Researchers See Through Walls With Wi-Fi 

New technology recently engineered by scientists at UC Santa Barbara using Wi-Fi signals has enabled people to see objects and read letters through walls.

Your initial reaction to this is probably one of two things:

  1. Wow – Amazing! What a breakthrough
  2. Well this seems like a potential privacy issue further down the line

How have Wi-Fi systems been used to see through walls?

Researchers from UC Santa Barbara developed this system where the edges of solid objects on one side of a solid barrier ie. a wall, can be traced from the other side using WI-Fi signals. This includes letters of the alphabet. 

Imaging the letters individually, in one experiment this technology was used to work out the word ‘believe’ from the other side of a wall, deciphering the letters one by one. 

They did this using 3 standard Wi-Fi transmitters. Over a particular area, these Wi-Fi transmitters sent wireless waves. The imaging was based on measuring the signal power received by a Wi-Fi receiver grid via receivers mounted on a movable vehicle. 

3 transmitters you say – Would that not be triangulation? One of the researchers on this project states that triangulation is not being used. Instead, each transmitter is merely providing a different viewpoint, illuminating the area from different angles. This approach helps to reduce the chance that one of the edges they are detecting will not fall into a ‘blind region.’ To leave a signature on the receiver grid, they need to be ‘seen’. 

The key to the success of this tech system using Wi-Fi signals to see through walls is their edge-based approach. Triangulation in this instance would not perform well. 

How can objects be tracked using Wi-Fi signals?

This tech system is based on the principle of Keller’s Geometric Theory of Diffraction (aka The Keller Cone). 

Keller introduced his Geometrical Theory of Diffraction (GTD) in the 1950s. The development of this theory was revolutionary, as it explained the phenomena of wave diffraction entirely in terms of rays for the first time, via a systematic generalisation of Fermat’s principle. In simple terms, it explains the process of a wave bending around an object (or obstacle) and how it spreads out across a particular space. 

Using the principle of this theory, the system can interpret what could be on the other side of a wall. 

Why is seeing through walls with Wi-Fi something new?

Scientists have actually been attempting to do this for a while, years in fact. This particular team at UC Santa Barbara have been working on this since 2009. This latest engineering breakthrough is significant because it was previously thought that anything as complex as reading the English alphabet through walls using Wi-Fi signals would be too difficult due to the complexity of the lettering. 

Indeed, using Wi-Fi for imaging something still (like letters) has been a challenge due to the lack of motion. However, they seem to have overcome this issue by tracing the edges of the objects.

Back in July, we saw a similar tech engineered by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University where they tracked a 3D shape as well as human bodies moving in a room using Wi-Fi signals. 

Seeing Through Walls With Wi-Fi – What will it be used for?

Assuming that this tech system matures and is put to wider use, we might find it useful for a few different applications: 

  • Crowd analytics
  • Identifying individuals
  • Boosting smart spaces 

Is the resolution high enough? 

Resolution on imagery can be improved by increasing the signals to higher frequencies. However, this would also increase the propagation loss so there would be a trade-off on energy.

This is likely where future experimentation will lie, as researchers and scientists look to explore this energy trade-off as frequencies and propagation loss increase.  

Is it just edges of objects that can be detected? If this tech system of looking through walls with Wi-Fi signals is going to be widely adopted then depth sensing would also be useful. This can be achieved by using a wideband signal for transmission. 

The experiment spoken about in this article was designed to showcase the performance of everyday radio signals, using 802.11n Wi-Fi which is narrowband. However, the framework could easily be expanded to utilise wideband signals too. 

What challenges could ‘seeing through walls’ with Wi-Fi face?

As we stated at the start of this article, some potential issues that could arise from using Wi-Fi signals to see through walls relate to privacy and security. 

Thus, this could have an effect on how successful this new tech system could be. 

Could cyber criminals use this technology in part of an attack? Could law enforcement officials abuse this technology in some contexts?

We wrote on this topic of Wi-Fi seeing through walls back in January, about a similar piece of research that used ‘dense pose’ from Wi-Fi, using Wi-Fi signals as a human sensor and a way to map the position of human bodies using AI. You can read it here.

What are your thoughts on this – We’d love to know! Which camp do you sit in – Amazing Breakthrough or Privacy Nightmare? Get in touch on Facebook, X or Instagram

52% of UK Covered by Full Fibre Broadband, Ofcom Summer Study Reveals

With what is likely to be the last of the hot weather for this year, Ofcom have shared the results of their summer 2023 study looking at UK fixed broadband and mobile coverage.

The study reports that Full Fibre FTTP access in the UK has risen by 4% from January 2023 to 52% coverage. 

It has also found that 75% are now within reach of a gigabit-capable network, which is an increase of 2%. 

In addition to this, 76-85% of premises can now get an outdoor 5G connection from at least one operator (an increase from 73-82%). 

Ofcom Summer 2023 Report

This latest report from the communications regulator features data collected between May 2022 and May 2023, including that of their Spring Connected Nation’s update back in January 2023. 

This most recent report is based upon the coverage and service availability information from both fixed line UK Internet Service Providers and Mobile Network Operators. 

Overall, the UK’s coverage of fixed “superfast broadband” (30Mbps+) remains unchanged at 97%, while 15.4 million homes (52%) can now order a Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) service via various networks (up from 48%).

Key Figures from Ofcom Summer 2023 Report

Gigabit

75% of the UK (that’s 22.4 million homes) can now access Gigabit-capable (1Gbps+) services (up from 73% or 21.9m). 

This figure is higher than that for FTTP due to the majority of the gigabit connectivity coming from Virgin Media’s upgrade to their existing HFC network. In dense urban areas, there is a lot of overbuild between HFC and FTTP. 

What about the last 20% in the hardest to reach areas? The UK Government’s £5 billion Project Gigabit programme aims to improve the above figure so that gigabit coverage is extended to at least 85% of UK premises by the end of 2025 (and 99% nationwide by 2030). 

