The Fundamentals of a Wireless LAN

We were going to call this blog ‘WLANs for Dummies’ but that seemed a bit harsh so we settled on the fundamentals of a wireless LAN instead.

A wireless LAN, or WLAN, might seem complicated on the surface but actually it really just follows simple laws of physics. If you can understand these and follow them, then there shouldn’t be any reason why you can’t achieve high performance and scalability for your WLAN.

If you can understand the basics of wireless physics, then you can start to plan your WLAN for a successful deployment. It will also help you to troubleshoot an existing WLAN exhibiting issues.

How Does Data Travel Through a WLAN?

First things first – Let’s look at wave properties.

Data transmits, or travels, from one point to another – e.g. between wireless access points – via electromagnetic waves. This energy travels at the speed of light and operate at different frequencies.

The frequencies of these electromagnetic waves are defined by how many periodic cycles are completed by second.

For example:

How is Frequency Measured?

As we said above, frequency is how many wave cycles are completed per second. This is measured in Hertz. A 2Hz waveform is 2 completed wave cycles in a period of 1 second.

How Does Frequency Affect a WLAN?

A phenomenon called Free Space Path Loss is something that causes signal loss when a waveform travels from one point to another. This is what affects how well data travels across a wireless network.

Different wavelengths (frequencies) experience difference signal loss. The lower the frequency, the longer the wavelength, and the longer the wavelength, the further it can travel before signal gets lost.

For example, 2.4GHz have longer wavelengths than higher frequencies like 5GHz.

How is Wi-Fi Signal Loss Measured?

We measure the energy that is associated with received wireless signals in Decibels (dB). We can also measure loss of signal in this way.

Decibels are logarithmic. On the linear domain, when you add decibels it grows exponentially and when you subtract decibels it reduces exponentially.

The 3dB rule

Every 3dB change, there is a doubling of energy (if increasing) or a halving of energy (if decreasing).

As a ratio, this would look like:

If we had the wireless signal energy at
1:10dB

Then doubling it would be
2:13dB

Remembering this rule can help with both analysing the energy associated with wireless signals as well as predicting it.
Similarly, if you add or subract 10dB, it changes by a factor of 10.

The Relationship Between Frequency and Wireless Signal

Let’s take a look at 2.4Ghz and 5GHz frequencies or waveforms. 5GHz is a higher frequency, so has more wavelengths in a given time period. 5GHz has more wireless signal loss (attenuation) than 2.4GHz, and thus is better for high-density areas. 2.4GHz has less wavelengths in a given time period and is better suited for wider coverage. Bear this in mind when you are planning or troubleshooting a wireless network.

How is Wireless Signal Affected by Different Materials?

In an ideal world, you would have a clear line of sight between your wireless points. In reality, this is rarely the case and you will often find things that get in the way and stop the wireless signal from traversing effectively across your network.

Different materials will affect wireless signals and attenuation in different ways.

Materials such as concrete will cause more attenuation of wireless signal than wood.

In scenarios where wireless signals can propagate (the action of spreading) normally, there is no interference from other materials. However, there are some things that can alter the propagation of a wireless signal, causing it to behave differently and potentially become unreliable.

For example, a WLAN environment with metal surfaces may encounter unpredictability with wireless signal due to it reflecting off the metal.
Wireless signal can also be absorbed by certain materials like water or people, causing the signal to falter.

Being mindful of materials during the WLAN planning stage can help ensure the environment doesn’t hinder your wireless network and you have reliable connectivity results.

Co-Channel Interference

Different materials aren’t the only thing that can interfer with wireless signals.

Due to the 2.4GHz and 5GHz frewuency bands being unlicensed, there are no restrictions on people when extending wireless networks with access points.

This means that they can become crowded as well as channels not being assigned efficiently. Both of these issues can cause co-channel interference.

When planning your WLAN it’s important to take these issues nito consideration and plan your wireless network accordingly so as not to risk problems with wireless signal later down the line.

You want your WLAN to be as effective and efficient as it can possible be, which takes planning and wireless network knowledge.

Whilst the 2.4GHz is popular due to its propagation qualities due its waveforms passing through materials like walls more easily and reaching end users at a long distance. This however has meant that its become crowded with competing devices such as cordless telephones, baby monitors and bluetooth devices. This saturation can cause problems with your wireless signal.

In comparison, the 5GHz spectrum has greater availability and relaxed transmission power giving it more flexibility when it comes to wireless networks.

The 2.4GHz band has only 3 channels without any overlap, whereas the 5GHz has 24. This is another reason why the 5GHz band is favoured for high-density WLAN environments.

