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4 Wi-Fi Tips from Former Apple Wi-Fi Engineer

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Hubrisnxs
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Registered: ‎07-22-2009

4 Wi-Fi Tips from Former Apple Wi-Fi Engineer

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Hi,  I thought this was a real neat little article from Alf Watt, former Apple Wi-Fi engineer and creator of the fantastic Wi-Fi utility, iStumbler,  Thought I would share.

 

 

 

Alf Watt, former Apple Wi-Fi engineer and creator of the fantastic Wi-Fi utility, iStumbler, joined us on this week's Mac Geek Gab 509 to talk all things Wi-Fi. The episode contains a bunch of juicy Wi-Fi tips and I highly recommend you give it a listen, but for now our four favorite tips are listed below. Think of this as the MGG 509 Cliff's Notes... and make sure you read, erm, listen to the whole thing, too. On to the tips:

1. Use same SSID for all radios on the same network (be they 2.4GHz or 5GHz). If you have one network in your home but have either multiple routers/access points for better coverage or multiple radios in one access point, the advice is the same: use the same SSID (wireless network name) for all of them and let the client devices each decide which is best to use.


Apple devices choose networks by your preferred order. Period. If you have multiple networks of different names your Mac or iPhone will always choose the first in your iCloud-synced "Preferred Networks" list even if this one isn't going to give you the best bandwidth. If you have the network name/SSID the same then it will chose the radio that it predicts will give the best throughput (which isn't always the one with the best signal, but that's an even geekier discussion you can hear in the show). Make all the Wi-Fi networks in your home the same. Your life will be better for it.

2. Deal with congestion with more access points using less power. In response to a listener's query about how best to deal with having lots of access points in a small location, say an apartment building, the best thing to do is to actually increase the number of access points but lower the transmit power on each so as to keep them from interfering with each other. It's good if your neighbors do this, too, of course, but it will help even if it's just you. We recommend using Powerline adapters to connect all of your access points together to avoid the headaches of just extending Wi-Fi.


Another helpful option is to use 5Ghz channels where possible. The higher frequency band doesn't go through walls as well and may be exactly what the Wi-Fi doctor ordered in highly-congested areas (and when we get 60Ghz Wi-Fi, that'll be even more helpful!)

 

 

 

Next: When to use Wide channels and Antenna Orientation.

3. Don't use "Wide" 40MHz channels on 2.4GHz. Some routers (not Apple's) will allow you to use "Wide" channels on the 2.4GHz band. The problem is this band is so congested that you'll likely just wind up making things worse instead of better. Bluetooth lives here, too, and will appreciate the breathing room. Plus, Apple made the decision years ago to not support these wide channels at 2.4GHz, so even if your router allows you to enable it your iPhone and MacBook won't use it.


On your 5GHz radios 40MHz channels are perfectly acceptable (again, your Apple router takes care of this for you). And with 802.11ac (5GHz only) you may wind up using 80MHz or even 160MHz channels. Just remember that current 5GHz implementations only have enough room for TWO (yes, 2) 160MHz channels, so choose wisely. The good news is that current 802.11ac routers use "cognitive radio" technology. This means they listen before they talk and that will ratchet down from 80MHz (or 160MHz) to something lower if they see another router communicating in the same band. Smart.

4. Be smart about antenna orientation. If your router has internal antennas (as most new models do), make sure to use them in their natural orientation. Put simply: if the router has feet, use them as feet (as opposed to laying it on its side). Some routers have feet on two sides and give you placement options, so feel free to capitalize upon this flexibility.

For routers with those adjustable, "rubber ducky" antennas, Alf recommends pointing one straight up and one flat out. This is because radio reception is maximized when both client and access point have matched polarization (antennas pointing along the same plane).

Some client devices have antennas in vertical orientation, some horizontal. The current crop of MacBooks, for example, have their antennas in the black plastic part of the hinge in a horizontal orientation.

Those tips should get you started. Give Mac Geek Gab 509 a listen to learn more about beamforming, the future of Wi-Fi, how your router decides what country it's in (and what channels it can use!), the future of iStumbler (and other products from Alf) ... and more!

