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Sep 28 2017

Why is my Wi-Fi not Hi-Fi?

Twitter: @Laszlo_G

Everybody knows Wi-Fi. Everybody uses Wi-Fi: to connect our smartphones, tablets, media streamers, even our TVs.

But everyone also feels the pain points of Wi-Fi: low performance, hardly any coverage outside the living room, and the constant pain of connecting new devices, changing passwords, and the like.

In addition, people own more and more devices, that all need to be connected to the Internet. And the applications or services that we enjoy on these devices, require more and more bandwidth. Just look at the evolution of video: from standard definition, to high definition, and now even to 4K definition that can be enjoyed on Netflix and YouTube already. It is even anticipated, that 82% of Internet traffic will be for IP video by 2020. A bad Wi-Fi connection can then immediately ruin any user experience.

So indeed, why is our Wi-Fi not Hi-Fi??

Tell me, how is your Wi-Fi performance?

The first challenge is performance. Even if you have the latest and greatest Wi-Fi router, you may still not get the best performance. This is mainly due to interference. Just imagine an apartment building. Your neighbors probably all have a Wi-Fi router as well, all causing interference. You may want to change the Wi-Fi band: you can choose between the 2.4 GHz and the 5 GHz band. Typically, the 2.4 GHz band is used, so switching to the 5 GHz band may help, if at least both your router and your device support this frequency. Then, each frequency band has many channels to connect to. The 2.4 GHz band has channels 1 to 11 to choose from; the 5 GHz band has a lot more channels. The trick is to find the channel that is least used. You can use various tools to visualize the Wi-Fi traffic in your neighborhood to find that least used channel. This remains a manual exercise, with a lot of trial and error.

But then a bigger concern is that the same frequencies (2.4 and 5 GHz) are equally used by non-Wi-Fi devices, like microwave ovens, cordless phones, Bluetooth devices (keyboards, speakers, …) and the like. These devices cannot be detected with the aforementioned Wi-Fi visualization tools. So even if you have selected the least used Wi-Fi channel, you may still not get the best performance if one of these non-Wi-Fi interference sources is switched on! In this case, it’s back to trial and error, and you may even need to re-do the exercise from time to time, depending on which non-Wi-Fi devices are switched on at any given time.

And what about your Wi-Fi coverage?

The second challenge is coverage. Wi-Fi has a limited range, so depending on the build of your home, your mileage may vary. Wooden panels instead of brick walls will give you a longer range. In Europe, most homes have brick walls (double walls on the outside), with reinforced concrete between the floors. So, getting good Wi-Fi reception 2 rooms away from the location of the Wi-Fi access point, may be a challenge. There is even a difference between the frequency bands: the lower the frequency, the better the signal travels through walls, i.e. the better the signal penetration. In the case of Wi-Fi, you will notice that the 2.4 GHz band travels further than the 5 GHz band.

You may try to solve the coverage issue by investing in a meshed Wi-Fi network. In this case, you still have one main Wi-Fi gateway, but then you add extenders in the other rooms where you want better Wi-Fi coverage. These devices literally “extend” the Wi-Fi coverage, but they somehow need to be connected to the main gateway. This connection can be established over an Ethernet cable that runs between the two. This option means pulling the cable from one room into the other room. Another option is to sacrifice one of the Wi-Fi channels for the interconnection. A third option would be to use a powerline connection, whereby the signal is carried over your in-home electricity grid. After the initial challenge of setting up this meshed Wi-Fi network, comes the second challenge: once a device is connected to any of the Wi-Fi networks (the main gateway or one of the extenders), and you move around the home, you may experience that the device seems to “stick” to the first access point it connected to, and refuses to switch over to the access point of the room you are in now. This is referred to as “sticky clients”. So merely having a meshed Wi-Fi network may still not be the best solution, in the roam between access points (or rooms).

Then there’s all those devices to connect

The third challenge hinges around devices. If you want to connect a new device to a Wi-Fi network for the first time, you must know both the “name” of the Wi-Fi network (called the SSID) and the corresponding password (assuming of course that people these days secure their Wi-Fi network against potential hackers or passersby). But if you change the password of your Wi-Fi network for security reasons, you’ll also have to update it in every device that connects to your network.

A further issue with devices is security related. First, you need to ensure a proper level of virus and threat protection. Then you may want to apply content filtering and parental control. All additional activities that make a cumbersome Internet experience very difficult.

So why am I telling you all this?

The challenges of a bad Wi-Fi experience do not only affect the end-users, but the Communication Service Providers (CSP) as well.

According to Nokia customer research, 35% of high-speed Internet trouble calls to the helpdesk are Wi-Fi related. The average cost/call was calculated to be about $26. So you can imagine the financial impact on the operational costs for a CSP.

For end-users, quality of experience is crucial. For a CSP, a badly perceived user experience may result in customer churn. And end-users are impatient. According to a research conducted by UMASS Amherst and collaborators at Akamai , consumers give up on an online video if it doesn’t load in two seconds, with 40% of users abandoning if it’s not loaded in 10 seconds.

So, while CSPs are heavily investing in getting the proper bandwidth to the home, they are now faced with the problem of how to ensure that this bandwidth is properly distributed within the home. In other words, the challenge is now to turn the Wi-Fi experience into a Hi-Fi experience.

Visit our dedicated Nokia Smart Home solution webpage for more information.

Share your thoughts on this topic by replying below – or join the Twitter discussion with @nokianetworks using #WiFi #CSPCX

About Laszlo Gyalog

Laszlo leads the Digital Home solution marketing. This includes setting up a differentiating offer, and elaborating the various business models and required eco-system. Outside business hours, Laszlo enjoys toying around with anything technology related (he is an engineer after all), photography and going for long walks with his wife and their dog.