Everyday we all use WiFi. It’s ubiquitous. We find it in our homes, in our offices, public buildings, and even in the streets. Being something that we use every day and something we rely upon, it’s a good idea to be familiar with the concepts behind it. There are plenty of misconceptions about WiFi and here, well clear some of them up.
WiFi is a Device Function, not a Service (Generally)
From time to time people will have trouble with their internet and complain that their WiFi isn’t working. It’s important to understand that they are not one in the same thing. While it is common for your internet provider’s equipment to put off a WiFi signal, it would be misguided to measure the quality of your internet strictly based on that.
Your internet service is provided by the line brought into the building. WiFi is provided by the device connected to that line. Your internet provider has given you that device as a convenience, but it may not completely meet your needs. If you have a larger home or office, your WiFi signal isn’t going to cover the whole building if you only have the one device. This isn’t a failing of your internet provider, but a limitation of WiFi. WiFi signals only go so far and switching to another internet provider won’t make it better short of them happening to provide you with a better WiFi router. Even if that were the case, the difference probably would be marginal.
Even Secure WiFi Isn’t Secure
In providing IT support, false senses of security alarm us. This is one that frequently comes up. People tend to believe that if their WiFi signal is secured that they are secure in their actions. They also tend to believe that an unsecured connection is dangerous. While it’s true that using an unsecured connection is slightly more risky than using a secured one, it’s not nearly as bad as you might think.
Whether a connection is secured only indicates the state of the connection between your computer and the WiFi access point. The reality is that the internet is a dangerous place. Your connection being secure between your computer and the access point in your office is barely of concern when you consider how dangerous everything is once it leaves your building.
Everything you do on the internet travels through many unrelated systems. There are many opportunities for malicious actors to interfere with your communications. This is why it’s important to use end-to-end security, typically through HTTPS, because your communication is going through a public medium. A good way to think of it is like you and the service you’re using, like an online bank, are speaking a language that only the both of you know. Even if you’re in a room with 100 people, no one knows what you’re talking about. So whether you’re using a secured or unsecured WiFi connection, you should always confirm you’re using HTTPS for any important communications. There’s only a marginal increase in security by using a secured WiFi connection.
WiFi Extenders Usually Make Things Worse
While some devices may do things in a way that makes the signal better, most make things worse. WiFi works within a set of defined channels, similar to the way two-way radios do. The root of the problem is that most extenders will receive and rebroadcast on the same channel. While this could almost double the range of the connection, it does so by cutting the capacity of the channel in half, at the least. Making it worse, if you use more extenders either in-line or in the vicinity of each other, they create additional interference at the same time. The combination of interference and less channel capacity just makes things worse.
In an ideal situation, more WiFi access points would be installed where they are needed and wiring would be run to each of them. In such a set up, you could provide robust WiFi signal throughout a building, and you could roam without disruption. Obviously it’s not always possible to run the wiring. Having to damage walls and ceilings may not be worth the trouble.
There are several mesh systems on the market that are much better than the traditional idea of extenders. Instead of using the same channel, they use multiple. They communicate with each other with one channel, and communicate with your devices using another. This eliminates the usual issue with extenders. Be sure to confirm that any mesh system you’re considering does this or you might just end up with worse signal.
Signal Strength Doesn’t Necessarily Indicate Good Quality
Even with a full WiFi indicator, you can still have a poor quality signal. This is because your indicator doesn’t measure interference. Like walkie-talkies, WiFi uses channels. Many WiFi networks can use the same channel, and if they cause the channel to be too busy, or “staticky”, then the signal will be degraded for everyone using it.
There are two WiFi radio bands, the 2.4 GHz one and the 5 GHz one. The older of the two, the 2.4 GHz band, can travel up to 150 feet away from the WiFi access point. This might sound like a good thing, and in some situations it is, but in most it just contributes to interference. There are 11 channels in the 2.4 GHz band and unfortunately most of them overlap. In a confined geography, it’s only possible to have three WiFi networks that don’t interfere with each other. If there are any more than that, interference is a certainty. Consider how close together town homes, apartments, or office suites can be, and it’s easy to see how bad interference can become. In many office buildings, it can become impossible to use the 2.4 GHz wifi.
WiFi on the 5 GHz band doesn’t go nearly as far and the signal doesn’t travel through walls and floors nearly as well. This would seem like a bad thing, but considering the bigger picture, it’s a good thing. Less ability to travel and to penetrate walls means that it cannot create interference in neighboring areas. While it may mean weaker signal within your facility, at least it can be fixed by putting in more access points. If only the 2.4 GHz band existed, adding more access points wouldn’t be able to do anything. It would make the signal stronger, but it would still be subject to the same interference.
With more people working from home than ever before, knowing some of the basics about WiFi makes a difference. If you experience issues with your wireless, consider the matters covered here and they might make the difference in your situation. If you need further assistance, consider contacting us for professional insight.