Stop the Little White Wi-Fi Lies- Data Sheet Specs Matter

There I sat in a pleasant regional users meeting for a large networking company.  It was a decent presentation that provided me with some food for thought, and so I was glad I went. But there was one statement made while talking about pending 802.11ax access points that raised my dander.

I’m paraphrasing here…

The data sheet will say the AP can do over 1,000 clients, but you know how that is…”

Hmmm. There was some discussion in the room after that statement- I asked how we as Wireless Doers are supposed to reconcile these grand claims that WE all know are bullshit with the expectations of CUSTOMERS who DO NOT recognize the same info for the operational untruth that it is.

“It’s theoretical”

“Everybody does it”

Again… hmmm. Lee’s not buying it. A lie that we all choose to live with is a still a lie. This isn’t even the biggest whopper out there… Another vendor right now is touting an AP that can do FIFTEEN HUNDRED CLIENTS!

So all I need is a dozen per stadium and I’m the most efficient LPV wireless guy in the land, no? I can design my networks for 1 AP for every 1000 (or 1500) Client devices and reduce my AP spend significantly! All right! Except it doesn’t work this way.

Why do I care, really? What about this one little falsehood got me perturbed? Because we spend money based on what data sheets tell us. It’s insanity to SEE one number, but then have to go ask someone else what that one number REALLY means. Let me tell you a couple of stories of data sheet burn that I still carry scars from.

When 10 Gig Is Not


This  screen grab comes from a leading vendor’s now EOL wireless controller. 10 Gbps is clearly stated as what the controller will “do”, at least by my interpretation. Nowhere in the spec sheet does it say “…unless you run a highly desirable feature called Application Visibility and Control, which then knocks the unit’s throughput capabilities to well under 3 Gbps“. That little gem you have to discover for yourself and suffer through… while 20K wireless clients get pissed off as the WLAN core melts down. No “if this, then that” qualifiers to explain that a popular feature would neuter your throughput by an order of magnitude- just “10 Gbps”. I fell for it, and got burned bad.

Is 3,000 APs + 802.1X Significant, or No?

Same vendor, beefier controller.
In the midst of another support case that impacted multiple users, the TAC person said something like “I see you have over 3,000 APs and are doing 802.1X…” with great concern in his voice. I asked- “So? Is this a problem on a controller that supports 6K APs?” The fellow put me on hold for several minutes to talk with somebody else about the point. Meanwhile, a colleague in another part of the world sent an email raising the same flag on one of his own support cases- there seemed to be a common TAC-side fixation with 3K APs and 802.1X on a controller that is rated for 60K clients. My TAC guy eventually came back and said “um, no, that should be OK” in a voice that didn’t exactly inspire confidence, and it immediately hearkened me back to the the great meltdown on the other controller. The point was raised yet again by another support person as the case played out, who also avoided explaining why this seemed to be of concern when I asked.

I still have no idea whether 3K APs and 802.1X are the ingredients for an eventual meltdown on this controller, or whether perhaps inexperienced support engineers talked out of school. Given my past experiences on this product line (I’ve only mentioned the tip of the iceberg here), my confidence was very much shaken by the thought of some sort of undeclared 3,000 AP “wall” that I had hit. (A code upgrade, or rather multiple code upgrades, eventually got me past whatever the original problem was in this case.)

To me, the data sheet is gospel as presented – if there are exceptions, caveats, qualifiers, or whatever- the vendor needs to get it out there ON THE DATA SHEET. My end result- I have little confidence in ANYTHING to do with spec from this vendor on this product set.

Speaking of exceptions, caveats, qualifiers, or or whatever…

The Enterprise WLAN vensors can actually learn from the “little guys” when it comes to technical honesty. Have a look at what Amped Wireless includes on their data sheets: 

Specifications are subject to change without notice.

1 Range specifications are based on performance test results. Actual performance may vary due to differences in operating environments, building materials and wireless obstructions. Performance may increase or decrease over the stated specification. Wireless coverage claims are used only as a reference and are not guaranteed as each wireless network is uniquely different. Maximum wireless signal rate derived from IEEE 802.11 standard specifications. Actual data throughput may vary as a result of network conditions and environmental factors. Output power specifications are based on the maximum possible radio output power plus antenna gain. May not work with non-standard Wi-Fi devices such as those with proprietary software or drivers. Supports all Wi-Fi standards that are compatible or backwards compatible with 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi standards.

2 All transmission rates listed, for example 800Mbps for 2.4GHz and 1733Mbps for 5GHz, are the physical data rates. Actual data throughput will be lower and may depend on external factors as well as the combination of devices connected to the router. AC2600 wireless speeds are achieved when connecting to other AC2600 capable devices.

3 May not work with non-standard Wi-Fi routers or routers with altered firmware or proprietary firmware, such as those from third party sources or some Internet service providers. May not work with routers that do not comply with IEEE or Wi-Fi standards.

4 For MU-MIMO to work, additional MU-MIMO capable devices must be connected to the network.

You can argue that no one reads the fine print, but I would disagree. As is, deception and partial truths are problematic and confusing. What else on the data sheet can’t be trusted? And why do it, at all? Seriously- why say an AP will do 1000+ clients? Where is the “win” for anybody other than the Chief Embellishment Officer?

2 thoughts on “Stop the Little White Wi-Fi Lies- Data Sheet Specs Matter

  1. Dermot Allen

    Another excellent blog. We have all been burned spec sheets and it seems to be getting worse. The marketing guys are getting less and less technical. Sales and management seem to love the big numbers over the facts. Even engineers who should know better fall into the hype. I still find wireless guys deploying 80MHz channels and giving you funny looks when you explain how bad this is. It’s an up hill battle and seems to be getting worse. Thanks for the blogs they are always informative and fun to read.

  2. Ken Biba

    I share your concern. Huge problem of marketing hype. Particularly bad for WLAN where so much of performance depends on RF and do few are trained in RF. Enterprise WLANs do NOT configure themselves despite the marketing hype.

    I can do a manual reconfiguration of just about any vendor’s default configuration and get 2-3x performance and capacity increase just by being aware of RF considerations.


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