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​How WiFi Channels Make the Difference with Network Monitoring

And why you should consider them

21Dec

Wireless computer networks use radio waves to connect computing devices to each other and to the Internet making them much more useful and valuable to both consumers and businesses. Wireless network installations dodge the costly process of stringing Ethernet cables through the walls and structures of buildings.

The mobility and portability advantages promised by wireless networks come at a cost. The downside of wireless connectivity includes increased security issues and the potential for network traffic congestion brought about by radio interference from other wireless devices. Appropriately, network administrators have network monitoring tools to help them track bandwidth usage, close security holes, and solve performance problems caused by failing components and/or network connectivity issues. Network monitoring is an important part of computer network management. If you value security, it is wise to monitor your WiFi network on an ongoing basis and keep it safe from hackers and other unauthorized users.

Configuring WiFi networks is not difficult, but optimizing and securing them can present a technical challenge. In contrast to wired networks, wireless networks are vulnerable to interference from other nearby networks and from "noise" generated by radio frequency-driven electronic devices. While there are many ways of improving WiFi performance, the easiest way is to simply change your router's default WiFi channel to a less congested one.

How WiFi channels influence network speed and performance

Network routers communicate over WiFi channels in a manner similar to radio and television channels. Each WiFi channel is assigned a number that corresponds to a different radio frequency. In the U.S., channels "1" through "11" are authorized for use in developing WiFi technology. The frequency band of WiFi channels are separated in a manner that causes overlap with other channels. The primary issue with WiFi channels is that most wireless routers are configured at the factory to use the same default channel. In environments where there are many wireless routers operating, the widespread use of the default channel will create congestion.

In the U.S., there are only three channels that do not overlap. They are 1, 6 and 11. A neighboring network operating on the same channel can interfere with your network and slow you down. Getting away from channel interference represents your best option if you want to optimize the speed and performance of your network.

Sharing channel resources

When two nearby wireless routers partially share bandwidth, they are unable to fully cooperate. This overlap creates packet collisions that can result in significant data corruption for everybody. Such a state is exactly what happens when two neighboring networks are configured to use overlapping channels. When two or more routers are operating in the same airspace, their signals must be attenuated. For best results, use the same channel as your neighbor or choose a channel far enough away that you can avoid overlap altogether. Another good performance tip is to analyze the signal strength of all the surrounding WiFi networks and set your router to a channel that is far from the one used by the network showing the greatest signal strength.

Heat mapping your network environment

When you choose a WiFi channel, you're actually operating at the center of five different channels. If you configure your router to use channel 6, you will actually be operating on channels 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8. Other networks operating on any one of these channels overlaps yours. When setting up a wireless network, it is helpful to know what other networks are nearby and what channels they're using. By using a heatmap to determine WiFi bandwidth and bottlenecks, you’re able to quickly identify issues, and hopefully resolve them soon. Easy-to-use network management tools can help you acquire this information and also let you see how crowded the neighborhood is.

Because cordless phones and other wireless devices operate at the same frequency as WiFi, they can create interference with your network. For this reason, it would be helpful to you to be able to generate good information about the WiFi signal strength of your working environment. You can do this by heatmapping WiFi movement in your work space. A heat map is a detailed visual representation of your space that shows you the signal strength of your network. The map informs you where your WiFi coverage is hot, cold, and failing altogether. Heat maps can help you analyze your access points so you can know whether or not you should move them, add more of them, or otherwise fiddle with your wireless network.

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