How good is your WiFi Network?

WiFi in a home is something that is very often taken for granted these days, considering the technological evolution of internet and its applications. It is hard to imagine our lives without WiFi since we use internet to virtually do everything on a daily basis. Whether it is shopping, paying bills, ordering groceries, banking, investing, controlling your home etc, it all requires a WiFi connection in the house to be able to take advantage of all the luxuries that internet offers. In this article we will cover some key aspects of WiFi that concern consumers and solutions that they can apply to help address those concerns.

Coverage and Speed:

There are different aspects of WiFi that consumers are concerned about, as it relates to its use and availability. The most common aspect that consumers worry about is the coverage and speed. As WiFi evolves, the expectation is that single WiFi router provided by the ISP should cover every inch of their house with equal level of fidelity and should sustain top speeds. While this is not realistic with a single router, considering the basic principles of a radio waves and general communication theory, there are different solutions that can be leveraged to help address coverage and speed.

  1. WiFi Extenders: WiFi extenders are devices that connect to your existing WiFi and then transmit a network of their own which is regarded as the “Extended” network. These extenders had become very popular in mid 2010’s due to ease of use and for providing “good enough” improvement in performance. The truth however is that a WiFi range extender kills the speed further, while providing an improved coverage. While consumers gained coverage, they were not able to get similar improvements in speed. While the popularity of extenders has plummeted recently, folks continue to use them as a make shift solution for improving coverage.
  2. High Power Routers: This was another trend that came about when routers from Apple, Google, TP-Link etc were being advertised as routers that provide high gain antennas and high transmit power to maximize coverage in the house. It is a reasonable solution for homes that are around 2000-2500 sq ft in coverage area and it did provide good results for many consumers who went this route. However, there is still an issue with this solution. Any communication device needs to communicate in two directions (downlink and uplink) for successful transactions. For example, if a phone is connected to a WiFi network, it constantly has to communicate with the router to keep the communication going. The problem however is that the end devices can only transmit a finite amount of power. Even though we increased the transmit power on the router, the phone can still transmit at its highest power (there is no change there). One might argue that the high gain antenna on the router helps resolve this, but if most devices in the house are transmitting at high power on uplink we are increasing the noise by a proportional factor, so the gain from the antenna does not compensate the same way. So as people were using high bandwidth devices they started observing that the high power routers are not the best solution to address their needs either.
  3. Hard Wired Access Points: Hardwired access points are nothing but an extension of the antenna of your existing WiFi router. An access point is connected to the router using an ethernet cable and will transmit the same SSID as your main router. With multiple access points throughout the house, coverage is definitely not an issue and one can achieve maximum speeds in every corner of the house (thanks to the hardwired back haul). The access points also have a manager that handle hand offs from one access point to another as a person moves around in the house. While this is the ultimate solution to solve WiFi coverage and speed issues, it is rather an expensive solution. A good access point can cost upwards of $140 , and a 4200 sq feet home may need 3-4 access points for optimal coverage. Not to forget the hardwired ethernet that is needed to run the access points back to the router. Overall it can cost upwards of $800-$1000 to get a reasonable access point network, using high quality devices.
  4. Other Factors: Some other factors that impact speed of a WiFi network is interference from neighbors. WiFi operates across multiple channels within a frequency band. This means that if you and your neighbors use the same WiFi channel then chances are that interference is being created and it is impacting your WiFi speed. This can be resolved by assessing the channels being used in the area using various WiFi Tools available on the internet, and then changing your channel to be different from the ones that are being used. Most modern routers do this automatically, but if not it can be done manually as well. Another factor to consider for speed is high bandwidth usage. There may be devices in the house that use higher bandwidth than others and this can slow down speed of the other devices. A solution would be to ensure that devices that are not being used are powered down to avoid any background chatter that affect the bandwidth.
  5. WiFi Mesh Networks: WiFi mesh networks is an ongoing trend that combines solutions mentioned above and provides a comprehensive way to handle coverage and speed of WiFi networks. Many players like Google, Samsung, Eero, Orbi etc have come up with their WiFi Mesh Systems that help improve the WiFi coverage and address speed issues across homes. WiFi mesh networks are where multiple access points are placed across the house and each of the access points talk with each other as well as the main router to maximize the speed of transmitting data. Since the system requires multiple access points, the uplink limitation issue is not an issue anymore because devices can talk with the closest access point instead of always talking to the same router every time. WiFi mesh can work wirelessly, which means that the ethernet backhaul that is needed for traditional access points is no longer needed. Many of these WiFi mesh networks offer additional features that make it a very attractive solution to solve WiFi issues. For example, the Samsung WiFi Mesh system includes a smart home hub and is powered by Plume System’s AI based WiFi management, where the system automatically changes WiFi channel per access point and manages bandwidth allocation per device based on the device behavior over time. It learns the behavior of the network and continuously optimizes it. Samsung also provides an app that can be used to view devices on the network, manage passwords and guest access etc from the phone (even when not at home), instead of logging into the router to do such things. In a WiFi Mesh system each access point transmits at a nominal power to provide reasonable coverage overlap throughput the house, instead of a singe high powered router that only adds to the radio pollution. Overall, the WiFi mesh network takes the best of other solutions and provides a well balanced solutions. With advances in WiFi , evolution is expected and there will be technologies that will continue to replace the previous as we head into the future.

