The majority of businesses – particularly smaller ones – would probably admit to wanting to improve their office WiFi. Whether it’s speed, reliability, coverage or security, there are always tricks and tweaks to boost performance. The biggest headache often lies in knowing where to start, especially if technology isn’t your thing.
Think of this article as your troubleshooting checklist. Tick each one off to help you on your way to better office WiFi.
Improve slow, unreliable office WiFi with these troubleshooting tips
1. Check that the source of the problem is actually the WiFi
If you haven’t already, you need to confirm that your internet problems are down to the WiFi, not your broadband connection.
WiFi or broadband – what’s the difference?
WiFi and broadband are different ways to connect to the internet. The three elements – WiFi, broadband and internet – are related, but not the same. It’s a common confusion, but once you’ve got your head around it, it can make a lot of problems make a whole lot more sense.
A simple analogy is to think of the internet as water, broadband as a hosepipe and WiFi as a sprinkler. To water your whole garden, you need the sprinkler to be connected to the hosepipe, which in turn needs to be hooked up to your mains water supply. Similarly, your WiFi needs a good connection to your broadband, which is in turn connected to the internet.
There are, of course, a number of problems that can occur:
- When the tap’s turned off there’s no water flowing. (Interruptions in broadband supply means no internet.)
- If you have a leaky hose the water won’t flow at full pressure. (Problems with your physical broadband line will lead to a slow, unreliable internet connection.)
- If the dog is sitting on your sprinkler, it won’t be able to spread the water effectively. (Any interference with the source of your WiFi will result in poor signal distribution.)
To find out why your plants aren’t being watered properly you need to work out if it’s your hosepipe that’s at fault, or the sprinkler (or possibly both).
How to speed test your connection
Here’s a quick article that covers how to test internet speed – both wired and wireless. Run these straightforward tests to check the cause of your poor connection.
2. Make sure you have enough bandwidth to cope with demand
This applies both to the broadband connection coming into your office building as well as your internal wireless network.
Getting the right broadband service
Firstly, your broadband connection speed should reflect the demands you’re placing on it. For example, a basic 10mbps connection may be fine if you’re a small office with only a couple of staff doing basic online tasks (email, web browsing, small file downloads). In contrast, a larger office with 20 support staff taking customer calls using IP telephony will need something considerably faster.
Your internet provider should be able to give you a good idea of what you need, based on your user profile and size.
And don’t forget that your use may fluctuate. Perhaps you have a regular company meeting when everyone’s in the office. Or conference facilities where you may have large numbers of visiting guests. Your bandwidth needs to cope with the peaks in demand these situations inevitably bring.
Ensuring your WiFi can keep up with your broadband speed
Once you’ve established you have the right connection speed coming into your office, you need to make sure it’s distributed effectively. This is where your WiFi comes in. Most offices are likely to have at least some wired infrastructure too.
As a general rule, wired networking is the ideal way to get your full connection speed to static devices (e.g. desktops, printers, TVs) with the greatest reliability. WiFi should be used primarily for mobile devices. If you’re having issues trying to connect static devices via the WiFi, it may make sense to invest in some infrastructure to allow it to be hard wired to your network.
Something else to bear in mind, especially with wireless printers, is that they may be based on older, less secure WiFi technology. The headline price on these devices can be attractive, but there may be a hidden pay-off in terms of security. Hard-wiring your printer will avoid it becoming a potential weak point in your network infrastructure.
With the wireless element of your office network you need to ensure the equipment you’re using is physically able to deliver your full connection speed. Not all can, so don’t assume it will.
There are a number of factors at play to consider. These include the technical capabilities of the equipment and aspects of your office environment. Specifics of what to look out for are covered in more detail in the next few points.
3. Be aware of physical interference factors in your office design & decor
WiFi consists of radio waves which will always struggle to penetrate certain materials. In order to improve the WiFi in your office, you therefore need to understand how your physical environment may be affecting it.
Sources of signal interference
These could be visible:
- Filing cabinets and other office furniture, particularly if they are metal
- Mirrors reflect WiFi signals, effectively bouncing them back where they came from
- Tinted glass contains metal additives that can seriously impede your WiFi
They could also be hidden:
- Celotex foam insulation has a metal covering that will block WiFi
- RSJs and other metal building materials, including concrete reinforcing rebar
- Pipework for water/plumbing/heating
If any of these are between the source of your office WiFi signal and the device you’re trying to connect, you’re likely to have problems.
In some instances there will be a fairly simple workaround to improve WiFi interference issues in your office.
For example, if you rely on your router for your office WiFi signal, make sure it’s is in a central position. This gives it the best chance of sending the clearest signal to the greatest number of users.