Premises Still Without ‘Decent’ Broadband 

‘Decent’ broadband is based on a download speed of at least 10Mbps and 1Mbps upload. The number of premises that cannot access this is currently 428,000 which is 1.3% of the UK. 

However, if you include wireless connections via 4G, 5G and Fixed Wireless Access, this number drops down to 62,000. 

4G Mobile Networks

Geographic coverage of 4G wireless services across mobile network operators (EE, Three, O2, Vodafone) has remained about the same, with a range of 80 to 87%. 

Although it’s a slow process, these figures will be improved upon by the Shared Rural Network agreement – A £1 billion project to change things for rural users. 

5G Coverage

There’s still a way to go when it comes to 5G coverage in the UK. The Ofcom Summer 2023 report shares that 76-85% of UK premises can now get outdoor coverage from at least one operator, however when looking at outdoor coverage by all operators put together it drops to 12-22%. 

Voice and Text Coverage

Full Ofcom Summer 2023 Report

We’ve included a few summaries for your perusal but for more detailed information with all the facts and figures you could ask for, download the PDF of the Summer 2023 Update on Connected Nations via the Ofcom website here

Have 5G Download Speeds Fallen in Your Region?

Global leader in network intelligence and connectivity insights, Ookla have revealed via their Speedtest.net platform that 5G based mobile broadband download speeds have fallen over the past year in most UK regions. 

However, despite this fall in 5G download speeds, the overall data speeds for both 4G and 5G have increased. 

Speedtest.net from Ookla is a popular testing service for broadband and mobile network performance. This latest research is based on data collected between the second quarter of 2022 and 2023. 

It found that overall, users have seen a mild increase in their download speed in 10 out of 12 UK regions, across all types of mobile broadband combined.

The highest increase was by 23.4% in the North East, with the lowest increase being in the Yorkshire and Humberside region at 3.9%. (There were a couple of exceptions where the changes were too small to be of note in the South West and Northern Ireland). 

5G Download Speeds Show Statistically Significant Decline

When the study looked at just the data for 5G download speeds, it became apparent that 9 out of 12 UK regions had users with a statistically significant decline. 

3 of these regions experienced a decline of more than 20% in 5G download speeds with another region closely behind:

  • Northern Ireland – 21.65%
  • East Midlands – 21%
  • South East – 20.7%
  • Yorkshire and Humber – 17.8%
Ookla-5G-Speeds-by-UK-Region-Q2-2022-to-2023
With thanks to Open Signal for the graphics

What Can Cause a Decline in 5G Download Speeds?

Typically, we might see a decline like this due to a combination of network maturity and rising customer take-up. Over time, this can cause network congestion, putting pressure on capacity. 

Thankfully, we can combat these issues with technological advances. For example, Ofcom’s future plans are to release more 5G spectrum. We can also benefit from the evolution of 5G technology, such as Standalone 5G. Future improvements like this will help with issues causing declining 5G download speeds. 

How Much Time Do People Spend With an Active 4G/5G Connection?

Ookla research has also found that the proportion of time users spent with an active 4G/5G connection has increased. With the improvements we’ve seen recently with coverage, coupled with the gradual shutdown of 3G (with 2G to follow).

The biggest increase of time spent actively connected to 4G/5G was in Wales (a rise of 4.5%). The smallest increase was 2.4% which was in Yorkshire and Humber. 

Time Spent With Active 5G Connection Also on the Rise

Unsurprisingly, the time users spend with an active 5G connection is also increasing with 5G availability on the rise. 

London – 4% increase (The largest increase of 5G availability)

East Midlands – 3.2%

Eastern – 3%

Wales – 2%

As we already mentioned, this increase in the availability of 5G could explain the decline in 5G download speeds. This is because there are more users than before all trying to use the same data and spectrum capacity. 

However, some regions didn’t see a statistically significant change:

  • Scotland
  • Northern Ireland
  • North East
  • South West
  • West Midlands
Ookla-5G-Availability-by-UK-Region-Q2-2022-to-2023

Which networks were people connected to 4G/5G most?

The data can be further analysed for each network. 

EE – 97.2% (an increase of 2.7% over the last year)

Three – 94% (a larger increase from 85.2% which was the largest of all operators)

Vodafone – 93.2% (an increase of 5%)

O2 – 90.1% (increased from 86.8%)

Which network are you on? Have you noticed any changes with 4G or 5G download speeds in your region? 

What is Beamforming and Will it Make Wireless Better?

The tech world is always evolving and looking on to the next thing – To be better, quicker, stronger. Wireless and Wi-Fi technology is no different – We want to be able to access the best possible connection – Strong, reliable and fast. 

So how does beamforming help with this? 

What is Beamforming? 

Beamforming makes Wi-Fi and 5G connections more precise by utilising the science of electromagnetic interference. 

The original concept of beamforming has actually been around since the 1940’s. In current communication standards, this tech is playing a pivotal role in improving Wi-Fi and 5G among others. 

When beamforming is used alongside MU-MIMO (Multi User Multiple Input, Multiple Output) tech, it can help users to boost their data speeds by accessing more precise connections. 

How Does Beamforming Work?

Using Beamforming means that the resulting connection is faster and more reliable. It works by focusing a wireless signal to a specific receiving device. In this instance, the signal is more focused rather than being spread in all directions like, for example, a broadcast antenna. 

Unless they are blocked by a physical object, electromagnetic waves from a single antenna will radiate in all directions. To specifically target a beam of electromagnetic energy in order to focus the signal in a certain direction, you can use multiple antennas close together to broadcast the same signal at slightly different times. 

These overlapping waves will cause interference which can be good (cause the signal to be stronger) or bad (cause th signal to become weak or undetectable). 

When done constructively and correctly, the electromagnetic waves can be focused to a specific direction – Beamforming. 

