Wireless Capacity vs Coverage

In the past, networks were designed with either coverage or capacity in mind, however in today’s world WiFi has become such an intrinsic part of life that high-performance connectivity must be offered in spite of the simultaneous demands on capacity and coverage. Network managers must ensure that the digital experience is both seamless and superior whether a user is underground, surrounded by interfering materials, in a football stadium or in an office meeting room. Slow speeds, drop-offs or black spots are simply no longer accepted.

Understanding the interplay between capacity and coverage in today’s world of WiFi is key to understanding how to balance the two elements.

What is wireless coverage?

The coverage of a wireless network tells us just how far your wireless signal transmits; if you’re running a large institution or organisation, ensuring that your WLAN coverage reaches everywhere on the premises is crucial. Predicting the area a WLAN will cover isn’t always simple; power settings, environmental obstacles and antenna gain can all affect coverage. One of the most accurate ways to assess wireless coverage is wireless surveys, which may include heat maps and spectrum analysis.

What is wireless capacity?

Wireless capacity relates to the number of users who can use your wireless simultaneously in one place, and how (and at what rate) they are using bandwidth. Wireless capacity is just as big a consideration as coverage when designing a new WLAN; if your network doesn’t meet capacity in peak locations, the result is unusable WiFi and disconnected clients.

As an example, in schools, colleges and universities you might find that canteens, social areas and computer rooms are WiFi hotspots – these are areas where large groups of students gather to study, socialise and check their Twitter accounts on smartphones and tablets. In these locations it’s important to maximise WiFi capacity to meet the needs of all users in the network, taking into account potential traffic at peak hours.

Do I need more coverage or more capacity?

So how do you know whether your coverage or your capacity is the problem? Or both! The best way to find out is to have an on-site survey done by certified WiFi engineers. This will diagnose network problems and offer a series of immediate fixes as well as longer-term recommendations with the future of connectivity in mind.

Do I need more access points?

Wireless networks need to be usable to be worth having, and in today’s constantly connected world, WiFi is no longer optional in large businesses and educational institutions. More access points are a potential solution, but can cause overlapping signals and even poorer performance – yes, it is possible to have terrible performance despite high signal! Currently there are only 3 channels in the UK wireless spectrum which guarantee zero interference, so overlapping signals can very easily become an additional problem compounding your wireless’ poor performance.

How can I resolve coverage and capacity issues?

If you’re experiencing issues with capacity and/or coverage, there are other ways to resolve the problem: upgrading your institution’s wireless network can improve coverage and capacity without the need to install more access points, and will offer long-term ROI rather than simply putting a plaster over an increasingly problematic flaw in your network infrastructure.

Newer solutions can offer automated network management to avoid overlapping signals and channel ‘conflict’ which means network managers can save time and focus on more important tasks. As devices, applications and security risks continue to rise, networks that support machine learning and automation will be increasingly valuable to IT departments and businesses as a whole.
The best solution will depend entirely on your WLAN design and requirements.

For more details about capacity and coverage in your wireless network, contact us today.

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