WiFi signal strength can be a significant factor in how well or otherwise your business performs - especially for a mobile workforce, or remote workers whose location is outside of traditional office or commercial spaces that rely on static installations for their network access.
If network provision isn't via a fully configured installation that's under your organisation's direct control, your workers may find themselves having to rely on wireless internet connectivity such as that provided at public hotspots, or through the setting up of local wireless hubs. Poorly maintained public WiFi or badly set up personal or group routers may give only a patchy performance. The result can be slow browsing speeds, an inability to stream data, dropped WiFi signals, or wireless dead zones.
Even with a wireless network exclusive to the business, some of these problems may also be encountered by workers at your various facilities. Besides configuration or hardware errors, physical location may be one of the principal reasons for poor WiFi performance.
The Science Suggests It
WiFi consists of radio signals of very low intensity. So as with standard radio, logic and intuition would suggest that the quality of reception for WiFi depends on the strength of broadcast from its source, and the positioning of the receiving device and its antenna. Hard science would seem to suggest this, as well.
In 2014 Jason Cole, a researcher at Imperial College London, used a mathematical model to simulate the reception of a WiFi router as it was moved to various locations around a 3-dimensional representation of his flat. Cole found that WiFi signal strength was best when the router was situated in an unobstructed position at the centre of his home. Detailed research documents confirm the scientific rigour and mathematics of these findings.
Though the experiment was conducted in a residential setting, the same rules should apply to any built-up location, including offices and the public spaces typically given over to free hotspots.
Wireless network signals are measured in decibel milliwatts or dBm, which are usually expressed with a minus sign before the numbers. Most wireless systems have a notional maximum signal strength of -30 dBm, which is what would be experienced if you were sitting right on top of the access point. A reading anywhere between -30 dBm and -50 dBm is considered excellent.
The minimum value for any service requiring a reliable connection is -67 dBm. This is the base level needed for voice over WiFi and the streaming of video content that's not High Definition (non-HD) - i.e. the kind of components that might feature in the voice telephony and video conferencing aspects of a business communications system.
So, given that physical positioning is a factor determining the WiFi signal strength that may power your essential business functions, how can this be exploited, to get the most out of your wireless network?
Optimising WiFi for Location
The distance between a wireless router and the devices that rely on it directly affects the signal strength, so the placement of a router or access point is key.
Instincts might suggest that the best position for this access point would be beside the window where the cables from the external network infrastructure enter your building, or inside a cabinet that's out of everyone's way. But this may not take into account the unique architecture and geometry of your working spaces.
Placing the router at the centre of the building is the ideal for smaller premises. But with larger or more complex constructions, it may be an option to use a system of multiple access points which create a "mesh network" where the various units can talk to each other and widen your coverage area.
Routers with external antennas can be called on to boost your network signal by aligning them vertically. If there's more than one antenna on a device, a bit of experimentation with aligning the various sets can optimise things further.
Rotation may be used to increase WiFi signal strength on units that have only an internal antenna. Alternatively, a bolt-on directional antenna may be bought commercially and aligned manually for best performance.
In all cases, elevating your router helps eliminate interference, and boosts the signal. This may be done by mounting it on a wall bracket, or placing it on a secure and raised surface.
To map out your spaces and determine how WiFi signal strength varies from place to place, there are heat-mapping tools which are designed for this purpose. These come in both desktop computing and mobile app formats. But if you don't have the IT expertise needed to process the results or simply want a professional opinion, our experts at LG Networks can assist you with this.
On the basis of these results, you can establish the ideal location for your wireless access hardware.
Compensating for Obstacles
Your WiFi signal strength may also suffer if the network has to cover an area that's larger than your router is capable of transmitting to, or if there are lots of corners and solid obstacles to negotiate. Signal blockage or interference may be introduced by mass wireless usage in densely populated areas and through clashes with signals from other wireless networks or nearby electrical appliances and electronic devices.
The signal mapping tools and placement principles described above may be used to determine the best location for your wireless network hardware that's free from these elements.
Receiving devices should also be positioned in an obstacle-free location - especially static ones such as wireless printers or cameras. As a general rule, if you can see your router from where your device is, you’ll probably get a good connection.
The Importance of Good WiFi Signal Strength
For business communications and applications, wireless connectivity has assumed a similar level of importance to hard-wired networks. And with vital business functions now being routinely conducted over WiFi, signal strength and its dependence on physical location must be considered for their impact on productivity and performance.
If you'd like information or assistance on optimising your WiFi signal strength or configuring your wireless network to allow for the characteristics of your location, get in touch with the experts at LG Networks.