Are You a Good Wi-Fi Client?

No one would dispute that we’re living in a wireless world these days. I’ve had the opportunity to use and to see others using wireless technology in several countries and states over the last couple of years, and can attest that wireless is redefining the world in practically every facet. Wireless has a profound impact on our our daily lives regardless of our age, occupation, or lifestyle.

No news here, right?

Sure, from a historical perspective we’re living in an exciting age where technology evolves so fast and frequently that many of us have forgotten how to be impressed by it. We expect signal to be pretty much everywhere, and to be able to leverage it pretty much at will for our own connectivity gratification. And if something isn’t right about the experience, we tend to get somewhere between irritated and pissed off, because we want the network to be good.

But have you ever considered what the network wants (or needs) FROM YOU?

Wireless networks are incredibly complicated at the operational level. This goes for both the mobile carrier world (the Verizons and AT&Ts) and for W-iFi networks that we connect to. In the mobile carrier space, we usually have little control over the connected experience, and don’t tend to give it a lot of thought. Our devices come from the carriers themselves. They generally are “controlled” by the carriers to a great degree, from authorization to use the network to software upgrades pushed over the air to adapting our usage to what we can afford to pay for. Things tend to be fairly stable for the millions of users of the mobile networks, largely because of the control exercised by the carriers over the whole framework. But Wi-Fi is different.

In the course of a given day, we probably connect to a single mobile carrier wherever we go (like Verizon if we’re a customer) but multiple Wi-Fi networks. At home, we tend to be our own Wi-FI network providers. At work or at school, we’re on the company or institutional Wi-Fi. Then there’s Wi-Fi at the doctor’s office, Starbucks, the library, the airport, your friend’s house, and the conference you attended. And they all may be set up differently, but you figure out how to use them (or someone instructs you).

Curiously, we expect our mobile carrier experience to always “feel” the same (yet are surprisingly forgiving when we don’t get all the “bars” we’d prefer to have), but know that our Wi-FI travels can be far more variable and complicated. Across the varied Wi-Fi landscapes we all traverse, our success and frustration frequently depend on our own quality as wireless clients. Good clients have better experiences in general, and lesser clients not only tend to suffer but also to drag things down for those around them.

So what kind of Wi-Fi client are you? How you answer the following questions goes a long way in self-assessing whether you can change some habits for your own benefit, and for the benefit of nearby Wi-Fi users and even whoever is providing the networks that you use.

  • Do you realize that just because something isn’t going right for you, the Wi-Fi network may have nothing at all to do with it?
  • Do you understand that home networks tend to be much simpler and device-friendly than business/school networks that usually need your client device to be better tuned up than is required at home?
  • Do you do frequent updates to your client devices to include the operating system, wireless and chipset drivers, and security software? (If not, you should.)
  • Are you aware that for large environments (businesses, universities) “the Wi-Fi network” is probably many different networks all made to seem like one, and that wireless is simply an extension a very complicated wired network?
  • Did you know that to Wi-Fi users, pretty much ALL problems “feel” like they are related to the wireless network but often originate upstream on some other part of the network environment?
  • Do you realize that Wi-Fi clients can cause huge troubles for each other if they bring personal Wi-Fi hotspots, their own wireless routers, cordless phones, and other interfering devices to the same space where an organization is trying to provide Wi-Fi?
  • Are you aware that business/school Wi-Fi networks tend to have policies and regulatory requirements that make them far less accommodating to all the device types that you might want to use (gaming consoles, wireless drones, Chromecast/Apple TV, wireless printers and projectors, Wi-Fi equipped Blue-Ray players, etc) because these devices tend to lack business-grade security features or networking protocols?

and- the big ones:

  • When you experience trouble, do you try to give good information to whoever has provided the network? How you do this depends on the setting and size of network, but if you don’t report your frustrations then network administrators can’t help, and specifics (about your device, location, time of day, etc) are an absolute must.
  • Are you aware that network administrators usually need exact details about your device and problems that you are having before they can respond?

Unlike with the controlled environment of the highly-licensed mobile carrier networks, the BYOD-fueled chaos of modern license-free Wi-Fi does depend more on each of us being a good client. Better wireless citizens make for a better wireless world, so please do your part. A little perspective can go a long way towards being a better wireless client.

5 thoughts on “Are You a Good Wi-Fi Client?

  1. Dale Buckey

    Excellent thought process on how and what individuals (clients) can or should do, to maintain optimum connectivity. This knowledge needs to be shared and directed to those who use and depend on large environment wireless networks. Perhaps a campus wide initiative to “protect the wireless” would make sense?

  2. wirednot Post author

    It is a tough message at times, but I’ve seen new out-of-box PCs that won’t connect to any secure network, while thousands of other clients are fine. Quick driver update, and life gets good for them. And then there was the Xbox sitting right next to the Macbook that couldn’t connect because Xbox was creaming it… move 2 feet to the left and interference gone and Macbook now happy. And iPads rebooting because of AT&T flakiness. And Syrian Electronic Army hosing our DNS entries for Twitter that became “Twitter doesn’t work on your wireless network” (when it wasn’t working from ANYWHERE) until DNS cache got flushed. My own examples are many, and other admins living in the real world and running networks have their own tales of life at the client end of the WLAN. Thankfully most clients do well, but when there’s trouble, it is neither “automatically” the network’s fault nor the client’s- troubleshooting is required which starts with with clients’ willingness to give admins an actionable place to start. Unfortunately, this can be it’s own battle. But this dance is important, and needs to be properly minded despite the difficulty of educating clients that their devices are each a little techno-ecosystem that needs to be tended to for best performance.

  3. Pingback: Slow login when a whole class logs in over wifi

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