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Wireless Basics

Problem Identification

Now that we've covered some Wi-Fi basics, it's time to start figuring out the cause of your wireless LAN's problems. This can be more difficult than you might expect, since wireless problem symptoms can often have multiple causes.

Table 1 presents the most common problem symptoms encountered and their possible causes. Note that some of the possible causes are common to multiple symptoms!

Symptom Possible Causes
WLAN doesn't cover expected / required area - Low signal
- Too many obstacles
- AP placement
Can't connect to AP, even at close range - STA configuration
- AP configuration
Low and/or inconsistent throughput (actual operating speed) - RF interference
- Neighboring WLANs
- Low signal
Computer intermittently connects with another network - Neighboring WLANs
- STA configuration
- Low signal
AP intermittently disappears or disconnects - RF interference
- Neighboring WLANs
- Low signal
Constantly changing link rate (i.e. "connection" speed reported by STA) - RF interference
- Neighboring WLANs
- Low signal
Link rate never reaches advertised maximum - STA configuration
- AP configuration
- Incompatible AP & STA
Table 1: WLAN Problem Symptoms and Causes

Because of the multiple possible causes, getting to the cause of your problem may require multiple passes and careful experimentation. While you might be tempted to short-cut this process and just try to throw money at the problem by purchasing the latest wireless wonder being hyped by WLAN product manufacturers...don't!

Although it's possible that a new wireless thingy will solve your problem, keep in mind that the manufacturers are mainly focused on profits and market share. And the consumer WLAN industry has never been shy about introducing new technology that, at least in the early going, can cause as many problems as it solves.


To sum up the key points so far:

  • Always use the non-overlapping 2.4 GHz channels: 1, 6, or 11.
  • Think like radio waves (or light bulbs and lamps!) when troubleshooting your wireless network.
  • Cordless phones, microwaves, and other 2.4 GHz devices can cause interference.
  • Determine the underlying problem before trying to fix your network.

In Part 2, I'll show you how to use equipment that you already have to perform a simple Site Survey.

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