WAN vs. WiFi: Which is Causing Your Slow Speeds?

All too often in modern business environments you hear users complaining about the slow internet or spotty WiFi. As many companies choose to leverage WiFi internally rather than run countless ethernet drops, it becomes hard to know if the slow speeds experienced by users are a result of the WAN not performing as expected or a LAN issue leading to limited bandwidth availability.

While increasing WAN bandwidth is very simple (if not always cheap), troubleshooting the LAN to identify where a bottleneck is occurring can be very costly from a time perspective.

We do have some good news here:

Half of this equation is easy to troubleshoot.

If you’re paying for 100Mb WAN connection and your WiFi is only allowing users 20-30Mb, then you need to figure out if your WAN is actually providing the 100Mb that you’re paying for.

Here’s how to do this:

Walk into your network closet. Find the carrier hardware, plug a laptop directly into it and perform a speed test. If you’re getting the bandwidth you are expecting, then that means the problem exists somewhere inside the LAN. If you are getting significantly less bandwidth then you are paying for, then it’s time to call your carrier and open a support ticket to figure out what’s going on.

If the issue revolves around the LAN, here are 5 common potential causes to start troubleshooting below.

LAN Problem #1: Configuration

While it’s not at all uncommon nowadays for businesses to have their users leverage WiFi to connect to the network, there was a time when everybody was plugging into an ethernet connection at their desk and the WiFi was seen as a luxury.

Keeping this in mind, it could be that your network is configured to have the WiFi at the lowest possible priority, meaning it will only get the bandwidth not being used by other applications or wired connections. This can be a significant problem if users are using WiFi to leverage business-critical applications on their computers or mobile devices.

While WiFi may not be the most important thing to prioritize on the network (latency sensitive applications like VoIP or video will almost always demand top placement), it’s important that an appropriate level of attention is given to your WiFi based on the applications and users that will be going across it.

Another possible problem to look for here is to make sure you aren’t directly limiting the amount of bandwidth available for your WiFi solution. If you are, it needs to be enough for the users and applications that are expected to use WiFi over other connection types.

LAN Problem #2: Router/Access Point Location

Depending on the size of your office and branches, it may take multiple devices to get reliable WiFi throughout your workspace. Making sure you have good coverage and have placed all relevant devices intelligently can be the difference between a reliable WiFi solution and a support nightmare.

If you have a small office space where a single router can support all of your WiFi users, then you will still need to make sure the router is centrally located so as not to alienate users on the far side of the office. It’s also important to keep in mind that certain physical barriers can create disruptions in service such as concrete walls or dense clusters of devices leveraging wireless technology other than WiFi.

Similarly, if you have a large office space you will need to make sure that wireless access points are well distributed throughout the building. These can create their own challenges (which we will discuss below), but they are a necessity for larger work environments where users are heavily using WiFi to drive productivity and profits.

LAN Problem #3: Antennas and Access Points

When WiFi strength is low in certain areas, you have several options. You can start by increasing the number and/or quality of access points and antennas. In a small office space where access points aren’t needed, it may be possible to invest in stronger WiFi antennas for your router and place them where they will best cover your users. A variety of antenna options are available and with a little research you can identify the right solution for your space.

If you are forced to put your router in a non-central area, then you may have to look at a directional antenna option allowing you to focus the WiFi in the direction of your users. If your router is central and you just need to increase the reach and reliability, then omni-directional antennas are most likely the right fit for you.

When it comes to access points, it’s a wild world full of options. There are many things to consider ranging from the amount of bandwidth they will be supporting, to the number of roaming users that are common to your business.

If users are often mobile throughout the office, then finding a meshed WiFi network will be important so they aren’t constantly disconnecting from one access point to another as this results in short periods of downtime and application sessions ending and having to restart. This will make for a more seamless user experience and prevent frustrated users.

LAN Problem #4: Frequency Congestion

Something far too often ignored is how congested lower-end frequencies are becoming thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT) technology. Many companies still use the 2.4 ghz wireless range for their WiFi, which can be very challenging as many other technologies are crowding that space. Bluetooth, wireless phones, baby monitors, wireless microphones, car alarms and countless other devices are using this frequency range, which can be detrimental to your users’ experience should your WiFi be operating here as well.

When possible, leverage the less used 5 ghz range in order to try and alleviate issues caused by an overused range of frequencies due to the IoT boom.
It’s important to note that some hardware manufacturers have ignored the need to support 5 ghz in order to save money, so it will probably be important to have both 2.4 ghz and 5 ghz networks active in order to accomodate all devices. Ideally, your users’ laptops and desktops will all have wireless cards capable of using the 5 ghz option.

LAN Problem #5: Shadow IT

Frequently users will try to take matters into their own hands and create larger problems than the ones they are trying to solve. Adding small unmanaged switches to offices to support additional devices or bringing in consumer grade “range extenders” where access points should be installed can not only create security risks, but can also lead to degradation in the speeds available to users.

These well-meaning employees can make the exact problem they are trying to fix exponentially worse. As the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

How to monitor your WiFi

Many tools are available to help monitor WiFi networks and optimize their performance. These tools can assist in the process of setting up your network, placement of access points, and ongoing monitoring to make sure the WiFi is providing the full bandwidth available to your users.

For the implementation phase, there are tools to help create “heat-maps” of your offices showing where there are currently gaps in WiFi availability. By using these maps, additional access points can be deployed—or existing ones can be moved in order to eliminate areas without services and strengthen those areas with a weak signal.

When it comes to ongoing monitoring, there are tools with end points both on a server connected directly to the router in the network closet as well as instances on company desktops that measure bandwidth at both points. By performing speed tests at both ends the tool can quickly identify when the WiFi network isn’t delivering all available bandwidth to end-users. Many of these tools also have built-in troubleshooting processes that can help isolate the cause of the problem for a speedy resolution.

The Takeaway

While it’s not uncommon for users to complain whether there’s a problem or not, when it comes to WAN performance it is important to make sure they have enough bandwidth to perform their daily tasks and keep your business making money.

The first instinct of the average employee is to blame the “slow internet.” However, many times the problem is a bit more complicated. If you’re lucky, the WAN will be the problem and all you have to do to make them happy is upgrade. EnableIP can help with that! EnableIP is a SD-WAN service provider and can help your business with all of your connectivity needs.

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About EnableIP

EnableIP is a managed network solutions provider founded by Wired Networks’ founder Jeremy Kerth and head engineer Steve Roos after they realized there was a deep market need for helping mid-size businesses establish better uptime rates for their Wide Area Networks (WANs). Armed with the best-in-class carriers and partners, Jeremy and Steve set out with a bold plan: Guarantee better uptime rates than the industry standard of only 99.5%.

Their bold plan became a reality. EnableIP’s solutions guarantee clients 99.99% (even 99.999%) network uptime. But we don’t stop there. Many telecom providers promise high availability network solutions but fail to deliver because they’re in the business of providing services, not solutions.

That’s the EnableIP difference: We deliver highly available networks by providing a complete system (called “Cloud Assurance”) that ensures 99.99% or above uptime.

We deliver this bold promise by:

  • Owning the entire customer experience. From pricing, contracting, ordering and provisioning to installing, servicing and billing—we do it all! This means no stressful negotiations, confusing setups, or finger pointing if something goes wrong. We actually deliver on our promise.
  • We manage the entire system, and monitor and manage issues as they occur so you can focus on your business—not your network.
The EnableIP solution is like no other. Contact us to get started and experience the difference of a system that truly delivers on its 99.99% network uptime promise.