Understanding Frequency Channels

To ensure you can maximise the performance and scalability of your WLAN, you need to understand how these channels operate and use that knowledge to avoid co-channel interference.

Let’s take an Access Point as an example. An AP will have a specific bandwidth through which it will transmit and receive signals to and from other points. The channel assigned to the AP will be appropriate for the centre frequency of the first 20MHz channel used by the AP.

This bandwidth is specifically the frequency range over which the data signals are transmitted. Peak transmission and power is spread over the range of that bandwidth, with it dropping off at the edges.

These edges are then at risk of meeting other nearby wireless networks and are prone to interference from the ‘noise’ of these other networks.

It’s important to use what you know about channels to prevent the reduction of wireless signal speed and loss of scalability of your wireless network.

In order to minimise interference between neighbouring access points, choose to assign them with non-adjacent channels. Following this will make it easier to scale your network. If you don’t follow this principle, you will likely encounter problems with latency and throughput.

The best way of reducing interference when assigning WLAN channels is to carry out a Wi-Fi site survey. This involves analysing the noise levels across the spectrum so you can make informed decisions for your wireless network.

Call The Experts

If this all sounds a bit complicated, then why not give us a call here at Geekabit? We have Wi-Fi expert engineers working out of Hampshire, Cardiff and London who can take care of all your Wi-Fi woes.

From Wi-Fi site surveys, to planning and installation, we’ve got your WLAN covered. GIve us a call or drop us an email to see how we can help keep you and your business connected.

Ubiquiti Wi-Fi Expert Help

Here at Geekabit, we love Ubiquiti – It’s no secret. We’re often asked what bits of Wi-Fi kit are our favourites, and Ubiquiti is definitely one of them. We use Ubiquiti wireless devices so much that we consider ourselves a bit of an expert when it comes to Ubiquiti Wi-Fi installations. We’ve done quite a few blogs sharing our expert knowledge of Ubiquiti Wi-Fi devices, so this week we thought we’d do a quick round-up on some of the things we’ve touched on.

Let’s start with how Ubiquiti UniFi could help your business. This blog was the first in a series of three looking at the benefits of Ubiquiti UniFi in a business setting. If excellent, reliable Wi-Fi is critical to your business operations, then this is well worth a read.

[Part 1] What is Ubiquiti UniFi and How Could It Help Your Business?

In the above blog, we looked at what Ubiquiti UniFi actually was and how it could function as a network in your business. This next one focuses in on the Controller and UniFi Cloud Key and their expert Wi-Fi function within an effective wireless network.

[Part 2] Ubiquiti UniFi – The Brains

The third in that series of blogs looked at the elements that complete the Ubiquiti UniFi network and how they could provide you with a better connected business. After the last 18 months, we’ve all seen how vital it is to have a reliable connection. This series of 3 blogs on Ubiquiti UniFi highlights how these interconnected devices could be the ideal solution for keeping your business well connected.

[Part 3] Ubiquiti UniFi – The Elements

Ubiquiti Access Points are a staple in our Wi-Fi toolkit. We’re confident that their selection of access points are straightforward to match to our clients needs and satisfy your end users. For a blog that takes you through choosing the right Ubiquiti access point for your business, check out the link below.

How Do I Choose The Right Ubiquiti UniFi Access Point?

Of course, Ubiquiti isn’t the only provider out there. How does it compare to some other top options on the wireless device market? See how it stacks up against popular choices from Meraki and Aruba.

UniFi vs Meraki vs Aruba

With all the Wi-Fi 6 hype, you might be wondering what the choices are in terms of Ubiquiti Wi-Fi 6 products. In that case, you’ll probably want to have a read about the Amplifi Alien – The new Wi-Fi 6 router from Ubiquiti.

Amplifi Alien – The New Wi-Fi 6 Router from Ubiquiti

If you have a large area to cover with your network range, then mesh could be the right option for you. Mesh is essentially like a interconnected grid or net of access points that all communicate with each other, ensuring that even if one goes down you don’t drop your connection. If this sounds like something that could work for your business Wi-Fi network, have a read of the blog below explaining Ubiquiti UniFi Mesh models.

Ubiquiti UniFi – What are Mesh and Mesh Pro Models?

The latest from our Ubiquiti blogs is the range of Ubiquiti airMAX products. With something to match every business Wi-Fi need – from a functional perspective to design aesthetics – This blog will take you through the Ubiquiti airMAX device choices.

Which Ubiquiti airMAX product should I choose?

If you need Ubiquiti Wi-Fi expert help then give us a call here at Geekabit. Our Wi-Fi experts operate out of London, Hampshire and Cardiff and are all competent in Ubiquiti wireless devices.

