these questions can be more-or-less divided into, “Should I buy this product?” and “Should I wait?”
Here’s my answer: It Depends.
- Your business
- Your customers
- Your employees
- Your current WiFi infrastructure
- Your current WiFi needs
- Your future plans
- Your budget
If your WiFi infrastructure is obsolete because you haven’t updated it in twenty years, then yes, I will tell you to upgrade. But the right way for you to upgrade is going to be unique to your situation. If you have multiple sites, the upgrade decisions for each one won’t even be identical. There’s always too many factors in play for WiFi to be a “one size fits all” investment.
Does everyone need access points (APs) and servers? Yes. Does everyone need the same number and the same versions? No.
Let’s use the opening of the 6GHz spectrum as an example.
The new frequency band was opened for use in 2020. At the time, many people said, “WiFi has been born again!” It was expected to be that impactful. In many ways, it was like people had only ever seen a 3-lane highway, and they’d just discovered a 12-lane superhighway. Or perhaps they’d only ever had bikes and now they’d been given a jet. Suddenly there were speeds and lanes available so everyone could do everything super fast. No more waiting for your turn, no more sighing at long buffering times. It was to be a new era of WiFi.
With that kind of excitement and promise, who wouldn’t want to upgrade?
Hold on. With this new WiFi comes new rules. You see, this new superhighway is only open to certain devices. This means that gaining access requires you to buy WiFi 6E APs and WiFi 6E user devices. Any other device will be unable to connect and will have to continue using the pre-existing frequency bands, 2.4GHz and 5GHz. This likely makes upgrading an expensive decision.
Do you see why it won’t be the right answer for everyone to make the switch overnight?
Okay, some of you will say, but how do I determine if I should make the upgrade?
Answer this question: did you have a WiFi problem before 6GHz hit the market? Or was your WiFi optimally meeting your needs?
If your WiFi network is mainly problem free, providing an extremely satisfactory user experience, then it likely doesn’t make sense to jump out and buy the latest-and-greatest WiFi marvel. This doesn’t mean you should never buy it. Don’t take this the wrong way. 6GHz is exciting. It does change things. There are new and exciting technologies entering the market all the time. The end of this year could have a very different WiFi landscape than the one we have now, let alone the landscape 5 years into the future.
So, no, I’m not saying 6GHz isn’t worth the hype. What I am saying is that your upgrade timeline depends – on your users, on your infrastructure, on your WiFi network utilization, and on your budget.
- What will it cost for the necessary infrastructure and client device upgrades?
- What maximum speeds do my users need? (Not what maximum speed is on the market – what maximum speed is needed by the applications and devices your users depend on to do their jobs)
- When are we next scheduled for an upgrade? How much did we budget for that upgrade?
- Has anyone who has upgraded reported problems with new devices? Is everything compatible with older devices and infrastructure?
- What is my 3-5 year plan for my company? What WiFi network is needed to support that plan? Does that plan leave room for the unexpected?
Ask those around you for their input – users, IT professionals, customer service, building maintenance, etc. Gather data and analytics day-in and day-out for the ultimate look at your network. The WiFi affects everyone. It affects your bottom line, too. Take the time to make the best decision for your company. 6GHz isn’t going anywhere, and neither is the next latest-and-greatest feature that could be announced at any time. WiFi is here to stay. How you need it depends on many factors. Understand them and you will build a network that gives you everything you need.