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

In Part 1, we explained what can go wrong with Wi-Fi signals and how access points can work to improve your wireless performance. It's time for a reality check. We throw six contenders against 65 clients and some hellish interference. Who's left standing?

We took a lengthy journey through the ins and outs of Wi-Fi signals in last week's Why Your Wi-Fi Sucks And How It Can Be Helped, Part 1, examining many of the factors that can both damage and improve signal performance. This week, it’s time to tie it all together in a real-world arena and let vying wireless technologies duke it out to the death—sometimes almost literally.

As we mentioned before, prior attempts to stage this sort of test failed because the results were too variable to be accurate. We regrouped, though, and came back with a new test setup that proved far more reliable and useful. In the image below, you see a panorama view of our test environment. Essentially, this is an empty office environment we filled with 60 Dell notebooks and nine iPad and iPad 2 tablets. We then picked five competing access points and their respective controllers (when applicable) and tested them in various scenarios. All told, the rental bill totaled about $15 000, and a testing team put in three heavy days of benchmarking time. You simply don’t see wireless interference testing done at this scale in the wild.

As we suggested in the first part of this story, we’re unaware of any testing ever having been done quite like this. Our objective was to test access point performance under heavy interference conditions, and from this derive some sense of how the wireless technologies we previously examined play out in the real world. If you missed our prior article, we strongly suggest reviewing it now. Otherwise, the results we explain later may not make as much sense.

In the following pages, we’ll take a look at our access point contestants, how we tested, and analyze the test results. To give you an early hint, there turns out not to be a one-size-fits-all product. Best results will vary according to the dynamics of the access point/client arrangement. Which technologies make the most sense for your situation? Keep reading!

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  • 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