Fixing President Obama's Wi-Fi

Apparently Wi-Fi at the White House sucks!  A journalist asked me what might help it, so I figure I'll share my response:

Hi [Very Wise Journalist Who Reached Out To Me, Ben Miller, For Comment],

In some ways the White House is like any other large, multi-user space and in other ways it is very different.

Uncommon challenges at the White House are likely the result of security requirements and the need to maintain the historical integrity of the building.  The White House almost certainly has areas that are off-limits to AP installers and there may be limits on where cable drops can be made.

There is a distinct line between good and bad solutions when AP locations are restricted.  The goal of both solutions is to increase coverage to hard-to-reach areas.  The bad solution, which is likely happening at the White House, is to increase the transmit power of APs.  Increasing AP transmit power aids downlink data sent from an AP to a Wi-Fi device, but does nothing to improve the AP’s ability to receive data from a Wi-Fi device.  The good solution is to mount APs with external, directional antennas.  Directional antennas improve both transmission and reception at the AP.

The common challenge that the White House likely has is the preponderance of mobile devices.  Smartphones themselves often have difficulty gaining consistent access to Wi-Fi networks because users like to hold smartphones using a variety of orientations and because people are often moving while trying to access data on their smartphones.  Smartphones also can cause problems for less mobile devices, like laptops and tablets, because when smartphone data fails, channel efficiency is reduced for all nearby Wi-Fi devices.

Resolving problems that arise due to smartphone use can come from one of two groups: users or network administrators.  Users can choose Apple devices, because iPhones use the request-to-send/clear-to-send (RTS/CTS) protocol, while Android and other smartphones do not.  RTS/CTS effectively quiets the channel before data is transmitted, thus making transmission errors far less common.  Administrators can help Wi-Fi deployments by mandating 20 MHz wide channels instead of 40 MHz or 80 MHz wide channels.  Data transmitted over narrower channels can be successfully received by smartphones and other Wi-Fi devices at a lower signal-to-noise ratio (SNR).  Since smartphone locations and physical orientations are so unpredictable, accommodating for lower SNR is quite helpful.

The White House could also help it’s own cause by pushing to open up channels 12, 13 and 14 for Wi-Fi use.  There is currently a proposal at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to allow terrestrial low-density service (TLDS) over those channels.  TLDS is a Wi-Fi-like technology that has the potential to unlock a vast array of improved wireless design concepts in the heavily used 2.4 GHz frequency band.

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Twitter: @Ben_SniffWiFi
ben at sniffwifi dot com

Comments

  1. Great Article Ben. Really enjoyed it and definitely appreciate the challenges associated with the need for proximity and difficult structures. It´s a challenge for sure, but definitely a few ways to skin that cat.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Nice post. Speaking about technologies. Maybe you should get familiar with secure virtual data room

    ReplyDelete

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