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Wi-Fi by the numbers

We work in an industry with a lot of acronyms and a lot of numbers. One of the worst offenders for this is the world of Wi-Fi, where such things as OFDMA (Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access) are casually thrown around when talking about 802.11AX (or Wi-Fi 6 as it’s also known as). This latter naming convention is relatively recent and actually makes a lot of sense. We’ve had A/B/G/N/AC and now AX being the 6th iteration. However, when it comes to managing a wireless network, some numbers are more important than others.

When designing for a new wireless network, one of the most important numbers to factor in is the numbers of clients that you are supporting. When we say clients, we mean devices - laptops, tablets, phones or anything else connecting to the network, such as an IOT sensor or a handheld scanner.

Whilst your organisation may only have 100 employees, the network will need to support a much larger number of clients. How do you put a number on that? If all your devices are company-issued it shouldn’t be too difficult, but people will be people and BYOD is more the norm than the exception. What if you need to provide guest Wi-Fi? Then things start to get even more complicated.

Let’s assume you can quantify the number of clients you need to support; the next question can be a lot harder to answer. What are the capabilities of these devices?

If I take a look at my desk, I have a company-issued laptop, my personal iPad and my iPhone. Let’s see whether I can get some details on my iPhone. I check the datasheet on Apple’s website, and I can see “802.11ac Wi Fi with MIMO”. It’s not a lot to go on, so what detail am I specifically looking for?

I want to know the number of transmit and receive radio chains. Why? Because in Wi-Fi sometimes it’s a case of the more streams the better. Devices that have a single antenna and radio are known as 1x1 MIMO devices and will only be able to communicate via a single stream of transmit or receive with an access point. 2x2 MIMO devices with dual antennas and radios will be able to communicate via two streams of transmit and receive, a 3x3 MIMO device with 3 antennas and radios is capable of transmitting and receiving via three streams.

More steams provide the device with more bandwidth capacity when downloading and uploading data to and from the wireless network. The more bandwidth, the better the performance for everyone overall who is connected to the same access point. Someone with a 3 stream MIMO device will get their data quicker and will allow others waiting in line to get their data sooner than the 1 stream MIMO device.

If you’re looking after hundreds of clients, where can you go to get this information? And why does it matter what the breakdown of devices and capabilities are? For Extreme Networks XIQ customers, the answer is simple.

wifi1

One of the tools included in Extremes XIQ solution is called client 360. As the name implies, it provides a 360-degree view of each client. If required, I can see the client capabilities of my devices from my laptop, iPad or smartphone. Looking at each one individually may be okay for my home network, or for troubleshooting, but would take too long for an enterprise network.

wifi2

And there we go. Of all the devices on my network I can see how many are 1x1 and how many are 2x2. This is a typical result for most organisations as, whilst there are some high-end devices with 3x3 chipsets, they are the minority. You can take a look at this on a larger scale (millions of devices) in the cloud view section in XIQ.

In the next blog in this series – the maths behind Wi-Fi - we will take a look at what these numbers mean in a real-world environment.

Topics: Networking New Way to Work