The tendency is to hide it away in a cupboard or store room where it’s out of sight and probably bundled in with other office tech. This is often the worst place to put it. Not only do the cupboard walls block the signal, but nearby technology can cause additional interference.
You can try positioning it high up, or even on the ceiling, for better coverage. Many businesses place their routers close to the floor to keep them out of sight. The problem here is that it puts more barriers, such as furniture or people in the room, in the way of the WiFi signal.
The router can transmit a stronger signal without having to go through as many obstacles if it’s in an elevated position.
4. Check for sources of atmospheric interference
As well as physical barriers, office WiFi is also susceptible to interference from invisible sources disrupting its radio waves.
Multiple WiFi networks
Some office environments, particularly those without IT staff, may have a cobbled together WiFi system. This often involves multiple routers, boosters or extenders all running on the same channels with different passwords to increase coverage. In addition, they may also be competing with WiFi signals from adjacent businesses.
The trouble with this is that WiFi networks in close proximity can interfere with each other. (Plus you have the added pain of logging on and off multiple different networks.)
Make sure you have your office WiFi set up as one seamless network to improve reliability and limit interference. Not all WiFi networks offer this functionality, so if you’re unsure it’s best to get some specialist help.
Routers and other WiFi broadcast devices can transmit signals across a number of different channels. If they are all trying to use the same channel this causes congestion.
It’s a common problem, particularly for densely populated areas where WiFi signals in close proximity all compete with each other for bandwidth.
Some modern routers may scan for the most open channel as part of the set up process. However, most will default to channel 6 or 11 and many people stick to the default settings. They will keep on using the same channel, even if it later becomes crowded with other routers and WiFi broadcasting devices.
The end result is rather like having a conversation in an increasingly crowded room. The more people talking, the more difficult it is to be heard over the background ‘noise’.
In order to resolve this, you need to access your router settings using the logon credentials provided by your ISP. You can then change the settings on your router to use a less congested channel. This can be a case of trial an error to find the right channel as your router probably won’t display this information.
In order to take a more scientific approach you need the correct analysis tools and probably some specialist help. Even then, there’s no guarantee that this will be a magic solution as the quality of the router hardware is likely to be a limiting factor.
Kitchen & other large appliances
Large appliances can put a big dent in your WiFi strength. Fridges, vending machines, and especially microwaves, generate interference. It’s therefore best to keep your WiFi equipment out of the range of the kitchen if possible.
In some circumstances this might not be possible. You may, for example, need WiFi in the kitchen area as it doubles as the staff room. In which case you’d probably need to install a WiFi source specifically for this area to get around the interference problem. See point 6 below for more information on hardware positioning.
5. Look at the technical specs of your office WiFi equipment
Even if you’re not particularly tech savvy, there’s some basics you can check to make sure your WiFi hardware is up to the job.
Consumer vs business WiFi hardware
A tendency, especially among smaller businesses, is to use equipment provided by their ISP, or cheap consumer routers, and then run into performance issues. It’s all too easy to blame the hardware, where in fact what they have may simply not be fit for purpose. Just because it works at home, doesn’t mean it will be suitable for your office needs. And, as with most things in life, cheap is not always best.
A high-end consumer router is probably the minimum you would want when setting up WiFi for a small office (up to 5 employees).
When adding more employees and increasing demand, it’s best to use business orientated equipment. The headache of having the network go down during the board meeting probably isn’t worth the little you save with low-end hardware.
Bear in mind you may need more than just a router if your office WiFi is struggling to cope. Adding business grade wireless access points into your network will help you get connected everywhere – even hard to reach areas.
This article goes into detail about why we use Ubiquiti WiFi hardware for our WiFi installations.
Wireless technology standards
The latest established WiFi technology is the 802.11ac Wave 2 standard, which allows for multiple inputs and outputs leading to a much better overall performance. Many newer devices already support this standard, so a new router will help you take better advantage of their capabilities.
802.11ax – or WiFi6 – is the very latest standard launched in 2019. It is relatively new however, so the range of devices that support it is still limited. This will, of course, change over time as the new standard becomes the norm.
It’s important to remember that having the latest technology to transmit your office WiFi signal won’t necessarily improve connectivity across the board. If your internet capable devices are based on older tech, they won’t benefit in the same way as newer devices will.
Having said this, it is still worth ensuring your router, access points and other WiFi broadcasting devices are running on at least 802.11ac technology. That way it is ready to handle new technology as you upgrade your office WiFi devices.
Why number of antennas matters
Any device that broadcasts a WiFi signal will have multiple antennas to transmit and receive data. Sometimes these are visible, but for better aesthetics and protection they are often hidden inside the device.