WiFi Security is a serious issue

A lot of times consumers get so obsessed about improving their WiFi coverage and speed that security of the WiFi network is given a back seat. Considering the applications that are carried over WiFi, security becomes one of the most critical aspects that is often ignored or taken for granted. In fact security of your WiFi network is as important as security on your phone, if not more. Below are some security tips that may save your home from getting hacked ,

  1. Strong Password: This is the most common reason for a WiFi hack. Many times people leave their routers at their default password or set basic passwords like their phone number or pets name. While it is convenient to use these things for password so that you can remember it, the inconvenience that it can bring when your WiFi is hacked is not worth it at all. It is recommended that you change your WiFi password to a 16 character password that includes case sensitive letters, numbers, special characters and symbols in order to make it as secure as possible. You can still remember the password by being creative. For example the password “myinternetpwd” can be saved as “My1nT3r~etPw9” which is significantly stronger than just the words. If you do not have a creative bone in you then use a website such as to generate a password and stick to it.
  2. Guest Password: This is mandatory. DO NOT ever share your main password with anyone , even with your friends. Remember that your WiFi password is saved on your friend’s device and if that gets hacked then your password is compromised too. It is strongly recommended that a separate password with guest access privileges is created to share with guests or contractors that may request access to your network. In traditional routers a separate guest network can be created which allows the user access to internet but isolates them from accessing your devices or data activity of these devices. In mesh WiFi networks such as the Samsung WiFi, the user can used the same network, but a different password can be created for guests. It also provides advanced options like providing expiry time for password, providing temporary access to a single or multiple devices etc. The bottom line however is that the main password should only be known to the head of the household or the adults who live in the house and should not be shared with anyone else.
  3. Firewalls: Many routers, including some mesh networks come with built in security features that help detect unusual activity and block traffic. The capability is usually limited in routers, but can provide some reasonable level of security features that can be useful. Another option which requires bit of a set up is a hardware firewall such as CUJO ( CUJO is a hardware AI based firewall that learns from CUJOs all over the world and constantly monitors the traffic in your home. It blocks traffic from sources that have been marked as suspicious or dangerous globally. Considering the number of devices that reside on a local home network a strong firewall solution is definitely worth the time and money.
  4. Cheap Devices: There is a very famous saying – “Penny wise pound foolish” , which explains this very simply. There is a normal tendency for consumers to choose the devices that they buy based on its price. Other functions of the device are usually taken for granted. A recent study from Forbes shows that more than 2 billion smart home devices that were manufactured in a part of China are susceptible to hacking because of poor implementation of security on these devices. It is possible that there are devices in your home that are one among these 2 billion devices. Cheap security cameras from places such as Costco, Walmart and other places, that are usually a product of China, is a great example. Consumers assume that since these are security devices, the manufacturer ought to have implemented security measures. The truth however is that the implementation is sometimes so poor that despite strong security measures on your WiFi network, hackers can easily hack into your network through these devices and access the data that they want. The common defense is “The cameras are outdoors, so it does not matter if someone hacks it”. It is not the video feed that they hack your camera for. The camera simply becomes a gateway to get into your network and access other data. This is a good reason to hire someone who knows about these products, has tested them, is a licensed security company , rather than buying a cheap DIY system and implementing it on your own. The few dollars saved is usually not worth it when something goes south.

Hopefully this article provides some insight to managing a WiFi network for homes and helps the community implement best practices. Remember that at the end of the day your WiFi network is a gateway to your life. If someone can access your network, they will be able to know everything about you. The closer we stay to our WiFi network, the safer it will be from external attacks.

ClanSlang Insight recommendation for PCR!!

Knowing the average home sizing being anywhere between 2700 sq ft to 6000 sq ft. And ever growing list of wifi and IOT devices working inside and outside the perimeter of the house, Its recommended that a Mesh network is the best way to go. If there are heavy lifting devices that needs extreme level of data exchanges (like you or anyone in your home is a Gamer or if you are own a personalized NAS), Mesh alone might not solve your needs perhaps in such case we would recommend a hybrid model where a Mesh and a high power router co-exist where the high power would be serve the high data hogging devices that could sit in static (non moving devices like x-box, PS4 or the TV) short distance where as a common wide range to feed the other devices without dead spots or outdoors (like your wifi ring).

courtesy : Ashutosh Jaiswal

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