We’re going to spare you the mathematics behind the process of beamforming – It’s extremely complex. If you’re a big maths geek you can look it up online and try and wrap your head around it. 

We mentioned earlier that the actual technqiue of beamforming isn’t a new concept and has been around for over 80 years. Wi-Fi and 5G aren’t the only technologies that can benefit from beamforming – Any type of energy that travels in waves can use the concept, including sound. 

Beamforming was originally developed to help in World War II by improving sonar and is still an important part of audio engineering today. 

But let’s get back to our niche – Wi-Fi and 5G tech is where our interest in beamforming lies. 

How does beamforming help Wi-Fi 6?

Wi-Fi 6 is the latest generation of Wi-Fi (also known as 802.1ax but thankfully now with improved naming via the Wi-Fi Alliance!). It succeeds the 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard (now more aptly named Wi-Fi 5). 

In terms of Wi-Fi standards, beamforming has actually been around since Wi-Fi 4 but seen improvements in both Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6. Beamforming uses MIMO technology to be able to send out multiple, overlapping signals. 

Since 2016, the use of beamforming with Wi-Fi 5 meant that different receivers can work with different routers, hence making the beamforming techniques used in Wi-Fi equipment are vendor-neutral. 

Beamforming can also be used alongside MU-MIMO technology, allowing multiple users to communicate simultaneously with multiple antennas on the router. Beamforming used in this way ensures that each of the connected clients are efficiently targeted by the router. Data rates and range for signals to specific clients are also improved with Wi-Fi 6 through the increased number of antennas (from 4 to 8). 

What about Wi-Fi 7? 

In the world of tech we’re always looking ahead to the next thing – So what about beamforming and WI-Fi 7? Unsurprisingly, beamforming will also be a core part of Wi-Fi 7 (802.11be).  

Coordinated beamforming will use the capability of modern multi-antenna access points to spatially multiplex their stations, as well as making adjacent neighbouring non-associated stations void.

This technique can actually be used without beamforming via a joint multi-access point sounding scheme. However, a coordinated beamforming process can take advantage of a simpler sequential sounding procedure which will be a part of Wi-Fi 7. 

As each station transmits and receives data to and from a single access point, coordinated beamforming does not require joint data processing. This helps diminish backhaul needs. 

Whilst this limits complexity, it also delivers substantial throughput and latency enhancements.

Other improvements that we’ll see with Wi-Fi 7 and coordinated beamforming will hopefully include access to gigabit speeds and low-latency communications for more busineses and consumers in various applications. 

How does beamforming help 5G? 

With the prevalance of 5G increasing with the roll out of networks for smartphones and other WANs, we’ll be seeing beamforming as a core part of the new technology. 

5G frequencies are unfortunately more prone to being disrupted by objects causing interference, like walls or other similar barriers for example. This is because 5G operates on the millimetre wavelength (mmWave) frequency. 

Beamforming helps with this by creating a more reliable connection. It does by allowing the transmitter to focus the transmission in a specific direction, as explained above. This means the signal is directed towards, for example, a mobile device, vehicle or other IoT device. 

Working with MIMO, beamforming can improve throughput and efficiency by directing beams from a 5G base station in both horizonal and vertical directions  via large numbers of antennas. 

What are the pros of beamforming?

Wi-Fi and 5G tech can really benefit from beamforming. 

  • Information can be transferred quicker and with fewer errors because the signal is of a higher quality due to being focused in a specific direction
  • Users trying to connect to other signals can benefit from less interference because beamforming can reduce and even stop broadcasting in other directions

Are there any cons when it comes to beamforming? 

Whilst beamforming can have benefits for wireless technology, some limitations can lie in the actual process of doing it. 

  • Beamforming requires big computing resources. In some situations, the beamforming calculations would require time and power resources that could make the resulting benefits less worth it
  • Improving affordability means that beamforming techniques are being built into wireless equipment on the consumer market as well as enterprise-grade wireless hardware
  • For the best performance, the transmitter and receiver need to be quite close together. The further away the receiver is from the transmitter, the more the benefits diminish

It’s pretty clear to see that beamforming is a big part of the wireless world, especially in terms of Wi-Fi 6 (and 7) as well as 5G.

Is an Everyday Household Item Slowing Down Your Wi-Fi?

Whether you rely on your Wi-Fi to work, stream Netflix or game, one thing we can all agree on is that there is nothing more frustrating than slow, buffering Wi-Fi or internet blackouts. Frozen zoom calls, ‘Something’s gone wrong’ error messages in the middle of binge-watching your favourite series or letting the team down mid-battle could have you tearing your hair out in frustration.

These days, having a strong, reliable, fast broadband connection is vital. And often, we don’t realise quite how much we need something until it’s not working effectively or completely gone. 

But what if one of your everyday household items was the cause of your Wi-Fi woes? Here are some commonplace things that you likely have around your house that could be causing your internet issues – And things you can do to help overcome them. 

Can concrete cause Wi-Fi problems? 

Obviously, there’s nothing much you can do about the actual structure of your home, but if it’s full of thick concrete walls then you may experience problems getting Wi-Fi throughout your property. It’s a tough material that’s difficult to penetrate, meaning your network coverage could struggle. 

This could result in a lag in signal or some rooms being in a deadspot. 

We’re not suggesting taking a sledgehammer to your walls – But you can carefully consider where you are placing your router for optimum coverage. You could also look at whether extenders could help your signal reach parts of the house that the signal can’t get to. 

Can metal interfere with my Wi-Fi?

Metal is another dense material that can negatively affect your Wi-Fi speed. Using metal structurally could inhibit the strength of the signal you are transmitting. Likewise, too many metal household items (like blinds) or decorative items (e.g. wall art) could cause issues with signal reaching your devices. 

As above, thinking carefully about where you place your router can imrpove things, and extenders can be used to access those hard to reach places. 

