Why Your Wi-Fi Sucks And How It Can Be Helped, Part 2

Hardware And Methodology, Explained

Here’s a less pretty (but more informative) view of our test environment:

As you can see, we conducted two line-of-sight tests, one at 10 feet between the access point and client and another at 70 feet. The map shows desk areas and partitions within the line-of-sight path, but as you can see below, no obstructions were actually in place. A third test at 100 feet was done with a large kitchen/break area blocking the direct data path.

We had a wired side of the network, attached to which was the access point being tested. For all tests, we used an AP and whatever network infrastructure was necessary to support it. For example, the Ruckus and Aruba APs used wireless controllers, while the HP and Apple did not. Attached to this was a data server running an IxChariot (version 7.1) endpoint, a program that drives data back and forth and reports results back to the console, which was running on a separate wired network node. We ran another IxChariot endpoint on the wireless client connected to the AP.

Specifically, our hardware was as follows:

Tested Devices

  1. Apple AirPort Extreme: Dual-band 802.11n (3x3:2), standalone, version 7.5.1
  2. Aruba AP125: Dual-band 802.11n (3x3:2) with Aruba 3200 controller running ArubaOS (ver. 6.0.0.1)
  3. Cisco Aironet 3502i: Dual-band 802.11n (2x3:2) with Cisco 4402 controller (ver. 7.0.98.0)
  4. HP E-MSM460: Dual-band 802.11n (3x3:3) standalone running version 5.5.0.0-01-9514
  5. Meraki MR24: Dual-band 802.11n (3x3:3) running Meraki Enterprise Cloud Controller
  6. Ruckus ZoneFlex 7363: Dual-band 802.11n (2x2:2) with Ruckus ZoneDirector 1106 (version 9.1.0.0.38)

We brought in the Apple for two reasons. First, we wanted an example of a good consumer-grade router/access point as a basis for comparison against enterprise gear, because a lot of consumers and small business people remain baffled by the massive price gap between the two groups. Second, in the last couple of router roundups we did at Tom’s Hardware, readers complained that we omitted Apple. Well...here you go.

Of these six APs, only Meraki and HP employ triple-antenna, three-stream (3x3:3) configurations. In fact, these were the only two 3x3:3 APs we were able to find on the market in time for testing. The Aruba AP125 is a fairly standard model for the company, and it’s been around for a while. Likewise, Ruckus’s 2x2:2 ZoneFlex 7363 is fairly mid-range within the company’s lineup. The Cisco 3500 is the networking titan’s current high-end AP.

We would also like to point out that most of the access points reviewed here use omnidirectional antennas, as discussed extensively in our precursor to this piece.. Ruckus, which we showed last time, and Meraki, shown here, are two exceptions. To the untrained eye, Meraki and Ruckus seem to use very similar designs, each employing directional antennas in an effectively circular pattern. However, Meraki is using planar inverted F antennas (PIFAs). The larger ones are for 2.4 GHz and the smaller are for 5 GHz, thus leaving only three antennas for each band. We’ll see how this spin on the circular design performs in a bit.

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    Top Comments
  • winner4455
    Hey, I still haven't read this article but right away I notice the new format. Just thanking you for listening to your readers! :)
    15
  • Other Comments
  • winner4455
    Hey, I still haven't read this article but right away I notice the new format. Just thanking you for listening to your readers! :)
    15
  • cangelini
    Very welcome Winner. We thought the picture story format would work for that last part and didn't realize the text would come out to be so terrible. From now on, we'll only use picture stories when the captions fit without requiring another click!
    9
  • tacoslave
    cangeliniVery welcome Winner. We thought the picture story format would work for that last part and didn't realize the text would come out to be so terrible. From now on, we'll only use picture stories when the captions fit without requiring another click!

