Wi-Fi is quickly becoming the ubiquitous communications backbone of modern life, both for consumers and businesses.
In the consumer space, a wide range of communications, entertainment, media and gaming devices all have at least a couple of things in common: they use electricity and they connect to the internet and cloud(s) by Wi-Fi. Be it an iPad, Sonos streaming music player, Google Chromecast or Home, Amazon Kindle or Echo, smart TV or fancy refrigerator, it is Wi-Fi that enables the connectivity. Indeed, by 2021, half of all the IP traffic in the world will be to/from Wi-Fi devices according to Cisco.
Similarly, a revolution is taking place in corporations across the globe: roll out of mobile point-of-sales terminals, healthcare equipment, inventory systems, various IoT (internet-of-things) devices and sensors is happening right now. Services such as offering free Wi-Fi for hotel guests or restaurant customers has become the norm. Wi-Fi is everywhere, and most people expect Wi-Fi availability and Internet access wherever they go. This demand has pushed organizations to ask for a reliable Wi-Fi network like never before.
Wi-Fi is becoming a foundational utility just like electricity and an increasing number of companies rely on Wi-Fi connectivity in their core operation; and for a good reason. Wi-Fi has enabled massive productivity improvements in a wide range of industries by freeing devices, staff and customers to be mobile. Not surprisingly, there are also significant business opportunities in delivering better Wi-Fi. According to MarketsandMarkets™, the Wi-Fi market is expected to grow from $5.96 billion in 2017 to $15.60 billion by 2022, at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 21.2% during the forecast period.
When it is so obvious that Wi-Fi is enabling a vast range of new devices and productivity improvements, why is it that bad Wi-Fi is still so common?
To understand what is causing Wi-Fi issues, let’s compare Wi-Fi to the U.S. highway system. Just like a highway, Wi-Fi has two key characteristics: the reach, i.e., where does the road lead to, and capacity, i.e., how many lanes does the road have.
First of all, to be able to use a road, you need to have one in your location. A Wi-Fi network is just the same: you need to have enough coverage so that all desired areas of your office, airport or hotel has coverage. If a user ends up in an area outside the Wi-Fi coverage, then she is no longer able to use any of the services or devices that rely on it. When planning a Wi-Fi network, one needs to consider what devices and services are to be used and in which areas of the building or campus. This decision will then guide the network planning and deployment.
However, especially during the last couple of years, the problem is increasingly not in the coverage but in the capacity. I bet everyone has personally experienced a situation where the Wi-Fi signal indicator, the small icon with the four radio-wave-like arches at the top of your smartphone screen, is showing a strong signal, yet nothing happens and your emails or Facebook (yes, I am old) just doesn’t load anything no matter how long you wait. What’s the deal?
The chances are that the network has run out of capacity. Signal is strong, but the network is so busy that it no longer can serve you. Due to the way Wi-Fi operates, the performance of a network can be really good for an increasing number of clients, until it reaches a point where it starts getting overcrowded and soon collapses if the load still increases.
Thinking about our highway analogy again, imagine a new four lane highway. On the opening day, all drivers on that road get a smooth ride and can get from one place to another efficiently. Over time, the number of cars increases and traffic starts slowing down. Adding more and more cars will slow it down even more, until at some point, perhaps during the morning commute, traffic becomes so heavy that the average speed drop to practically zero and no driver gets any utility out of the road anymore. Interestingly enough, the road is still the same road it always has been. It didn’t get any worse, there really is nothing wrong with the road, but it no longer delivers the service it once did due to the increased traffic.
This is exactly what happens with Wi-Fi networks. A perfectly good Wi-Fi network that kept all users happy will start feeling slower and slower until it collapses under load to a point where no user gets good service anymore. None of the access points or other components got any worse, but as a network, it no longer delivers. This is why so many people and companies have recently noticed that their Wi-Fi is no longer adequate, and that their core operations are negatively impacted. The damage can be anywhere from slowdowns in production to dissatisfied customers, wasted work time of employees or even business operations stopping completely.
Ekahau provides solutions for enterprise wireless network designing and troubleshooting. The secret to a great Wi-Fi network is to start by defining the requirements. The user simply needs to tell the Ekahau software how many users the network shall serve, what devices the users are expected to use (smartphones, tablets, PCs, etc.) and where in the building those people will be. The rest of the process is done automatically by our software. The result is a Wi-Fi plan for a building, indicating how many access points are needed, where those access points should be installed and how they should be configured. If this sounds simple, it’s because it is—watch our engineer design a complete Wi-Fi network for a mid-size office in just 3 minutes.
Ekahau is on a mission of Ending Bad Wi-Fi. Period. Wi-Fi can be excellent, and it should be excellent. But it can only be excellent when it’s planned properly and maintained sufficiently. If this is what you need, we can help. #EndBadWiFi
Mika Hakala is CEO of Ekahau.