Can plaster and drywall affect my Wi-Fi? 

Most if not all houses will have elements of plaster and drywall. Thankfully, it doesn’t interfere with signal as much as concrete does so there should be less signal lost. 

Could the ceramic tiles in my house cause internet issues?

Ceramic tiles are a popular choice in our kitchens and bathrooms. Unfortunately, this material can disrupt Wi-Fi signals in your home. Ceramic tiles also tend to be coupled with other disruptive material like plaster and drywall mentioned above, which can cause even more interference to your Wi-Fi.  

Placing your router somewhere central in an elevated position can help to combat some of this Wi-Fi interference. 

Are my Low-E windows causing Wi-Fi problems?

Every house has windows – But a certain type can cause problems with your Wi-Fi. Those conscious of their energy consumption and trying to reduce how much energy is lost by installing Low-E (low emissivity) windows could unfortunately result in problems with their Wi-Fi instead. 

Low-E windows have a metallic film on them to help reduce energy consumption, which also means they can absorb or interfere with Wi-Fi signals. So they could be great for your energy bills but not so great for your internet connection. 

Do mirrors interfere with Wi-Fi signal? 

Mirrors have a thin coating of metal behind the glass which together can cause enough electromagnetic interference to disrupt your Wi-Fi signal. Especially if your house is adorned with lots of mirrors! 

The level of disruption depends on how big the mirrors are and how many you have. 

Is water the reason my Wi-Fi is slow?

Water can hinder the passage of Wi-Fi signal, so things like fish tanks and even people can make your connection weaker by the time it reaches your device. 

This can have a big impact on how well your devices connect to your Wi-Fi and thus how effective they work. 

Can my furniture cause internet problems? 

Do you have pieces of large furniture in your home? A house full of big, thick furniture could struggle with less stable internet. 

Experiencing signal disruption is more likely if you place your router too close to any large items of furniture – Try to choose a an area that is unobstructed and in as open a space as possible.

Could my household appliances be disrupting my Wi-Fi?

Houses are full of white goods, and unfortunately these can cause a weak Wi-Fi connection. Appliances like microwaves and dishwashers emit their own radio waves, so it’s a good idea to place your router well away from them. 

You might even be able to salvage a weak Wi-Fi connection by moving your router away from appliances like this. 

Got Wi-Fi Issues In Your Home?

If you are facing some Wi-Fi troubles in your home, then try these top tips to try and mitigate any interference from household items. 

  • Don’t tuck your router away in a cupboard, out of sight or surrounded by furniture. 
  • Find a central location for your router so that it stands the best chance of reaching every corner of your home
  • Deploy your router in an elevated position to help transmit that signal 
  • Avoid installing your router close to bulky furniture
  • Thick concrete walls are not your router’s friend – Try not to place your router near them 
  • Water (think fish tanks, water tanks, even people) absorb the signal and can interfere with how effectively your device can connect so deploy your router away from these things
  • Kitchens are full of white goods (microwaves, dishwashers etc) which emit their own electromagnetic waves, so don’t put your router in this room if you want it to work at it’s optimum  
  • Try to avoid placing your router near large mirrors or windows. If you are considering Low-E windows, think carefully about whether this could affect how effective your Wi-Fi is
Could 4G Boosters on Church Towers Improve Rural Wi-Fi in the UK? 

Using OpenRAN (Open Radio Access Network) technology, Vodafone are working alongside the Church of England to help extend mobile broadband via 4G for those in rural parts of the UK. They are doing this by utilising 11 church bell towers as base stations for the deployment of this small bits of kit. 

Which Rural Communities Will Benefit From These Church-Based 4G Base Stations?

The first to be installed were Brompton Regis (Blessed Virgin Mary Church) in Somerset and Ewyas Harold (St Michael’s and All Angels) in Herefordshire. 

9 further church-based 4G base stations will be going live over the next few months across the following counties:

  • Dorset
  • Essex
  • Norfolk
  • Wiltshire

Why Do Churches Make Good Base Stations for 4G Mobile Broadband? 

Generally speaking, churches are tall buildings that are often found on high ground, as well as being at the heart of communities. This makes them the ideal location to install a mobile site to help boost 4G mobile broadband connectivity for these communities. 

Even better, current technology means that the base stations are small enough to not spoil the architecture and tone of the churches themselves.

Vodafone’s aim is to use this technology to improve connectivity and better reach these rural communities that struggle so much with traditional broadband. 4G mobile broadband via these church-based base stations could be a huge step forward in connectivity for rural communities across the country. 

Rural communities deserve to access good, strong, reliable internet speeds like anyone else, and boosting 4G mobile broadband in this way could be just the thing to deliver it. 

How Do These 4G Base Stations on Churches Work? 

These 4G mobile broadband base stations are called new cell sites and involve small cells in the form of well-hidden boxes being employed on church towers. 

These new cell sites have a coverage radius of 500 metres, so are ideal to serve the community based around the church itself which is usually close by. 

The Idea of Church-Based 4G Base Stations is Actually Nothing New

Church spires and towers have been identified as a prime place for bits of mobile and fixed wireless broadband kit before, so this idea is nothing new. It’s been done many times before! 

A previous agreement between the Church of England and Cornerstone (Vodafone UK and O2’s network sharing division) was made back in 2019. 

But while the premise might not be new, we still think any action taken to improve the connectivity of rural communities across England and the UK is a great step towards access to reliable broadband for all. 

Do You Need Wi-Fi Assistance? 

For Wi-Fi and Mobile Broadband Assistance for your business across Hampshire, Cardiff and London, get in touch with our Wi-Fi experts today. Our experienced and professional engineers are on hand to help with your Wi-Fi woes as well as determine if 4G mobile broadband could be a viable option for you.

Call us or email us today.

Is Poor Connectivity Costing Your SME Money?

Research commissioned by Three found that issues with poor connectivity were costing SME’s in Britain £18.77 billion per year. 

