IT managers that operate significant Wi-Fi networks have come to understand this maxim – the majority of Wi-Fi issues are client problems. The percentage is up for debate – some will say 60%, some 75%, and some 80%. The end users may have old (or new) software or adapters, their laptop may be full of competing applications, or a wandering client may be sticking to the wrong access point.
Interestingly, I have seen a few types of responses to this knowledge. Some IT managers will simply accept this fate and continue to react to problems one at a time. Others will reason that they should only worry about what they can control and focus on driving down the percentage of problems that are network related. But there is a more systematic approach to Wi-Fi client issues that I would like to outline here:
You first want to make sure the network is operating properly. Not just the Wi-Fi – the entire network. The best way to discover and understand Wi-Fi client issues, naturally, is with a client. Take your phone or laptop out to the problem area, make sure you have plenty of food and water, and start testing. Or better yet, try to anticipate where the problem is going to happen and get there before someone complains. If you don’t like road trips or hate getting to problem areas after the fact, you might want to think about using an intelligent Wi-Fi sensor to do this for you.
Look at what is happening in the problem area’s airspace. Are clients connecting to the network at high data rates or are a number of clients making surprisingly low data rate connections? How much airtime is taken up with retransmissions? Low data rates and high retransmissions may indicate congestion or coverage problems. There are a number of adjustments to your Wi-Fi network that you can make to optimize the network without spending any money. Congestion could also be caused by a few old, slow clients using legacy data rates that are in the area. Find them and migrate them to modern technology. Network performance management software should be able to help with both network optimization and identification of slow clients, and will verify that any changes you make are working well.
Building upon step 2, use your performance management software to zero in on metrics by client type. Are Wi-Fi client issues pervasive or is it just a few clients? Is it Apple iPhones? Intel-based laptops? …a particular printer? …or some other unique type of wireless device? Perhaps the general device population is behaving well, but there are a few individual problems. If you know the MAC addresses of those devices, you can drill down into a variety of key performance indicators and examine how performance may have changed over time with software driver upgrades or with changes in the physical environment.
One of the best ways to combat Wi-Fi client issues is to publish the performance of the network, by service area, so end users can see that you are measuring your Wi-Fi according to service level targets and meeting them a really high percentage of the time. Your WLAN performance management software should be able to automate this for you. Your end users will appreciate that you take dependable operation seriously, and they may start to think “It must be me” when they do have problems. This could lead them to trying simple fixes like restarting their laptop or toggling Wi-Fi on and off before lodging a complaint. Or perhaps they take the time to actually call you right away with relevant information instead of waiting two weeks before saying anything.
Your Wi-Fi performance is bound to change over time due to new devices, new software and new applications. And bad-behaving network elements can turn user experiences from enjoyable to extremely frustrating in a very short period. If you have set up a metrics-driven environment, you should also be able to setup alerts so that Wi-Fi client issues are brought directly to you for quick resolution before most users feel any negative effects. It is best if your system has two levels of alerts – a yellow alert when a minor problem occurs or a performance threshold is crossed, and a red alert when something more catastrophic happens.
Following the 5 steps above will help you get a grip on Wi-Fi client issues. I have seen successful IT professionals use this systematic approach to problem solving and who also view performance management in a way that covers the entire network-client domain. This leads to the best operating environments and most satisfied clients.
For more insights into Wi-Fi issues, read our whitepaper, 10 Factors Affecting Wi-Fi Performance.