Enterprise WLAN: Time to Evict Legacy "B"

Wireless LANs are difficult enough to manage -- and by that, I mean keeping everyone connected to them happy -- when technology is up to date. The weakest element, like the obsolete 802.11b, drags down everybody. Yet some enterprises continue to court the idea that "Grandma" needs to connect her device.

Now everyone loves Grandma, but let's discuss her. According to 2017 data from Pew Research, "... although seniors consistently have lower rates of technology adoption than the general public, this group is more digitally connected than ever." Four-in-10 seniors own smartphones, more than double the number in 2013," Pew reported.

I brought Grandma into this discussion because a visit to an art show held at a massive public building played host to public Wi-Fi. The Wi-Fi failed in an area, and the troubleshooting consumed not hours of time but a couple of days of investigating -- not to mention heated discussions between technicians and hosts of the show.

The building continues to support 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac wireless networking. In explaining, the technicians said, "We have to support 'b' because someone's grandmother will go to connect and our public Wi-Fi must support her connection."

Seniors are stereotyped as not keeping in step with technology, but I feel that's erroneous. I've observed many grandmas using the latest devices, pulling the iPhone 8 Plus and iPads out of their purses, for example. While my observations aren't statistical proof, Pew Research data supports them.

So what's Grandma doing when she connects to a Wi-Fi network? Family, grandkids, pictures, video, Skype, and more are answers I've heard, and all these reasons point to why grandma needs better wireless connectivity so her experience is optimal.

The 2.4-GHz "b" space needs to be vacated; it has too much noise and faces obstacles with other technologies using it. Consider the Wi-Fi failure at that art show: To deliver the signal, an antenna was placed on top of a sound booth positioned next to a wireless access point (WAP). The antenna served translators broadcasting auction prices in other languages to offsite bidders. The noise from the antenna forced all devices to connect to another WAP, located further away. Because of the large attendance, many users couldn't connect at all until the organization turned off a WAP in a direct path with the interference. Once that WAP was turned off, and power levels increased to surrounding WAPs.

This failure was on-again, off-again because the translators only engaged in the event at certain times. The techs would show up, look at traffic, connectivity, and reports and fail to notice the antenna sitting atop the sound booths. Once they returned on a service call with the translators active, they couldn't connect their laptops and smartphones until they left the room of several thousand attendees and then immediately connected to a nearby WAP outside the meeting space.

As I wrote in the No Jitter post, "Tweak Your Wi-Fi":

  • Dynamic steering -- assists clients in selecting the 5-GHz frequency. This ensures that clients connect to the best radio based on their signal conditions, and improves client roaming from access point to AP
  • Minimum transmit rates -- this improves performance by alleviating clients connecting to APs with transmit rates under 6 Mbps. Clients that are too far from an AP slow down clients that are closer to the AP
  • Disable legacy 802.11 b, since its use can contribute to the issue above

Use of "b" will compromise WLAN performance -- and grandma isn't the reason, you are. Not until you evict "b" from your WLAN will you effectively accomplish a significant improvement in your wireless connectivity.

Learn more about mobility at Enterprise Connect 2018, March 12 to 15, in Orlando, Fla. Register now using the code NOJITTER to save an additional $200 off the Early Bird Pricing or get a free Expo Plus pass.

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