To get in touch, give us a call or drop us a message.

 

The Wi-Fi Lifecycle: How to Boost Wireless Performance at Every Stage

Managing a wireless network is a non-stop task. A wireless network is a lifecycle – It is constantly moving through the processes, and every stage gives you the chance to troubleshoot and optimise your Wi-Fi.

What is the Wi-Fi Lifecycle?

If you are responsible for deploying a Wi-Fi network and then doing the ongoing management, then you will likely be familiar with the stages you see throughout this process. It starts with the wireless network design, and then continuing maintenance, optimisation and troubleshooting, which can lead you back to those design stages. To ensure that your wireless network reliably performs at its optimum levels, you need to understand these stages and equip yourselves with the right tools.

Let’s have a look at each stage of the Wi-Fi Cycle.

Wi-Fi Design

First up, it’s design. Do not skip this step. It’s so important for your wireless network to carry out surveys and design according to the results. You likely won’t get a high-performing, reliable Wi-Fi network without doing this stage properly!

Designing your wireless network gives you the opportunity to translate the Wi-Fi needs of your business (or home) in a way that meets or exceeds all of your requirements. Do not just deploy and hope for the best – Wi-Fi is a vital first stage in any wireless network deployment.

If you’re not sure where to start, then get in touch with us here at Geekabit. Our Wi-Fi experts have all the knowledge needed to carry out a Wi-Fi survey and use the information identified to design a high-performance wireless network that provides reliable Wi-Fi for your business-critical applications. For more information on Wi-Fi surveys and what they entail, you might like to read this blog.

Network Validation

Once you’ve got your Wi-Fi network designed, taking things into consideration like walls, end user requirements, positioning, high footfall areas etc you need to validate it. The aim of this stage is to make sure that your Wi-Fi design behaves in the way you have predicted it to.

Using AP on a Stick technology, you can test out the locations for access points in your design and make sure that things like capacity and coverage are what you expected. This stage is also a bit of a safety net to catch any possible sources of interferences that didn’t pop up in your survey or design stage, for example differences in wall materials.

This stage is also vital if you want to make sure your network will be successful before complete deployment, saving you valuable time (and money) later on fixing problems. If you’re having to run new cabling, you really want to make sure that all your access points and antenna are in the best locations first.

You may find yourself returning to this stage multiple times. Perhaps you identify some potential issues with access point placing which sends you back to the design stage. You’ll find yourself re-validating those changes. Remember, this is a constant process and you will go through the Wi-Fi lifecycle time and again.

You don’t just validate post-design – You will also need to validate your network following its deployment. But hopefully, having done an initial design and validation stage, you will find your network running at its optimum performance for your end users.

Wi-Fi Optimisation

So you’ve designed your network, validated it and went ahead with deployment. Surely that’s it done? We’re afraid not! Even if your network seems to be working well and providing reliable Wi-Fi to your users, it’s something that needs constant monitoring and maintenance in order to optimise the Wi-Fi your business provides.

This isn’t a quick process or ‘box-ticked-next’ sort of stage. Continuously monitoring and tweaking your Wi-Fi network allows your to react in a timely manner to any changes. Perhaps you have an increase in staff members, or a rise in multiple device usage. Maybe there are physical changes made to the building, a reshuffle of office layout or a warehouse with wildly fluctuating inventory.

The Wi-Fi Optimsation stage allows for proactive wireless network improvements to be made for any known impending changes. Constant monitoring also enables a reactive approach to any adjustments that need to be made due to reported issues from end users.

Carrying out regular RF surveys of your Wi-Fi network will provide you with data that becomes invaluable when it comes to making adjustments and troubleshooting issues.

There may be times when a change of requirements is too large for just a few tweaks here and there, which will send you back to the design stage in order to create a new deployment.

Network Troubleshooting

No one wants Wi-Fi woes in their office if they can help it. Disgruntled employees that are complaining of slow Wi-Fi aren’t just demotivated and unproductive – They may not even be able to carry out business-critical tasks. If your business depends on reliable Wi-Fi, then you need to make sure your wireless network meets requirements by following the stages mentioned above.

But unfortunately, there will be times when issues slip through the net. Troubleshooting is probably the most stressful stage of the Wi-Fi Lifecycle. Everyone knows how frustrating it is to have dodgy Wi-Fi, and nobody wants to be on the receiving end of those complaints.

Thankfully, with the right tools you can keep these incidences to a minimum, ensure swift implementation of fixes and get straight back to the optimisation stage. Spectrum analysers are a big help during the troubleshooting process by helping identify Wi-Fi strength and interference.