Research found that small to medium sized businesses (including micro businesses) in the UK who give employees work phones are losing out on over 1 hour of work time per employee, per week. Poor connectivity leads to employees being unable to get online or complete their work effectively.

1 hour per week per employee may not sound like a big deal on the face of it, but for medium sized businesses, this equates to 250 hours of working time being lost every single week. 

This loss of working time has a bigger impact on things than you may think. In partnership with YouGov and Development Economics, Three’s research found that:

  • The British economy is significantly impacted by loss of business revenue. The amount of economic output lost is estimated to be £7.7bn per year. 
  • The cost of poor connectivity hits the professional and retail sectors the harders
  • Businesses are already facing challenging times – almost 75% of SME’s are reducing costs

Which industries are hit hardest by poor connectivity?

Two of the largest sectors in the British economy were hit the hardest with poor connectivity – Retail, and Professional Services (including legal, accounting and media businesses).

How much revenue is lost in these sectors due to poor connectivity?

  • Professional Services – Loss of £5.3 billion per year (annual output loss of £2.8bn to the economy)
  • Retail – Loss of £3.7 billion per year (annual output loss of £560m to the economy)

Connectivity isn’t the only challenge for SME’s

SME’s aren’t just facing a challenge with poor connectivity – They’re also facing challenges with the cost of living crisis and talent shortages. 

SME’s are also feeling the heat of rising costs, with 71% looking at where they need to reduce spending. 32% of SME’s are looking to cut costs on things like phone contracts, which they believe they are spending too much on. 

29% of SME’s (and 48% of medium sized businesses) also worry about losing employees due to not having good technology, which is cause for concern when there is also a shortage of talent in the majority of industries.  

Combine all of this with poor connectivity causing problems with work effectiveness and you can see why it’s causing a bit of a headache for small and medium sized businesses. 

Do SME’s need more tech support? 

In order to operate, grow and thrive in business, it is absolutely vital for SME’s to have a strong online connection. 

36% of SME’s believe that better mobile phone connectivity would enable them to perform better. 1 in 5 SME’s are also concerned that their business could get left behind if they don’t know how to use the latest mobile phone technology. 

Unfortunately, almost 50% of SME’s feel that the tech industry uses complex language that makes it difficult to understand the latest technology, creating a barrier for these businesses without proper support and knowledge. 

What can be done to provide SME’s with tech and connectivity support? 

It seems that many tech schemes and concepts are aimed at larger corporate structures, failing to meet the needs of SME’s in a more cost effective way. It’s so important for tech providers to recognise the needs of SME’s and tailor their services to meet them. SME’s need simple, straightforward tech offerings with a level of service that large corporates would expect. 

For a business to be able to perform and for their employees to effectively do their jobs, it all comes down to connectivity. 

For most businesses, connectivity is the core of it all – Poor connectivity is simply not an option. It’s imperative for SME’s to carefully consider the options available to them when it comes to connectivity, tech and mobile. They need a simple, cost effective option that leaves them in control. 

The research outlined above just goes to show how poor connectivity can really hold a business back. Research from The Federation of Small Businesses found similar results which showed that 45% of small businesses experience unreliable voice connectivity (going up to 57% in rural areas). 

SME’s are a big part of the UK economy. To see growth and productivity, we need strong and reliable digital, mobile and vocal connectivity. That includes 4G and 5G accessibility for all. 

Can Geekabit Help?

If you are a SME and are struggling with poor connectivity, then call in the experts. Our experienced Wi-Fi engineers can help at any stage of network deployment – From site surveys to design to installation

We’re only a phone call away, and can help get your business properly connected. 

Thinking you’re too rural? We’ve got 4G for that! Our mobile and satellite broadband options could be just the thing you’re looking for. 

Get in touch with our Wi-Fi experts today.

Do You Need a Media Converter for Your Network?

 Networking and Media Converters have gone hand in hand right from the start. They play a vital role when it comes to solving interconnection problems in networks. 

If you oversee a business network (or one in a large home) then you probably already use this handy device. But are you using the media converter correctly? 

What is a media converter?

A media converter is a networking device that allows you to connect one type of communication protocol cable to another different type of cable. For example, connecting a twisted pair to fibre optic cable. 

By connecting two different media, like Ethernet copper and Ethernet fibre, they can typically connect devices that are beyond 100 metres from the nearest available switch. 

The reach of the copper port can be extended with a copper to fibre converter by connecting a copper port on an Ethernet switch to the fibre that connects the device in the remote location.

The ability to do this provides great flexibility when building and connecting networks, easily connecting fibre and copper cables.

A media converter is usually a two-port device equipped with a copper interface on one side and a fibre interface on the other side.

Another key building block within a network are Switches. They enable you to connect multiple devices, such as computers, wireless access points, printers, and servers;  All on the same network within a building or campus. A switch enables connected devices to share information and talk to each other.

Switches are mostly made up of LAN ports which are usually copper Ethernet with a few fibre-based uplink ports. They are also often SFP-based (small form-factor pluggable used for data communication). The copper ports are used to connect devices within a short-range (up to 100 metres) while the SFP uplinks can connect devices that are further away (which would be useful for other switches and/or servers).

The goal for any well-designed network is to use all the available uplinks. This maximises throughput. Oftentimes, spare LAN ports are kept in order to be able to easily connect new devices in the future. However this only works well if the device is within 100 metres from the switch. It can also cause problems if it is in a ‘noisy’ environment – A copper cable can be susceptible to electromagnetic interference. 

In what sort of situation could we see these issues arise?

  • A computer placed in a remote location
  • An access point in an outdoor area
  • A video surveillance camera
  • An access control system far from the last switch, 

For instances where the LAN must be extended over 100 metres, you will require a network extender, and a media converter would be the ideal solution. 

To extend a network to a distant location, you would use a fibre connection from the switch and a media converter to connect to the device.

