Are Wi-Fi Networks in General THAT Bad?

Let me start by apologizing for a long absence here. It would seem it was my turn for life for a while. People and animals I love got sick and passed on, and those inevitable changes to each of our existences came knocking on my own door. I also had some demons that poke me at night sometimes to exercise.

But a couple of recent vendor and VAR interactions brought me back here.

Really? You Don’t NEED us?
I’ve been operating in the collective big overall networking universe for at least a quarter of a century now, so I get the rhythm of the music. Everyone has a part, and I begrudge few individuals for playing theirs (except maybe the vendor exec that has the gall to try to explain how sucking my bank account dry with complicated licensing schemes suddenly equals value or perhaps innovation). Still I’m occasionally surprised when I’m presented with some new solution, dashboard, or service that I was doing fine without yesterday and today, but if I don’t get on board my tomorrow will certainly be disappointing for my end users.

THEM: We have it to offer, so you MUST need it. It solves all kinds of problems.
ME: I’m not sure what we’re doing differently, but we don’t seem to have the problems you mention.
THEM: Bah. Everyone has those problems. Lots of them. In mass quantities. The freakin’ sky is falling!
ME: I’m gonna get some coffee now. Good talk, thanks.
THEM: You are pretty lucky then. Everyone else has problems that they need our stuff to find.

I’m guessing I’m not the only one who has been part of that kind of conversation.

Let’s unpack that a bit.
I always find the messaging that “lots of networks are just fraught with endless problems that you need help with” to be a little confounding. Why? I ask myself that, and I think I can answer it- beyond the “I’ve been doing this a while and have arguably seen it all” effect. I offer these:

We are on what generation of Wi-Fi now? Sixth? Sixth extra special? Shouldn’t the general kinks be worked out by now? With the Wi-Fi Alliance chest-thumping about all their certification programs and the IEEE putting out wireless “standards”, everything should generally just click, no?

No. I’m being sarcastic of course. This many DECADES after the original 802.11 miracle, we’re still dealing with driver issues. And that fuzzy, ill-defined gap between enterprise and consumer end devices, and the denial by groups like the Wi-Fi Alliance that this is a serious problem. After all, there is middleware kinda solutions that make it all right, no? Again, no. Not without paying through the nose in upfront and ongoing costs. Pffft.

So what is the expensive new dashboard, or managed services, exactly delivering? Is it telling me I got driver issues on a given client? Newsflash- I can tell that without the dashboard when a client stops working right after an OS update.

Shouldn’t proper WLAN design mitigate a lot of what the magic dashboard is supposedly figuring out? Price out Ekahau or iBwave (both fantastic tools) and the training and ongoing licensing for both. They are not inexpensive. Yet, somehow, you can design your networks perfectly using high end tools, and STILL need “help” with all the inevitable Wi-Fi issues you are going to have. Smells funny…

Speaking of expensive… Have you looked at the pricing on the latest access points? We have reached INSANITY in this area, when indoor Wi-Fi access points list prices EACH top $3K. For an access point. Without the mandatory licensing that The Industry now gets fat on. And for that lofty expenditure, you still need all the professional services and pricey dashboards because that increased pricing solves… nothing? Same problems are still with us, evidently.

You suck, Lee. You’re a real freakin’ downer, man. Perhaps. A lot of gloomy shit has been happening for me lately, but that aside- something is wrong here. Either I’m doing networking wrong, because I don’t have all the problems that I’m supposed to, OR those problems are the bogey man maybe created by The Industry to have more to sell us. We just can’t collectively be this far down the Wi-Fi timeline and be that bad off, can we? If we are, then everyone from the IEEE to the Alliance to vendors have screwed up. And if we AREN’T that bad off, then we’re being bilked for solutions that we really shouldn’t need.

Is there a point here? Whether I’m articulating it clearly or not, something isn’t quite right in Denmark, or in Silly Valley. Or is it just me?

6 thoughts on “Are Wi-Fi Networks in General THAT Bad?

  1. Jon Foster

    Hey Lee, sorry to hear you’ve been having a rough time… Life does seem rather hard at the moment!

    Given a couple of beers i could probably write a few million words about bad Wi-Fi at the moment… but the majority of the problems come from too many changes to too many interconnected moving parts. There is always a drive for more capacity, but beyond that all this extra “stuff” and complexity just causes problems and obfuscates the root cause.

    Teams call crappy? The Wi-Fi will almost certianly get the blame. Actually, ANYTHING performing slowly is often blamed on the Wi-Fi, and we must hunt to try and prove it’s innocence. But the solution is rarely more tech. If you can get a competent description of the problem (a tortorous process in itself) then you’re half way there. Then something to show there isn’t any interference, high SNR and you’re 75% there….

    But to get that last 25% you need somehow investigate where the problem was with that call which was over a week ago, over a VPN, half way around the world, and o someone on a 3rd party network.

    1. wirednot Post author

      Thanks for reading, Jon. And your points are spot on. Maybe the problem I have is with the marketing… “it’s a Wi-Fi problem dashboard” versus “it’s a Wi-Fi exoneration dashboard…”. Cheers, brother.

  2. Bob Herman

    He’s back! I feel terrible to hear of the gloomy shit recently, I’m so sorry to hear.

    I think collectively over the last 20+ years, IT folks are accustomed to Stockholm syndrome in regards to technology. We expect problems and many hours of studying, configurations and troubleshooting. Then new features come out and throw more fuel into the flame. Wifi6 rolls out and we have glorious ofdma, twt and other friends. This was supposed to fix all the things, but now 6E is and wifi7 is now being discussed. Standards are supposed to make all this ok, and it does for the most part, until someone walks in with a Macbook Air or a Chromebook with an AMD chipset. It all feels wifi-ish until I refer to the venerated wifi napkin.
    I’m in a perpetual state of “we’re almost there with mature technology”.

    My best….

  3. Dermot Allen

    Great blog Lee …I have missed your blogs. I agree with you these tools and dashboards are good only for the vendors selling them and management
    Who thinks they will be able to cut head count with useless tools.

    1. wirednot Post author

      Thanks for reading, Dermot. I believe in some kind of performance monitoring for core services and such, but I really take issue with the general supposition that top-dollar Wi-Fi is going to be so problem-laden you better cough up for yet something else- it’s madness.


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