 

Wi-Fi Design – Yes, we’ve gone full circle!

The nature of wireless networks is everchanging. Requirements change fairly regularly with the needs of the business. Sometimes these will be small, quick fixes and sometimes they will require complete re-design and deployment right from the beginning of the Wi-Fi lifecycle.

Luckily for you, you now know the process – Wi-Fi Design, Wi-Fi Validation, Network Optimisation and Troubleshooting.

 

Whichever stage your wireless network is currently in, Geekabit can help ensure your business Wi-Fi is high-performing and reliable for your end users. For more information or to discuss your requirements, get in touch with out one of our Wi-Fi experts today.

UniFi vs Meraki vs Aruba

If you’re in the market for a bit of wireless kit then you’re rather spoilt for choice nowadays. Whilst it’s great to have a choice of products, it does beggar the question, how do I choose the right wireless product for my business?

Some of the big players when it comes to wireless network products are Ubiquiti, Meraki and Aruba. But which one is right for your specific deployment? Let’s have a look at them one by one.

Ubiquiti Network Wireless Products

We’ve spoken a lot about Ubiquiti and their range of wireless products – They are a firm favourite with our Wi-Fi experts here at Geekabit. Ubiquiti provide a range of wireless networking products including access points, wireless controllers, antennas and wireless bridges. Whatever your Wi-Fi requirement, they’re likely to have a product solution.

Product Portfolio

  • Ubiquiti have the product range to meet a complete enterprise network
  • They cover both wireless and wired products
  • They have the management and security systems to go alongside

The Benefits for Small to Medium Sized Business Networks

  • They are easy to deploy and use
  • Lots of features
  • One intuitive User Interface to make the human-computer interaction as simple as possible
  • Unbeatable value

The Benefits for Enterprise Networks

  • All access points, switches and routers are easy to manage from one Use Interface
  • It has central management capabilities and troubleshooting
  • It is straightforward to use for network admin staff, with no certification needed
  • Cloud and on-premises management available
  • Very high access point performance
  • Good HD Wi-Fi control capabilities

The Benefits for Arena / Stadium Networks

  • They can provide arena access points with integrated high gain antennas
  • One access point can have up to 3 5GHz client serving radios
  • Multi 5 GHz radio access points save in installation and cabling costs
  • Outstanding performance in a high traffic environment

User Experience

  • Quick and easy deployment with no licenses required
  • A single, intuitive user interface for all Ubiquiti elements with secure remote access
  • It’s easy to expand the network if and when needed without additional licenses
  • They provide free support (without needing a support agreement) plus a community of Ubiquiti users for extra support, buffered by Ubiquiti employees

Price-point

  • The price-point for Ubiquiti wireless products is low compared to other brands, offering fantastic value for money

Meraki Wireless Products

The Meraki MR series from Cisco delivers Wi-Fi 6 access points, faster access point deployment, simplified administration, and richer visibility.

Product Portfolio

  • Meraki have the product range to meet a complete enterprise network
  • They cover both wireless and wired products
  • They have the management and security systems to go alongside

How it Fares for Small to Medium Sized Business Networks

  • They are easy to deploy and use
  • You have to pay a subscription fee, which renders the product useless if not paid
  • It works well for smaller businesses and enterprises, apart from it being expensive
  • For better prices, you need to commit to several years and pre-pay

How it Fares for Enterprise Networks

  • It is easy to deploy and use cloud infrastructure
  • There is no on-premises option
  • Performance falters with high traffic
  • Ongoing licensing is expensive

How it Fares for Arena / Stadium Networks

  • There are no capabilities specifically targeted to venues of this size or type
  • For focused radio frequency, external antennas are required which will incur extra costs and will need mounting
  • There are no multi 5 GHz radio products, and RF tuning capabilities are weak
  • HD Wi-Fi performance is weak

User Experience

  • Quick and easy deployment but a lack of flexibility may cause problems
  • Licensing is required, but all features are included
  • It has a single, intuitive user interface
  • Support services are available from Meraki, but a service subscription is required. Without it there is no support
  • Additional support is available at an additional cost

Price-point

  • The price-point for Meraki MR wireless products is high compared to other brands, with licensing and subscription fees pushing it up.

 

Aruba Wireless Products

The range of Aruba Access Points deliver a fast, reliable Wi-Fi solution with great performance levels and a boost to network efficiency. They will also support the growing mobile and IoT density demands on your network.