The remote device problem is solved with the Ethernet link providing a very long reach thus extending the connection. It also saves you from having to add other switches to the network. 

How Does a Media Converter Work?

Media converters can be split into two main groups. 

The first type of media converter can only convert physical media. For example,copper to fibre, or fibre to copper, without adjusting the speed of the link. This type of device is most commonly used when latency is a critical factor, in other words, when a time delay when transmitting the traffic is unacceptable during conversion. 

The second type of media converters are often called switch converters or rate converters. These are a standard Ethernet switch equipped with two ports. These devices can adjust both the media and the link speed so that it is possible to connect a 10/100/1000T port to a 100FX port. For time-sensitive applications, this type is unsuitable as the switch adds a small amount of latency to the connection.

Do media converters work in both directions?

Yes, they can work in both directions. Media converters work with bidirectional links, so the same model can be used to convert copper to fibre but also fibre to copper. 

If you use these devices in pairs, you can use the same model for both ends since they work both ways.

What Are the Different Types of Media Converters?

There are different types of media converter, including:

  • One that connects fibre and copper cables (the most common)
  • One that can convert Ethernet to VDSL 
  • One that can inject Power over Ethernet (PoE)

Typically, media converters are small standalone unmanaged devices. However, they can also form managed and unmanaged chassis solutions to integrate multiple devices within your network in a 19″ standard rack. For deployments in harsher environments, industrial media converters can be mounted in DIN cabinets to protect the electrical components.  

What is the most common model of media converter? 

As we mentioned above, the most common model of media converter is one which connects copper to fibre with one RJ45 port and one fibre port or SFP bay. To allow another converter or a switch equipped with the appropriate interface to be connected easily, the transport protocol is always Ethernet. 

What about legacy infrastructure?

It’s not always possible to use a fibre link due to legacy infrastructure, for example twisted-pair phone cables or co-ax cables. If these are already in use, replacing with new fibre is not practical. Media converters that convert Ethernet to co-ax or Ethernet to twisted-pair allow the use of legacy infrastructure. 

These devices can reach long distances over legacy cables due to using VDSL (Very high Data rate Subscription Line) technology.

As mentioned above, another type of converter can provide Power over Ethernet (PoE) on the copper Ethernet port to power remote devices. This is particularly useful for things like CCTV cameras or access control gates, and helps to simplify deployment of physical security solutions.

Covering the most commonly used interfaces today, media converter port speeds include Fast Ethernet, Gigabit and 10 Gigabit. Transceivers through an SFP port are able to operate on fibres from just a few metres in length up to 120km, satisfying a wide range of distances and speeds.

Media converters are useful for desktops too

Did you know that media converters can be used on the desktop too? 

The USB to fibre Ethernet media converter acts as a Network Interface Card for your desktop or laptop – Quickly deploying a Fibre To The Desk (FTTD) solution for security-sensitive applications, or those more than 100 metres from the switch.

What Are the Features of a Media Converter?

The majority of media converters are not smart devices, however there are some media converters that have smart features that can help to simplify the management of large networks. 

‘Have you turned it off and then on again?’

We’ve all heard that old IT joke. But actually there’s a reason why IT guru’s and network engineers say those notorious words. One of the most common ways to solve computer-related issues is to ‘power-cycle’ the device – Often, simply turning it off and then on again makes the problem disappear. 

For PoE (Power over Ethernet) powered devices, disconnecting the power on the switch port connected to the device having issues will automatically reset it. 

However, most media converters are not managed remotely and thus any that are on a remote site cannot simply turn the power off. In this case, a network engineer (or other person) would have to physically go to the remote site and disconnect and then reconnect the PoE cable. 

Some configurable PoE Media converters enable PoE power to be reset whenever the fibre connection is turned off and on. This ‘smart’ feature would prevent the need for a physical remote site visit by enabling you to control the PoE power via the fibre connection on the switch, resetting the remote device. 

Has all this talk of fibre cables and Ethernet ports got you in a tizz?

Call the experts! Here at Geekabit, our experienced Wi-Fi engineers can help at any stage of network deployment – From site surveys to design to installation

We’re only a phone call away, and can help get your business or large home properly connected. 

Thinking you’re too rural? We’ve got 4G for that! Our mobile and satellite broadband options could be just the thing you’re looking for. 

Get in touch with our Wi-Fi experts today.

Over Half of Broadband Users Have Woeful Connection, Survey Says 

Which? Have recently surveyed nearly 4000 broadband customers from differing Internet Service Providers to find out what issues customers are facing when it comes to staying connected. 

Internet issues like slow speeds and connections that dropped out were rather commonplcae over the past year, with 53% of respondents saying they had experienced some kind of connection issue. 

And the worst ISP on the list? Sky Broadband. 

Which ISP’s Are the Worst?

Of the 12 ISP’s listed in the survey, Sky Broadband (32%), Virgin Media (35%) and EE (37%) had the lowest percentage of customers reporting ‘no issues.’ 

Out of the most well known Internet Service Providers, BT came off the best, with nearly half (49%) of survey customers not experiencing a single connection issue in the past year. 

Similarly, Hyperoptic, Shell Energy and Utility Warehouse also did well with at least half of their customers (if not more) also reporting 12 whole months (January 2022 to January 2023) without a single performance issue. 

However, of the rest of the customer’s, at least 4 in 10 did experience at least one issue in the survey period. 

What are the Most Common Broadband Issues?

The most commonly reported connection problem in the survey was ‘frequent drop outs’ which affected 19% of the respondents. 

Almost as prevalent amongst the reported internet issues was ‘a very slow speed’ and a connection that was ‘slow to download or upload files’ (17% and 15% respectively). 

How Does This Survey Compare to Ofcom Stats?

Data from Ofcom actually paint quite a different picture when it comes to the service of internet providers. 

