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A back to basics guide - office Wi-Fi compared to home Wi-Fi

Why is Wi-Fi in the office problematic compared to at home?


In today's world, Wi-Fi has become an essential part of our lives. We use it to connect our devices to the internet and to communicate with others. However, many people have experienced the frustration of slow or unreliable Wi-Fi in their workplace. In this post, we will explore the reasons why Wi-Fi in the office is often unreliable compared to at home.


Network congestion


One of the main reasons why Wi-Fi in the office is unreliable is network congestion. In an office environment, there are often many devices connected to the same Wi-Fi network. This can cause congestion and slow down the network speed. Additionally, some devices may be using more bandwidth than others, which can cause the network to become unstable. Ultimately each Wi-Fi access point aerial can only talk to one device at a time. The more devices using Wi-Fi, the slower Wi-Fi gets for everyone.


Interference


Another reason why Wi-Fi in the office can be unstable is interference. In an office environment, there are often many electronic devices that can interfere with Wi-Fi signals. For example, microwaves, fluorescent lights, Bluetooth devices and even other Wi-Fi networks can interfere with the signal and cause it to drop out. At home, you may see two or three of your neighbour's Wi-Fi networks. At work, you can often see hundreds of Wi-Fi networks all competing for Wi-Fi channels. Just to be clear, interference mainly affects client devices, not Wi-Fi access points as much. This is because mobile devices have very weak Wi-Fi radios to preserve battery life.


Distance from the Wi-Fi access point


The distance from the access point (AP) can also be a factor in the reliability of Wi-Fi in the office. In a large office, the AP may be located far away from some devices. This can cause the signal to weaken and become unstable. Additionally, walls and other obstacles can also weaken the signal, making it difficult for devices to connect to the network. Metal (kitchens etc) blocks the Wi-Fi signal, and human bodies absorb it.


Roaming between access points.


Laptops, tablets and mobile phones should roam to the nearest access point. Should being the operative word here. We tested 5 laptops, 10 mobile phones and a handful of tablets – all of different makes and models. We turned all the devices on in a meeting room at one end of a large office space. They all connected to the AP in the meeting room. We then wheeled all of these devices to the far end of the office underneath another AP and not one of these devices roamed to the closer AP which had a much stronger signal than the original meeting room AP.

It appears that devices will only switch to a better AP once they lose the signal from the original one. In an open office, it is quite difficult to turn the power down to an AP to a working level that doesn’t overlap other Wi-Fi AP.

If you use a mobile/laptop/tablet and move around the office and happen to notice you have weak Wi-Fi signal, just try turning the Wi-Fi off on your device for a couple of seconds. This should force the device to connect the nearest Wi-Fi AP.


2.4Ghz versus 5Ghz


2.4Ghz was the first modern frequency and has 11 channels. Each Wi-Fi AP in an office must use a separate channel to avoid interference with other APs. Unfortunately, most of the channels on 2.4ghz overlap so only leaving three channels to use (channels 1, 6 & 11). Combine this with the hundreds of Wi-Fi networks visible in the office and you can see that interference on 2.4ghz is going to be bad.


5Ghz has many more channels compared to 2.4Ghz and is likely to have far less interference and hence be more reliable. The weakness of 5Ghz is due to its higher frequency it has a shorter range compared to 2.4ghz.


In conclusion, there are several reasons why Wi-Fi in the office can be unreliable compared to at home. Network congestion, interference, distance from the AP, and roaming issues can all contribute to a slow or unstable Wi-Fi connection. To improve Wi-Fi, workplaces should implement policies to reduce network congestion and interference via correct power and channel planning.


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