    "Now thats what i like to hear!"
    4
  • nekromobo
    What if you add few thin-foil balls to room (the size of fist or 2)

    That should add few rf-reflections or paths, right?
    Just your 2cent amplifier.. :)
    2
  • dead_rabbit
    Quote:
    However, when push came to shove,

    what does this clause mean???
    -8
  • wifiguy99
    When will Part 1 get a makeover like this?
    2
  • Anonymous
    I wonder why you didn't include Juniper products (formerly trapeze)to this test. It's quit a big player here in europe. Trapeze also produced the 3com wireless manager and accesspoints which was sold widely here.
    2
  • Hupiscratch
    In the page "Benchmark Results: Close Range, No Interference", the HP AP is missing on the downlink graph.
    3
  • Onus
    This was an outstanding article. Going just by this, Ruckus and Cisco are the only two I'd consider out of the box, but it would be very interesting to do a follow on that features even a minimal amount of tweaking to see what changes. A consumer expects a product to work well out of the box, but an enterprise network engineer almost certainly does not.
    2
  • Anonymous
    Very thorough. Lots of hard work went into this and it shows. But how did you select client devices? Did you try any other chipsets? We tried something like this with more diverse clients and got results that were too variable to reach conclusions. (Some clients just did better with some APs than others.)
    2
  • ashserratt
    Why not include Aerohive?
    1
  • Brazilian Joe
    I would like to know about the exact model of the Airport Extreme tested: is it the previous generation model, or the recently refreshed model capable of 450Mbps?
    -1
  • rebel1280
    jtt283This was an outstanding article. Going just by this, Ruckus and Cisco are the only two I'd consider out of the box, but it would be very interesting to do a follow on that features even a minimal amount of tweaking to see what changes. A consumer expects a product to work well out of the box, but an enterprise network engineer almost certainly does not.

    As much as i want to see a follow up on tweaked APs did you read the cost of the setup, $15,000! I don't expect a follow up any time soon haha. By the way Toms, great articles. I didn't mind the initial layout but I like this one better truth be told. Good info, good read. Looks like I'm getting me a Cisco for the office :)
    1
  • awtull
    You have confirmed what 6 years of operating and managing a TROPOS wireless mesh network has shown. As a municipality that deployed the network initially for mobile workers and public safety we did sell access to the network for affordable internet to our citizens. When we looked for a wireless bridge device for the customer that would give good performance along with reliable connectivity the hands down winner was Ruckus. We have probably installed close a 1000 of their dual zone bridges and I can say that everything that your tests have shown is what we have seen in true world application. Your article did a great job of addressing all of the various RF issues of wireless network and I commend you on a job well done.

    Anthony Tull CGCIO
    IT Director
    City of Granbury, TX
    8
  • wiinter
    Will - this has got to be one of the best online articles I've read in the last 15 years. Kudos to you and your team!
    2
  • Onus
    Anonymous said:
    As much as i want to see a follow up on tweaked APs did you read the cost of the setup, $15,000!...

    Oh yes, of course. If they could take just a worst case result, e.g. for that sorry Meraki unit, and see if a few simple tweaks made it viable, hopefully that wouldn't take the time or expense, but would clearly show the benefit from tweaking (i.e. from being a competent network engineer).

    Edit: And, perhaps the cost could be picked up by Meraki, or Aruba, since it seems to clearly be in their best interests, IF it showed their units could hang with the big boys. Based on this article alone, I probably wouldn't touch their products with a ten foot dipole.
    1
  • Anonymous
    Great read, interesting article. Have about 7 wifi devices in my house and currently getting pretty random performance. Think i now know why. If Ruckus ever releases a 3X3:3 for close range performance that would be very interesting!
    0
  • spammit
    Isn't it Cisco Aironet, not Aeronet?
    2
  • thearm
    spammitIsn't it Cisco Aironet, not Aeronet?


    Lord... Does it really matter?

    Anyway, it's so weird here at Toms now an add will pop up because you move you mouse over it and you have to click X to close it. But yet, the pull down at the end of each story (with the chapters in it) will go away of you move your mouse off of it. You have to be very careful with your mouse, when trying to select another chapter, or it will go away. It's been like that for years. Doesn't this annoy anyone else?
    0
  • Anonymous
    By the title of these 2 articles, I was anticipating some information regarding how I can diagnose and fix issues with my WiFi. Whereas now I have a greater understanding of what issues can arise and what router to use in an office setting, I still do not know how to diagnose my own crappy WiFi performance or how to fix it. While I applaud your efforts, I imagine most readers do not have 60 laptops and 5 ipads in their home...
    -2