What does high-performing WiFi network optimization really look like
What is WiFi network optimization?
Everyone wants to optimize their WiFi network, but what does that actually mean? How do you do it and how can you tell if you’ve succeeded?
An optimized WiFi network is one that routinely and reliably operates at its highest potential. There are no hiccups, no unsolved mysteries, and no headaches. Rather, all business processes run efficiently and all end users are supported and satisfied.
The path to getting there lies through WiFi network optimization. You may also see this referred to as WiFi optimization and network optimization; although network optimization can also refer to your wired services.
WiFi network optimization is an ongoing process of using solutions and techniques to monitor, analyze, and improve WiFi behavior and performance. To begin with, companies must first gather metrics and define their network performance baseline. All optimization results will be compared to this baseline to determine if improvements have been made.
What are the business benefits of optimization?
- Revenue increases. An optimized network safeguards productivity by ensuring that users always have access to what they need when they need it.
- Reduced operating expenses. Save time and money by reducing WiFi problems and troubleshooting times.
- Improved productivity and end user experience. A reliable and predictable high-performing network helps employees perform tasks more efficiently, and ensures high customer satisfaction.
- Better security. The analytics and constant monitoring required by optimization reduce the risk of unidentified security risks such as open ports and unauthorized APs.
- Personalized network upgrades and updates. Better, more consistent access to data analytics allows decision makers to make targeted performance upgrade decisions.
What WiFi performance testing is needed for optimization?
When it comes to optimization analytics two things are key:
- The more the merrier. Gathering analytics from every step of the WiFi data path gives companies the ability to optimize every step.
- Continuous monitoring will always trump intermittent monitoring. For the best results, the network should be continuously monitored, whether or not someone is onsite. Any missing data is a missed optimization opportunity. This requires companies to have a solution that provides uninterrupted monitoring of both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz channels. Eventually, this will also include the 6GHz (WiFi 6e) channel.
Here are some of the WiFi performance metrics that should be gathered.
- Signal strength
The stronger your signal, the better the communication between connected devices and APs. When testing WiFi signal strength, you’re looking at two values:
- RSSI (Received Signal Strength Indicator): the higher this number, the better
- dBm (decibel milliwatts): this is measured in negative numbers with a number closer to zero signaling better strength. A good range is typically between -72dBm and -47dBm.
- Noise level
Noise refers to any unwanted signal interference and can originate from crosstalk, distortion, or from non-WiFi sources. These include cordless phones, radar, microwaves, refrigerators, TVs, and building materials. It is measured in dB (decibels) from 0 to -120, with -120 being the ideal noise level. Most environments with high-performing WiFi report noise levels of -90dB to -98dB.
- Signal to Noise Ratio (SNR)
SNR tells you how much stronger your signal strength is than all the noise on your network. It is measured as a positive value between 0dB and 120dB. The higher your number, the clearer your signal.
To measure SNR, subtract your noise value from your signal strength value. You want a SNR of 25dB or greater.
Network response time, or network latency, is the time it takes for a data packet to travel from sender to receiver. This number should be kept low. Be sure to test your server response times to analyze RADIUS, DHCP, and DNS performance.
Jitter is the variation in latency. It can be measured in many different ways. One of the common methods to measure is packet-to-packet delay variation. Jitter is measured in milliseconds (ms). The lower the value, the better. For a good video streaming experience, jitter should be less than 30 milli-seconds.
- AP interference
When APs are placed near each other, they can cause Co-Channel Interference (CCI) or Adjacent Channel Interference (AI).
- CCI: this occurs when two or more APs are using the same channel. This causes delayed network responses as APs have to wait until the channel is clear to transmit and receive signals.
- ACI: this occurs when two adjacent APs are on adjacent channels. To avoid this, companies must use the few non-overlapping channels that are available. The 2.4GHz network offers 3 non-overlapping channels; 5GHz offers 24 in the United States (the count varies in different regions of the world); and the 6GHz offers 14 non-overlapping 80MHz channels and 7 non-overlapping 160MHz channels.
- Packet capture
WiFi networks communicate in data packets, which means that IT professionals must capture, analyze, and review packets in order to understand network performance and behavior. If packets are corrupted, discarded, or lost in transit, end users will experience issues.
To best support optimization, packets should be automatically captured, analyzed, and saved. The automatic process saves IT time and money, and ensures that they have access to packets whenever they need them.
- Bandwidth and throughput
Bandwidth is the maximum theoretical capacity that can be achieved on a given network, including protocol overhead. On the other hand, throughput is the effective bandwidth, after protocol overhead and inefficiency has been removed from the raw stream – it reflects the actual end-user experience.
Companies need to know how bandwidth-intensive different tasks are in order to define their needed throughput and keep performance issue-free and streamlined.
With different optimization tools, it is possible to see exactly which devices are on the network and monitor the bandwidth utilization of each device.
What affects optimization efforts?
Unsurprisingly, there are a number of factors that can impact your WiFi network performance. After all, if optimization was easy, WiFi issues would cease to exist.
Here are a few items to pay attention to:
- The number of connected devices and users on your network
- Types of network traffic
- The size of your facility
- Building materials used in the construction of your facility
- The distance between your network and any external networks
- Network design
- The age of network devices and infrastructure
How do you cost-effectively optimize the network?
There are a number of tools and technologies available to help companies optimize their networks. Rather than using several individual tools though, companies can have more success using an all-in-one platform.
With these platforms, companies only have to:
- Train IT professionals to use one tool
- Pay for one tool
In other words, the optimization process is simplified with the use of an all-in-one platform.
When researching platforms, look for the following capabilities:
- AI-based: With artificial intelligence, the platform is more than a reporting tool, but instead becomes a valuable part of your IT team. It can learn to recognize normal and abnormal network behavior, and suggest problem-solving solutions.
- Automatic, proactive alerts: End user productivity is improved faster when problems are solved before users are impacted. Platforms that provide automatic, proactive alerts with root cause identification and actionable resolutions greatly reduce troubleshooting times.
- Scheduled and manual testing: Consistency is key to optimization. With scheduled tests, IT professionals know that the network is being constantly analyzed. With manual tests, teams can spot-check the performance of network infrastructure as-needed.
- Historical data: For future-proofed optimization, companies need more than real-time analytics – they need identified long-term trends in behavior and performance. A platform that automatically saves historical analytics meets this need.
- Remote capable: The Mean-Time-to-Resolution increases whenever IT is required to travel in order to troubleshoot. This applies whether the travel is across campus, across town, or across the world. A remote capable platform means that IT can optimize the network from anytime and anyplace – saving companies time and money.
- Vendor agnostic: Companies don’t want to lose optimization analytics every time they decide to work with different WiFi vendors. Choose a vendor agnostic platform and receive constant, uninterrupted analytics from all sites.
- 90% faster Mean-Times-to-Resolution
- 80% fewer remote site visits
- 70% fewer WiFi problem tickets