 

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Smith6612
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Re: 4 Wi-Fi Tips from Former Apple Wi-Fi Engineer

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@CaptainSTX wrote:

I would second not using the same SSID for all access points in a home.

 

While Apple hardware maybe good at connecting to the strongest signal most devices are not and will connect to the last AP connected to as long as the device is receiving any signal.   Connecting to a weak signal means slow connect speeds as more retransmissions are needed.


To be honest, I beg to differ. Most of the time using the same SSID, for as long the networks are the same, devices will hand off to another access point when a specific ratio between the stronger and weaker access point is reached. This occurs whether or not a network supports 802.11k and 802.11r, although supporting these protocols means you're going to have virtually seamless handoff between two APs. Enterprise networks operate in this fashion where the same SSID is used across all access points (or specific grouped APs) to allow seamless connectivity across a building or campus.

 

More important for mobile devices, using the same SSID across APs will cause the phone to connect to the nearest AP should the radio go to sleep to save battery, even if the phone did not initially roam to the nearer AP.

 

What you shouldn't do, is use repeaters or operate two APs in close proximity on the same channel.

 

The hardware I have found which has the most trouble with roaming from AP to AP with the same SSID happens to be Apple hardware. Their tablets and phones tend to be just fine, but the problem I find seems to be a broken or faulty handoff procedure with the Macs, especially in OS X Mtn. Lion and OS X Mavericks. In many cases, while a ThinkPad (Windows 7) with an Intel Wireless chipset set to the default roaming agressiveness can handoff betwen 5Ghz APs with no issue and maintain awesome throughput, a Mac going through the same tests with a high end Broadcom chipset (What Apple uses) will completely drop it's connection, associate with the new AP, and then carry on. This causes many headaches for Mac users I have to support, and there's not much I can do for them at the moment about that. It seems to be a problem with the built-in Broadcom driver being used.

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eljefe
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Re: 4 Wi-Fi Tips from Former Apple Wi-Fi Engineer

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Interesting info Hubrisnxs.  However, although I wouldn't claim to be as knowledgeable as Alf Watt, I've been fooling around with radio transmitters and receivers for decades, and wifi since it became available.  I have some extensive hands on experience.

 

A suggestion that I've tried, and doesn't work for me, is having the two Wi-Fi access points in our house on the same SSID.  Devices like my iPhone and iPad don't switch to the strongest or fastest signal and with both WAPs using the same SSID I can't tell which access point I'm conntected to.  And with a laptop (Windows), I also can't tell which WAP I'm using.

 

I've found it works better for me to have different SSIDs, and if I see I'm getting fewer Wi-Fi bars than I think I should, I can pop to options, see which WAP I'm connected to, and easily change it if the other signal is stronger.

 

 

 

 

CaptainSTX
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Re: 4 Wi-Fi Tips from Former Apple Wi-Fi Engineer

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I would second not using the same SSID for all access points in a home.

 

While Apple hardware maybe good at connecting to the strongest signal most devices are not and will connect to the last AP connected to as long as the device is receiving any signal.   Connecting to a weak signal means slow connect speeds as more retransmissions are needed.

Smith6612
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Re: 4 Wi-Fi Tips from Former Apple Wi-Fi Engineer

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@CaptainSTX wrote:

I would second not using the same SSID for all access points in a home.

 

While Apple hardware maybe good at connecting to the strongest signal most devices are not and will connect to the last AP connected to as long as the device is receiving any signal.   Connecting to a weak signal means slow connect speeds as more retransmissions are needed.


To be honest, I beg to differ. Most of the time using the same SSID, for as long the networks are the same, devices will hand off to another access point when a specific ratio between the stronger and weaker access point is reached. This occurs whether or not a network supports 802.11k and 802.11r, although supporting these protocols means you're going to have virtually seamless handoff between two APs. Enterprise networks operate in this fashion where the same SSID is used across all access points (or specific grouped APs) to allow seamless connectivity across a building or campus.

 

More important for mobile devices, using the same SSID across APs will cause the phone to connect to the nearest AP should the radio go to sleep to save battery, even if the phone did not initially roam to the nearer AP.