As a rule of thumb, the more aerials a WiFi device contains, the better the performance.
Old devices may only have one transmit and one receive antenna – a 1×1 SISO (single input/single output) configuration. As a result, they are only capable of transmitting and receiving over one radio channel. More recent hardware will probably have two of each – or a 2×2 MIMO (multiple input/multiple output) configuration. Newer devices are more likely to have 3×3 or even 4×4 MIMO at the higher end.
The greater the number of antennas, the more spacial streams a device can communicate over, resulting in faster speeds and a more reliable signal. For example:
- 802.11n devices with 1×1 SISO have a maximum data transfer rate of 150Mbps per spacial stream resulting in a max speed of 150Mbps
- A similar device with 3×3 MIMO increases this to 450Mbps
- A further step up is a 802.11ac device with a max data transfer rate of 433Mbps per spacial stream on the 5GHz band, giving a max speed of 1.3Gbps
One caveat is that any devices you connect to your WiFi (laptops, phones, tablets, etc.) also have transmit and receive antennas. The number of spatial streams they are able to use will always be limited by the device with the lowest number of supported signals. In other words, if your WiFi router or access point supports 3×3 and your phone only supports 2×2, your phone won’t be able to take full advantage of a 3×3 MIMO configuration.
Dual band vs single band
It’s also a good idea to check that your router and other WiFi hardware is dual band. This means it’s able to broadcast on both the 2.4gHz and 5gHz channels.
Older devices tend to be limited to 2.4gHz which is relatively more congested with traffic competing for bandwidth. The 5gHz channel operates at a shorter range, but tends to suffer less congestion.
Using VoIP? Don’t forget to enable Quality of Service
If you use VoIP telephones in your office you will ideally need Quality of Service – often abbreviated to QoS – enabled on your router.
QoS permanently reserves a portion of your broadband connection speed solely for VoIP. This helps ensure the VoIP connection is not degraded when your bandwidth is being used heavily by other connected devices. For example, by someone uploading a large video file to your YouTube channel. This effective ring fencing of bandwidth helps prevent calls sounding hollow or stuttering.
Be aware that not all routers will have this functionality – particularly at the cheaper end of the spectrum.
6. Check the position of your WiFi hardware
Points 3 and 4 above should help you establish where interference factors may impede your office WiFi.
There will be some things you can remedy fairly easily. For instance, you may be able to just move your filing cabinets to an area where they are less disruptive to your office WiFi signal. Or you could get rid of that mirror in reception.
On the other hand there will obviously be things you can’t (or would prefer not to) change. In which case you need to make sure your WiFi hardware is positioned in such a way as to get around the interference issues.
Positioning your office WiFi hardware for the best signal coverage
If you’re relying on a single WiFi router, you might want to reposition it, as mentioned previously.
If this doesn’t resolve your problem WiFi, it’s likely you will need to consider installing wireless access points into a wired network. This involves running ethernet cable to where you want strong WiFi and plugging in a dedicated device to broadcast a signal to that area. This is a great way to get to those hard to reach areas which would normally be blackspots when relying on only one single source for your office WiFi.
It’s all about being aware of the limitations of a wireless network and realistic with your expectations. If you have a good understanding of interference factors you can find ways to position your network hardware to significantly improve your office WiFi signal.
7. Make sure you have strong access controls to your office WiFi network
If you’re already struggling with your office WiFi, the last thing you need are unwanted squatters sucking up your bandwidth.
The overwhelming probability is that your office WiFi is password protected (if not, you need to fix that PDQ).
Make sure you have a strong password. Use an automated password generator for a belt and braces approach. Your staff will probably complain about having to enter it into all their devices, but the temporary inconvenience is worth it to keep your data safe.
As a business, it’s also a good idea to have a schedule in place to change your password. Remember that anyone who had access to your network will still have access as long as the password they used to log on remains current. This could include past employees, temporary visitors and anyone else who may have been granted access to your WiFi since you last secured it.
And in the same vein, it’s a good idea to have a separate guest login for one-off or infrequent visitors. This helps keep their online activity entirely separate from your office network. It also has the additional benefit that you’re able to limit the bandwidth they can use. This is useful to avoid accidental disruption to your operations if, for example, they decide to stream an HD video or download a particularly large file.
- You need to establish the root cause(s) of your office WiFi problems before trying to implement measures to improve things
- Bear in mind there could be multiple issues at play, so it’s worth investigating all of the potential contributory factors covered above
- Make sure any solutions you deploy are as secure and future proof as possible – get expert help if you’re in any doubt
Looking to improve your office WiFi in the Bristol and Bath area?
Contact us today for friendly advice from your local WiFi installation specialist.