Official complaints to Ofcom about ISP’s have Sky as one of the providers that have the least issues from customers. According to Ofcom data, Shell Energy were the worst offender. 

It’s important to remember that Ofcom data is based on actual complaints from disgruntled customers. The survey by Which? surveyed just under 4000 customers of various ISP’s and was somewhat more anecdotal. 

We also need to bear in mind that not all of the issues reported in the survey could purely be down to bad broadband. Home networks can be affected by poor configuration (placing your router somewhere silly, for example), local network congestion, poor Wi-Fi (the transmission of the signal from the router to the device). There are scenarios where it wouldn’t be the ISP’s fault, so the survey would need to take a bit of a closer look. 

What do the ISP’s Have to Say in Response to the Which? Survey?

Here’s what the ISP’s have to say on the topic.

A spokesperson for Sky said:

“We are committed to providing the best service to our customers. We do not believe this is a representative survey – Ofcom’s quarterly complaints data shows we are consistently one of the least complained about broadband providers and, in Ofcom’s latest report, we received the fewest complaints out of all broadband providers.”

A spokesperson for Virgin Media said:

“While these findings are only taken from a small sample of customers, the latest, fuller data from Ofcom shows that our customers benefit from the fastest download speeds, and customer complaints on our broadband services fell by 22% in the first quarter of this year. Only last month we were rated the ‘Best in Test’ in Umlaut’s broadband benchmarking survey, ahead of other major providers.

With demand for connectivity higher than ever, we’re investing billions of pounds each year to upgrade and improve our networks to ensure we’re providing our customers with fast and reliable broadband services they can rely on. Customers are receiving more value than ever from their telecoms services, and we continue to invest in every area of our business to ensure we continue to improve and deliver an excellent customer experience.”

A spokesperson for EE said:

“Ofcom’s latest complaints report shows that we remain one of the least complained about broadband providers, with complaints remaining well below the industry average throughout recent years.

We remain committed to providing the best customer service across the industry and ensuring our customers get value for money as the UK’s best network. Our teams across the UK and Ireland already provide the most personal and local service in contact centres and retail stores across the country.

We have proudly led the way with social tariffs since 2008, with around 80% of the total market being supported on BT social tariffs. Customers who are struggling financially and are eligible for our social tariffs can move penalty-free at any point in their contract, this also includes EE and Plusnet customers.”

CEO of Zen Internet, said:

“Our industry unfortunately has a poor reputation for managing customer expectations and being transparent with communications, and introducing price rises mid-contract at a time when everyone is struggling with household bills does nothing to improve this. With price rises based on a 10.1% CPI rate, and the above inflation addition of typically 3.9%, that amounts to a substantial additional burden to household budgets.

We are not immune to the inflationary forces impacting supply chains and wages, but we all recognise that customers need as fair a deal as we can offer. Zen’s response to this challenge for residential customers is the Contract Price Promise – a promise not to increase prices for the length of the contract period.

When it comes to customer service, Zen was the only provider to score four stars in all seven categories in the Which? survey – connection speed and reliability, customer service, value for money, technical support, ease/speed of contact and ease of set up. We have topped the table for eight years and are the only Which? Recommended Provider for Broadband. It’s not always easy, but we will always work to ensure we provide an industry leading service and support our customers when they need it most, rather than prioritising profit-driven price hikes that only benefit shareholders.”

CEO and Co-Founder of Lit Fibre, said:

“The findings from the Which? report published yesterday are not surprising. Broadband providers have become complacent regarding poor customer service. Taking time to explain how customers can get the best experience ‘in home’ from their wifi setup is also top of our agenda as we know most customers need our expertise with this.

At Lit Fibre we put customer service and reliable internet first from the outset, it’s the bare minimum we think customers should be expecting. We’ve earnt our 5 stars on Trustpilot by providing customers with a consistently high quality and personal service, an average call pick-up time of 20 seconds, no bots and no mid-contract price hikes, so we know it’s possible for the industry to do so much better.”

How’s Your Broadband?

Which side of the fence would you be sat on – No internet issues, or frustratingly slow speeds and drop outs?

If you’re experiencing Wi-Fi woes and your broadband just isn’t cutting it, get in touch with one of our Wi-Fi engineers today. 

Whether your home and business are in a rural area and you’re struggling for a broadband connection, or your office broadband is buffering and inhibiting your business productivity – We can help.

Our expert Wi-Fi engineers can make sure you get the connection you need – Whether it’s mobile broadband via 4G or better placed routers and AP’s.

Contact us today and let’s get you better connected. 

Is Wi-Fi HaLow a Better Wireless Option than Wi-Fi 5 and 6 for IoT?

Wi-Fi HaLow has quite the list of benefits when it comes to Internet of Things applications. With high bandwidth, long range, unlicensed spectrum, low power, and less complexity than Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6, Wi-Fi HaLow could well be a better option. 

What is Wi-Fi HaLow?

Image from https://www.wi-fi.org/discover-wi-fi/wi-fi-certified-halow with thanks

The Wi-Fi Alliance has coined the IEEE 802.11ah Wi-Fi standard as Wi-Fi HaLow, as it will be known in the wireless market. It was approved back in September 2016, and then published in the following May. 

Wi-Fi HaLow is a new version of traditional Wi-Fi, offering:

  • Long range
  • Low power
  • Low speed

Wi-Fi HaLow is most likely to be deployed within the Internet of Things market, on things such as:

  • Sensors
  • Wearables
  • M2M (Machine to Machine) applications
  • Smart buildings
  • Smart cities

What are the benefits of Wi-Fi HaLow?

Wi-Fi HaLow has the ability to connect low-bandwidth devices to IP networks, including the internet. It also supports enough bandwidth to handle HD Quality video.

Perhaps one of the great things about Wi-Fi HaLow is its usefulness in rural communications as well as offloading cell phone tower traffic. 

