wi-fi

By Anthony Pham

Access to free Wi-Fi is expected these days especially if your customer base is of the younger generation (millennials and Gen Z/Y). Savvy small businesses from nail salons, coffee shops, retailers to small medical offices offer complimentary Wi-Fi to increase customer satisfaction as one of the many reasons. But customers become easily frustrated and unhappy when Wi-Fi is down.

There are several factors that can significantly impact the power of your Wi-Fi signal. In addition to the router location, other wireless signal killers are everyday business items that disrupt throughput, such as water and metal.

Here are nine common issues that may be taking down your network.

1. Glass/mirrors

One may think the Wi-Fi signal passes right through glass, but that’s not the case. Tinted glass and mirrors often have metal additives that will reflect back the signal to the router or make it bounce off walls.  They cut signal strength up to 50 percent so think twice about putting your device by a window.

2. H20

Is there an aquarium at your business? Like glass, water is a massive Wi-Fi killer. The atomic theory of matter stand in the way of reliable wireless connectivity and signal strength on this one. Water’s make-up of hydrogen and oxygen has a high density so it absorbs the signal. For best results, distance your router as far as possible from any body of water.

3. Walls

If your building was constructed before 1950 (before the introduction of drywall) there’s a good chance your walls are lined with metal mesh (AKA chicken wire). Chicken wire creates a particularly powerful metal shield and hinders Wi-Fi signals. Plaster, brick and concrete walls also cause issues. Unless you want to move to a different location, there’s not a big workaround on this one. Keep the router away from thick, dense walls. A Wi-Fi range extender or access point will also help to boost/extend the signal.

4. Office furniture/electronic devices

We now know wireless signals degrade going through metal which mean file cabinets can create an unexpected problem. Businesses also experience poor connectivity if their router is placed too close to electronic devices that interfere with the signal. Electric lamps, speakers, metal furniture, cordless phones can all eat away at your Wi-Fi strength.  Even appliances such refrigerators and microwaves can muck with your signal so be sure to keep router out of the range of the kitchen. Buying a dual band router can help with this.

5. People

Remember what I said about water? The human body is 50-65 percent water so big crowds can be a barrier to Wi-Fi. If your business uses access points (in addition to a router) and project signal to a designated area of the business, mount them on the ceiling to minimize the chance of interference from people.

6. The router’s position

You can blame the laws of physics on this one. The position of your router and distance between it and a wireless adapter/devices is a more relevant factor than you might think. It’s important to space equipment throughout the business to ensure a consistent and strong signal. In other words, don’t lock your one router for the entire business in the back cabinet. The general recommendation is to place the Wi-Fi router at least 10 feet away from other devices that emit radio waves to limit the risk of interference.

7. Too many networks

If you’re in a commercial building, strip mall or just plain on a busy street, then it’s likely there are a large number of Wi-Fi networks surrounding your business. Wi-Fi networks in close proximity can interfere with each other and result in significant overlay. Beverly Hills Plastic Surgery Group (BHPSG) learned this the hard way. BHPSG is in the most prestigious medical tower in Beverly Hills however the environment is not conducive to good wireless for many reasons (e.g., a high-density building with approx. 50+ offices, lots of metal medical equipment). The staff had major communication challenges until BHPSG deployed a new 11ac Wave 2 network with MU-MIMO, a game-changing technology that improves overall performance and efficiency of a Wi-Fi network.

8. Too many devices

“Bring Your Own Device” or BYOD is a growing trend that’s challenging most workplaces. If a business allows employees to use personal devices and it has guests logging onto Wi-Fi, this could strain the network and impact operations. Most routers tap out at 20-30 devices.

Businesses often underestimate the volume and stress put on router so it’s critical the right networking equipment is in place.

9. Outdated or under-performing equipment.

You’d be surprised the number of small businesses working with outdated equipment. Old gear can’t handle the sheer number of devices that are connected to the network at the same time. A 2017 IDC Wi-Fi revealed that 50 percent of surveyed IT channel companies say their small business customers use wireless technology that is more than eight years old. Yikes!

One of the best ways to ensure a fast and reliable network is to use up-to-date equipment with the latest Wi-Fi technologies. The most important detail to remember: 802.11a/b/g/n are old wireless standards; wireless 11AC Wave 2 is the most current.

If you have trouble with your Wi-Fi, an easy fix might be a simple as upgrading your router and not relying on the one provided by your Internet provider or that you bought in the clearance bin at BestBuy.  The right router makes all the difference.

When do you go business-grade equipment? If your business is thriving and relies on Wi-Fi. If there are more people and devices being connected to your network. If your staff is involved in bandwidth-intensive activities like video conferencing/UC. If you have remote workers that log into your business network. If you need an extra level of security to protect sensitive data. These are just a few reasons on why to upgrade. A business class dual WAN VPN router will address all of the above.

For a very small business (1-3 employees) setting up Wi-Fi, as a minimum, you should invest in a high-end consumer router.  For powerful consumer gear that offers fast wireless connectivity and high performance, check out Linksys EA9500 Max-Stream™ AC5400 MU-MIMO Gigabit Wi-Fi Router, Asus RT AC5300 , and TP-Link Archer C5400.

Say Au Revoir to Slow Wi-Fi

The causes of poor Wi-Fi performance can be varied. Now that you know some of the key reasons why your Wi-Fi crawls, the good news is that all of the above can be fixed. Now you can provide Wi-Fi your customers expect.

Don’t skimp on Wi-Fi.  Your customers will notice.

There are also numerous ways it can be also monetized like creating a customized portal with more up-selling potential.  The bottom line – unless you never have guests at your business, Wi-Fi is an investment that will pay off.

Anthony Pham, Senior Product Manager, Linksys, CommercialIs your business Wi-Fi slow or work intermittently? Interference could be the reason.