5 Things You Need to Know About How Your Wireless Network Impacts Your Devices

Its true. Not everyone needs to know what makes their wireless network tick. But if you are an entrepreneur or small business depending on a fast signal, learning the technology behind your network might just make sense. I made this short video to explain the flavors of WiFi, but then I realized that the subject deserves much more explanation. So I wrote the post below to fill in some of the gaps; it will hopefully simplify some of the crazy numbers I was throwing out.

To visually illustrate, Here's how MU-MIMO works:

Next, a chart to illustrate what you need to know about the 802.11 wireless standards:

So who sets these standards and who is the IEEE?

The IEEE is the acronym for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, an association founded in 1963 devoted to the advancement and standardization in a wide range of industries.  They named the “alphabet soup” of 802.11 standards for wireless radio-wave technology; WiFi.

Band and Channels: Why does this matter?

Without going into a long tutorial on radio signals, the different communication frequencies (bands or the radio wave spectrum) are assigned by the Federal Communications Commission. For the United States, they decide which frequency ranges can be used for different technologies and by which industry (airlines, medical devices, cellular, public safety, etc.).

Currently in the US, the assigned spectrums for a wireless local network (WLAN) are in the 2.4 GHz to 5 Ghz bands. Within these frequencies there are multiple channels. In the 2.4 band, there are 14 channels (but only 11 are allowed in North America). Of these eleven, there are only 3 that do not overlap on the others: 1, 6 and 11.

When you are setting up your wireless network, or adjusting the channels as you should from time to time, you can see which channels have the highest traffic. Selecting bandwidth is usually done automatically by your router, but some, as in the case of Linksys, the bandwidth can be selected manually if you wish.

Early devices (using 802.11b or g) should use the 20 MHz bandwidth. If your devices are exclusively using the 5 GHz band, you may benefit by selecting the higher range. I recommend that you don’t monkey around with this setting unless you really know what you are doing - or tech support tells you to do it.

If you are using an 802.11ac router you will notice the box says “dual band.” This means that the router drops back to 2.4 GHz for connecting to older devices, in this case it’s recommended that you let your router make the decision automatically.

In my post on How to Boost Strong WiFi in Every Room, I show how I use an app called WiFi Analyzer to see the data traffic generated by my neighbors. Once you see which channels are most crowded with traffic, you can select the emptiest channel for your home WiFi network. This will assure better connections and less interference.

Transfer Rates: How Many bits per second?

As data transfer rates increase, there are more multiples for the speed in which data travels. They are referenced in “bit” per second. In the video I spoke of a mid-eighties 300 baud modem which transferred data at 300 Kbps. In case you’re wondering, kbps moved 125 bytes per second.

With the move to wireless, transmission sped up to megabits, written as Mbps. Mbps transfers a million bits or a thousand kilobits. Now we’re looking at Gbps speeds, moving 125,000,000 bytes per second - or more practically, 1,000 Mpbs or a million kilobits per second. The next iteration will be Terabits (Tbps) moving a thousand gigabits per second. You do the math, that’s crazy fast.

None of us live in a laboratory, and this is where the ultimate speeds are measured. Most of the “theoretical” speeds are done with mathematical equations.

Antennas? MIMO? Whaaat?!

In many routers, the antennas are internal. In others you can see (and even upgrade) the higher gain antennas. External antennas can be adjusted for optimum range (Will cover this in an upcoming post). Each antenna in the early protocols (Single Input Single Output) designated one antenna at the router to transmit and the other single antenna at your device to receive data. When multiple devices are leaching off the same singular signal, you can just imagine (and have no doubt experienced) how the speed degrades.

The newer protocols invoke MIMO (Multiple Input, Multiple Output) uses multiple antennae at the transmission point and multiple streams, thereby increasing performance significantly. The antennas can be pooled to optimize your stream. MIMO also can deliver four spatial streams of data to your devices. If your devices (laptops, tablets, gaming) do not support MIMO, you cannot get the full benefit of this technology.

Again, assuming your devices can take advantage of it, MU-MIMO (Multi user) send out separate signals (up to eight) to lock on to each device demanding a WiFi signal. Each antenna can also transmit a signal to multiple devices depending on demand. (As I said in the video, buying an inexpensive 802.11ac WiFi dongle will easily upgrade your laptop).

Remember, your network can only run as fast as the data is sent to it. In my case I receive 100Mbps from my cable provider. I can’t make the data run any faster.

FTC disclosure: This is a sponsored post. I only work with and showcase products, events and/or companies I believe my readers will benefit from. Linksys has hired me as a brand ambassador. I am not employed by Linksys. All thoughts and viewpoints are mine. This is disclosed in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.