Wi-Fi: The new Maslow’s hierarchy-of-needs base requires your attention

A guy enters into a bar and asks the bartender for the Wi-Fi password… not a joke anymore, but one of the most common needs: free-fast-good-and-reliable connectivity to the Internet is the current Maslow’s hierarchy-of-needs base, and more than ever, it needs your attention… if you want to survive.

Intraway Symphonica: Accelerating new service launches with cloud-native automation.  Read Intraway’s article on the latest TM Forum report.

Wi-Fi Everywhere

Everyone wants to have good-quality Wi-Fi access at the bar, at the coffee shop, at hotels, at work, and at home. The speed and reliability required for work applications, videoconferencing, streaming, gaming, and social networking are increasing.

Many businesses require Wi-Fi to be successful: customers will score them better if they provide high-grade Wi-Fi, and it will keep down the customers’ complaints. Remember: Wi-Fi is a basic need.

On the other hand, the Wi-Fi spectrum is getting more polluted every day: anyone can just purchase a Wi-Fi Router-Gateway, an Access-Point (AP), or a Wi-Fi repeater, and run them easily.

Enterprise-Level vs. Home-Level

The Wi-Fi networks at enterprise-level and public/government sites are usually installed, maintained, and managed by specialized IT associates using hardware (routers, switches, access points, and WLAN controllers) specifically designed to meet the requirements within a specific area to cover.

Home Wi-Fi is, usually, a completely different animal: most setups start with the CSP Cable Modem, DSL Modem, or GPON ONT (the Router-Gateway). Some of them also have additional unmanaged hardware, default configurations, lack of software updates and, the most important thing: the user’s “recipes to have a better Wi-Fi connection” (better in terms of speed and coverage).

Some Common Mistakes About Wi-Fi

Nowadays, Wi-Fi connections are popular, and more and more devices have built-in Wi-Fi. It’s easy to use and easy to connect to a Wi-Fi network: you just need the name (SSID) and the password (when it’s secured). But there are some principles that the users don’t keep in mind when setting them up, and thus they run into a poor Wi-Fi experience.

Crowded Spectrum

The most important thing about Wi-Fi is that the transmission channels are limited, and the devices connected through the same channel are sharing the channel, not being able to talk (transmit) at the same time. Also, if some device talks slower than the others, all the devices connected to the AP will slow down their speed to be able to understand each other.

Wi-Fi speed also depends on the modulation scheme. Under the circumstance of non-Wi-Fi interference, the AP will get the modulation down to be able to transmit and receive. 

Interference may happen when ZigBee-enabled devices are transmitting on the same part of the spectrum than the Wi-Fi channels: ZigBee is a protocol for IoT devices to communicate with each other and it uses the 2.4 GHz band, and Wi-Fi’s three non-overlapping channels (1, 6, and 11) use the same frequencies as ZigBee channels 11-22. In the case of a smart-home, the CSP can suppose that both Wi-Fi and ZigBee channels might overlap and must perform careful planning to make sure that they don’t interfere with each other. In most cases, the interference will affect the ZigBee network more than the Wi-Fi network.

Spectrum Pollution and Transmit Power Level

The spectrum pollution becomes a critical issue: increasing the AP’s transmit power level to have “a better Wi-Fi” won’t necessarily give the user a better experience, throughput, or reliability. Instead, it will pollute the wireless channel and will go into cross-talking with the neighboring AP. Have in mind to set the transmit power according to the local regulations.

AP Positioning

Many factors could lead to a slow connection, and each cause has a different solution path. The AP must be placed accordingly to provide good coverage to the rooms. The number and location of each AP will depend on many factors, like the number of rooms to cover, the distance to the AP, and the number of walls within each room.

AP Hardware Capabilities

Router-Gateway and AP capabilities are fundamental to have a good connection quality. First, the Router-Gateway and AP must meet (and preferably exceed) the bandwidth contracted to the CSP. To achieve 300 Mbps downstream, the Router-Gateway must have 1 Gbps ethernet ports, and the AP must support 5 GHz band. It’s possible to reach 300 Mbps over 2.4 GHz band by enabling channel bonding, but it isn’t recommended for congested environments because it increases the probability of interference by channel congestion, lowering the effective bandwidth.

“Multiple-Input, Multiple-Output” (MIMO), and especially, “Multi-User Multiple-Input, Multiple-Output” (MU-MIMO) is a critical requirement when multiple devices require high bandwidth at the same time (i.e., when having more than 3 OTT streaming devices, plus each family-member gadgets like smartphones, tablets, smartwatches, etc.).

Wi-Fi Client Hardware Capabilities

Wi-Fi quality of experience is not all about the AP. For sure, the Wi-Fi Client hardware counts a major part in the problem. Testing the CSP provided bandwidth (let’s say 300 Mbps) with a smartphone that doesn’t have a 5 GHz radio interface, has poor processor speed, or hasn’t enough RAM, is wrong because it will affect the results and won’t reach the bandwidth upper limits.

Router-Gateway Daisy-chaining

Another common situation happens when the user connects a new Router-Gateway, behind the one provided by the CSP, without setting them up accordingly. Stacking or daisy-chaining gateways could cause a double-NAT (for IPv4) and stop IPv6 address assignment, which will add more latency and connectivity issues. When adding a customer-owned Router-Gateway, it’s recommended to set the CSP router in bridge mode and shut down its Wi-Fi network.

The Toolkit

Each connected home is a different world by itself. CSPs have to learn how the customer-side environment is set-up and then be capable of influencing the customer to get and test their contracted bandwidth.

To do so, CSPs have to:

  1. use tools to gather, analyze, and apply changes to the customer-side environment, and
  2. provide the customer with simple tools to troubleshoot and set up their Wi-Fi networks on their own. 

Having that toolkit, the CSP will be able to bring the customer with the Router-Gateway and AP that meets the customer needs.

Intraway Symphonica: Accelerating new service launches with cloud-native automation.  Read Intraway’s article on the latest TM Forum report.

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