 

What you shouldn't do, is use repeaters or operate two APs in close proximity on the same channel.

 

The hardware I have found which has the most trouble with roaming from AP to AP with the same SSID happens to be Apple hardware. Their tablets and phones tend to be just fine, but the problem I find seems to be a broken or faulty handoff procedure with the Macs, especially in OS X Mtn. Lion and OS X Mavericks. In many cases, while a ThinkPad (Windows 7) with an Intel Wireless chipset set to the default roaming agressiveness can handoff betwen 5Ghz APs with no issue and maintain awesome throughput, a Mac going through the same tests with a high end Broadcom chipset (What Apple uses) will completely drop it's connection, associate with the new AP, and then carry on. This causes many headaches for Mac users I have to support, and there's not much I can do for them at the moment about that. It seems to be a problem with the built-in Broadcom driver being used.

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eljefe
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Registered: ‎12-14-2009

Re: 4 Wi-Fi Tips from Former Apple Wi-Fi Engineer

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Well, I accept your level of expertise far exceeds mine, Smith6612, but the fact remains that different SSIDs works for me. My wife's MacBook Pro, running Mavericks, is a perfect example of why.

 

If she moves her MacBook from one end of the house to the other and finds the WiFi signal weak, she can easily manually select the other SSID.   If both WAPs were on the same SSID, how would she (or I) know which network to choose?

 

I can see it might be different in a commercial setting with lots of users, some more technically competent than others.  But here, in our house, separate SSIDs on separate channels seems to work for us.

Smith6612
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Re: 4 Wi-Fi Tips from Former Apple Wi-Fi Engineer

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@eljefe wrote:

Well, I accept your level of expertise far exceeds mine, Smith6612, but the fact remains that different SSIDs works for me. My wife's MacBook Pro, running Mavericks, is a perfect example of why.

 

If she moves her MacBook from one end of the house to the other and finds the WiFi signal weak, she can easily manually select the other SSID.   If both WAPs were on the same SSID, how would she (or I) know which network to choose?

 

I can see it might be different in a commercial setting with lots of users, some more technically competent than others.  But here, in our house, separate SSIDs on separate channels seems to work for us.


The point of having the same SSID across two APs is to allow devices to roam between them without you having to decide when to change APs. Of course you can always force a computer or another device to connect to the more distant AP. But, whatever works is what works 🙂

CaptainSTX
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Re: 4 Wi-Fi Tips from Former Apple Wi-Fi Engineer

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Roaming isn't part of the WiFi specification.

 

While some clients may look for the strongest signal most just look to see if they can connect to the last AP they were connected to.

 

Some SOHO APs will allow you to set them to reject a connection  weaker than -70db.

 

To get efficient roaming between APs you need commercial AP controllers which monitor the entire network of APs to see which one offers the strongest signal and has the smallest load.

 

To the best of my knowledge there are no SOHO router/APs that talk to each other which is necessary for effective and seamless roaming.   Apple hardware is supposedly better than other brands, but I have never used it.

 

Most people are better off setting up individual SSIDs for each radio that identifies the location (Upstairs 5,  Upstairs 2.4, etc.) so a user can make an intelligent choice of which to connect to.   If speed doesn't matter such as when checking and downloading e-mail then any SSID/radio will do.   If you want to stream video than the nearest and probably the strongest 5 Ghz AP is what they should connect to.

 

Changing the names of SSIDs is trivial so if people want to try using all radios with the same SSID they should go for it.  If they aren't happy with the results then go to plan B and rename.

 

eljefe
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Re: 4 Wi-Fi Tips from Former Apple Wi-Fi Engineer

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@CaptainSTX wrote:

 

Changing the names of SSIDs is trivial so if people want to try using all radios with the same SSID they should go for it.  If they aren't happy with the results then go to plan B and rename.

 


That's the bottom line.  Use whichever configuration works best for you.  Smiley Wink

Hubrisnxs
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Re: 4 Wi-Fi Tips from Former Apple Wi-Fi Engineer

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I personally think the most valuable part of this is the Antenna placement. 

 

I always put them in a V formation and apparently it should be perpendicular   |_

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