Whilst there are similar low-power standards, like 802.11af, there are differences. For example, 802.11af operates in the television white space spectrum in VHF and UHF bands, whereas Wi-Fi HaLow is easier to deploy due to operating in the unlicensed bands. 

There are of course similar technologies that utilise the unlicensed spectrum, but Wi-Fi HaLow also has advantages over some of them due to them being built on proprietary standards. 

The requirement of getting proprietary hardware in order to get IP connectivity to the client devices also means that some other similar technologies are more complicated to deploy than Wi-Fi HaLow.

HaLow is intended to make deploying IoT devices easier.

Why is Uptake for Wi-Fi HaLow Slow?

Despite the advantages laid out above, the uptake for Wi-Fi HaLow has been pretty slow. 

If you have a look on the Product Finder section of the Wi-Fi Alliance’s website, you’ll find only 3 companies that are listed as having certified Wi-Fi HaLow products. 

And if the uptake is so low, it begs the question…

So Why Use Wi-Fi HaLow?

The advantages we talked about above hint at where Wi-Fi HaLow can be used effectively. 

Wi-Fi HaLow Utilises Licence-Exempt Frequencies

As you are probably aware, the majority of Wi-Fi technologies, including Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6, operate at frequencies in the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands. 

The difference with Wi-Fi HaLow is that it utilises licence-exempt frequencies that are below 1 GHz. 

Wi-Fi HaLow Has Longer Range

Due to Wi-Fi HaLow having lower frequencies, it also has longer signal ranges. Not only that, but the signal itself penetrates walls and other materials better. 

Due to these reasons, Wi-Fi HaLow can travel much further, even managing distances of over half a mile (0.62 miles to be precise). 

Wi-Fi HaLow Devices Don’t Hog Bandwidth and Need Less Power

Wi-Fi HaLow devices can use lower power radios as they’re not hogging bandwidth with high performance. In other words, the devices wireless connectivity uses very little power which in turn means that they have a long battery life. Some devices can even last more than 5 years! 

Got devices on the network that need more throughput? With Wi-Fi HaLow you can give hundreds (if not thousands) of IoT wireless devices their own band to operate in – Enabling you to reserve the higher bands for those higher throughput devices. This could in turn have a positive impact on your overall network performance.

In this way, Wi-Fi HaLow compliments traditional Wi-Fi very well by enabling your network engineers to move lower bandwidth clients off the main Wi-Fi network. 

Depending on the AP capabilities and client-device specifications, Wi-Fi HaLow can still provide enough throughput for HD-quality video cameras in some scenarios, despite being designed for lower bandwidth applications. 

Do We Have the Infrastructure for Wi-Fi HaLow?

In short, yes! It’s pretty straightforward to get going with Wi-Fi HaLow. 

Whereas other similar technologies require proprietary controllers, hubs or gateways, Wi-Fi HaLow doesn’t need any of this. 

It’s as simple as plugging a HaLow Ap into a traditional LAN and clients can connect to IP-based networks including the internet. 

Alternatively, they could choose a gateway device with 4G LTE connectivity to the WAN.

Does traditional Wi-Fi support HaLow?

Currently, the HaLow band is not supported by traditional Wi-Fi like 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. 

But, due to the longer range of HaLow, an AP deployed in the right location could mean signal coverage for an entire multi-floor office building or warehouse. 

Of course, that would also depend on:

  • Desired data rates for clients
  • Transmit powers
  • Antennas
  • Interference

To take the signal even further, without using a wired connection, you can also deploy Wi-Fi HaLow in a wireless-mesh mode. 

What are the Data Rates like for Wi-Fi HaLow? 

Bandwidth can be increased via channel-width options on Wi-Fi HaLow devices just like traditional Wi-Fi. Between 1MHz and 16MHz there are 5 channel widths, but not all devices support all the widths. 

When we talk about channels, the transmissions travel further the narrower the channel is, but at a slower data rate. 

For example, for a long range over the course of 1km on just 1MHz channel, with a bit of RF attenuation, you would see a data rate of approximately 150 kbps. 

With a shorter range and/ or a line of sight, you could in theory get 86.7 Mbps with 16 MHz channels and short guard intervals. 

One trial carried out at sea with no radio interference achieved 2 Mbps of UDP throughput at 3 km with line of sight. With this in mind, with ideal conditions could expect a data rate of a few Mbps for approximately 1.5 km range. 

How is Wi-Fi HaLow Affected by Interference?

Wi-Fi HaLow aren’t not the only unlicensed users and devices on the 900 MHz band. Historically, this band was rather crowded with cordless phones as well as amateur radio operators, although whilst they have the right to use the band they are not the primary users of the band and hence have to accept interference from other sources. 

Interference when using Wi-Fi HaLow is unlikely to cause significant issues in comparison to how many Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6 devices are using the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands. 

The competition for airtime is also a lesser concern because unlike traditional Wi-Fi devices, HaLow devices tend to deliver smaller amounts of data and less frequently. 

Is Wi-Fi HaLow Secure?

Wi-Fi HaLow is just as secure as traditional Wi-Fi devices due to supporting the same WPA3 (Wi-Fi Protected Access) security and Wi-Fi Enhanced Open functionality. 

Some devices may also support the enterprise mode of WPA3 with 802.1X authentication. Some HaLow devices may also support the legacy WPA2 security even though it isn’t required for Wi-Fi Certified products.

Is HaLow ready for enterprise deployments?

Despite there being few Wi-Fi Halow devices on the market just yet, reports are saying that they are ready for enterprise deployments now. 

Our recommendation, as with any Wi-Fi network, is to carry out a Site Survey before designing and deploying a Wi-Fi HaLow network.

For many network engineers, this is a new and unfamiliar technology so it’s imperative you do plenty of live testing and analysing to make sure the network will work effectively. This is especially important if you are going to be using Wi-Fi HaLow to serve higher bandwidth clients or over long distances.