Demands on business networks have dramatically increased, both due to an increase in devices and an increase in data-driven applications. Part of the job in meeting this demand is to ask, how fast does your business Wi-Fi need to be?
A push for flexibility and move away from fixed infrastructure has meant an increase in wireless devices. Meeting this demand has proved more challenging than with wired networks, with complaints about wireless speeds and reliability commonly reported by users. Dealing with the issue and getting the right wireless speed comes down to getting the two main components of a wireless network right: enough bandwidth and a smart use of that bandwidth.
All wireless networks used shared bandwidth. That means that all devices have to share the total data throughput between them. So, with one device on a 600Mbit/sec network, you get a really fast connection; run 12 devices at once and each gets an average of 50Mbit/sec.
The aim of a wireless network, then, is to maximise speed for each client and increase the bandwidth available.
How fast do you need?
Key to understanding network speeds is understanding the standards. Wireless routers are sold with a rating for the 802.11ac standard, such as AC2200. The number after the AC gives you the overall speed in Gbit/sec that a router supports, so the higher the rating, the faster the overall router.
Yet, that isn’t the whole picture. The AC rating is a total that combines all available networks. So, an AC2200 router can provide a 450Mbit/sec 2.4GHz network and a 1,733Mbit/sec 5GHz network. While AC2300 devices are faster overall, the split is different: 600MBit/sec 2.4GHz networking and a slower 1,625Mbit/sec 5GHz network. An AC2600 router, such as the ASUS BRT-AC8282, gives you the fastest dual-band speeds, with one 800Mbit/s 2.4GHz network and one 1,733Mbit/s 5GHz network.
Remember, wireless isn’t perfect and it’s likely that you’ll only get up to around 70% of the maximum speed, and less than this on older devices.
When choosing a router, it’s worth looking up the specs and making sure that you have the right bandwidth possible on the most popular network band used throughout your business. It makes sense to measure how much data is being used per user, to help you work out how much data you need, but there are some rough rules to live by.
For general web browsing and email usage, wireless clients need around 200 to 500Kbit/s. For cloud application use on top of this, users need around 1Mbit/s of data. And, for HD video calls and more intensive use you’re looking at 2Mbit/s or higher. Add up each type of user you have to get a total bandwidth that you need, then double it to give you headroom for the future.
It’s likely that you’ll get a figure far below the throughput the router users, but these figures only take into account internet usage at the slowest required speeds. If you’ve got users that need fast local network access, replacing a wired connection, or need high-speed downloads or uploads, then you need to provide between 10Mbit/s and 100Mbit/s of bandwidth per user.
Having more networks is an alternative to raw throughout, such as with a tri-band router. With an AC5300 router, such as the ASUS RT-AC5300, you get two Mbit/sec 5GHz networks and one 1000Mbit/sec 2.4GHz network.
With multiple networks, you can divide your wireless bandwidth, say one 5GHz network for clients, one for infrastructure (cameras, printers and the like) and the 2.4GHz band for legacy devices and a guest network. Or, you could spread the heavier users between the two 5GHz networks, better distributing the load.
Better utilisation of the network can improve matters. With Wave 2 wireless routers you get Multi User Multiple Input Multiple Output (MU-MIMO). While all 802.11ac routers use multiple antennas to increase speed through multiple simultaneous streams, a MU-MIMO router can direct one of its streams to a single client.
This means better sharing of the data as each client gets its own connection and dedicated bandwidth. There are limitations, though. First, the deviated number of channels are limited by the number of streams: typically four for a high-end router. This means that a maximum of four clients benefit. Secondly, MU-MIMO applies to downstream connections only, so is little benefit to clients that upload a lot of data. Finally, MU-MIMO has to be supported by the client, so older devices can’t use the technology.
Don’t forget to implement QoS, either on-router or, for larger companies, on the network. This will throttle heavy users, restricting them from flooding the network and stealing all available bandwidth.
More is better
Rather than opting for faster more powerful routers, more access points spread around a building can help. That way, the load is shared and an access point has fewer clients to deal with, improving overall connection speeds as well as improving reliability and range. And, as each access point serves fewer devices, you can get by without the top-end speeds of the latest routers and still have plenty of bandwidth. The AiMesh AC1900 WiFi System (RT-AC68U 2 Pack) is designed for large areas, helping boost your network range.
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