Product Portfolio

  • Aruba have most of the product range to meet a complete enterprise network need
  • They cover both wireless and wired products
  • They have the management and security systems to go alongside

How it Fares for Small to Medium Sized Business Networks

  • Controller based products can be difficult to deploy and use
  • Instant access points lack features unless you have other Aruba products such as Aruba Central or Aruba AirWave licenses
  • Aruba Central has a good cloud-based product for small to medium sized business, but it is very expensive

How it Fares for Enterprise Networks

  • Large configurations can handle large networks
  • The base product is a traditional single tenant hardware controller which can make it difficult to deploy and use
  • For adequate reliability, you will need redundant controllers which are pricey
  • The Aruba instant access points are not sufficient for larger enterprises or multisite premises
  • Aruba Central provides a cloud alternative but uses separate licenses for features. This means that you may require additional licenses for future functionality which could prove very expensive
  • The ongoing admin of handling expiring licenses is time consuming

How it Fares for Arena / Stadium Networks

  • As with Meraki, for focused radio frequency with Aruba products, external antennas are required which will incur extra costs and will need mounting
  • There are a maximum of 2 5 GHz radios per access point
  • The Aruba multi 5 GHz access points have filtering
  • HD Wi-Fi performance is weak

User Experience

  • Deployment is difficult, with added complexity of ensuring you have the right licenses which can be time consuming
  • Depending on the products used, you may require multiple user interfaces
  • Expanding your network or adding new features may require additional licensing and subsequently more costs
  • Aruba does provide support within a 90-day product failure warranty. Additional support after that requires a paid support agreement. If you don’t pay, you don’t get support

Price-point

  • The price-point for Aruba wireless products is lower than Meraki but medium compared to other brands. As with Meraki, the costs involved with licensing and subscription fees with Aruba pushes the price up.

 

Still not sure what wireless products you need for your network?

If you’re unsure what wireless products would be suitable for your network – Whether it be small or arena sized – Our Wi-Fi experts would be happy to chat through the options. Our experienced Wi-Fi engineers can match the right wireless network products with your requirements to get you the most reliable Wi-Fi possible. Let’s strengthen your connections today – Get in touch now.

What is RF Design and Why Is It Important for my Wi-Fi Network?

Let’s face it – Our Wi-Fi expectations these days are pretty high. We want a strong, fast, reliable connection – And we want it all of the time. When we have good Wi-Fi, we barely notice it. But when it’s bad, it’s frustratingly apparent.

Unfortunately, what people don’t tend to realise is that a significant part of your wireless network is the RF environment. If you want your Wi-Fi network to perform to those high expectations, then you need to ensure you get this RF environment right.

Designing Your RF  Environment

It starts with the design. To create an effective RF design, you need to consider the environment that this Wi-Fi network is going to be functioning in. Are their neighbouring networks? What potential factors could cause interference?

You also need to consider how you need your Wi-Fi network to work. How many users are there? Will there be areas of higher density than others? These sorts of things define the requirements of the RF design. If you want good wireless network performance to meet those high expectations we mentioned above, then your RF environment needs to be correctly designed and managed.

The best way to identify what design would work well for your environment is to carry out a Wi-Fi survey. If you’re not confident in carrying this our yourself, then consider calling in the experts! We make it our business to provide comprehensive Wi-Fi surveys for any business or home environment. Our expert engineers can then design a Wi-Fi network tailored precisely to your needs, and then install it for you.

Analysing Your Wi-Fi Network

If your Wi-Fi network is already up and running, but you suspect there may be issues somewhere then network monitoring tools can be a useful way of providing visibility of any problems.

If you’re in the Wi-Fi field, then this will be a fairly straightforward exercise for you if you know the tools and how to use them. More often than not though, Wi-Fi network problems need a more in-depth analysis to really get to the bottom of what’s causing issues.

This again is where it might be best to call in the experts. Our Wi-Fi engineers have the specialist tools and knowledge to look at your Wi-Fi network, analyse traffic flow and examine exactly how data is passing through.

Are you experiencing poor wireless network performance?

It’s important to remember that you have very little to no control over what type of devices enter your network. Your Wi-Fi network may be open to guests or maybe even the general public depending on your business. Even non-Wi-Fi devices can have a significant impact on your wireless network.

Are you experiencing poor performance on your Wi-Fi network? To identify the problem you need to analyse 3 main components of your wireless network.

  • The configuration
  • The RF environment
  • The devices / users in your network

Luckily for you you’ve landed in the right place! Here at Geekabit, our engineers are Wi-Fi experts and can carry out Wi-Fi surveys, Wi-Fi Design and Wi-Fi Installation all from our bases in Hampshire, London and Cardiff. For more information get in touch with us today.