Congestion in the air?

  • Matti Antila

The wireless network does not work properly, Internet access is choppy, annoying. Problems occur even though the hardware is top notch and the signal strength indicator shows full strength. Does this sound familiar? In many cases, the cause is congestion in the air, or alternatively, network settings that need optimization.

Wireless connections have quickly become popular. Just about every new IT-related device uses them. Connection speeds have increased with updated standards and specifications, and a wireless connection has also replaced a wired connection in heavier use scenarios. As devices and usage proliferate, challenges also grow.

Wireless LANs use license-free frequency bands in common use. A few years ago, the vast majority of WLAN devices only operated in the 2.4 GHz frequency band. That band is also used by many other devices, such as radio-controlled planes, baby monitors, wireless surveillance cameras, and remote controllers for gaming consoles – all these in addition to wireless networks, not to mention real interference.

This has changed. Almost all of the current terminal devices also operate in the 5 GHz band which has two major advantages over the 2.4 GHz band. The biggest advantage is the capacity of the 5 GHz band available to wireless networks which is five times that of the 2.4 GHz band. Another advantage concerns the above-mentioned devices which use radio frequencies – most of them only use the 2.4 GHz band. If all the devices in your organization operate in the 5 GHz band, there is no reason to use the congested 2.4 GHz band for wireless services.

Equipment manufacturers have developed various solutions for identifying and preventing radio disturbances. One of them is the CleanAir feature used by Cisco Systems in its access points. Technical solutions offer network operators with tools for identifying and circumventing problems, but the problems themselves – or other devices using the same band – cannot be removed. However, if the problem can be identified, the network operator will be able to locate the system interfering with the wireless network and implement measures to reduce the disturbance.

Another common source of problems is the wireless network setup, particularly the channel and power settings of access points. The transmission power of a base station may be unnecessarily high resulting in terminal devices being connected to the original access point even over long distances. As a result, the access point cannot detect the terminal signal properly, although the signal is strong in the other direction. Other access points using the same channel may also cause problems when they unintentionally interfere with each other. Most devices provide automatic functions for adjusting channel and power settings, but in challenging environments the right solution is this: to make measurements in the wireless network environment and optimize network settings accordingly. In this way, the network settings can be adjusted to reflect the actual usage environment which enables the wireless network to operate well.