Wireless Network Monitoring: Establishing a Working Wi-Fi Environment

Wi-Fi offers a simply way to connect devices to the network. Monitoring and analysis can help to guarantee a smooth operation of the wireless infrastructure.

The problem with weak Wi-Fi signals

Every private user probably knows the problem of not having good WLAN reception in some corners of his home. In an office complex, the problem can be even worse because of heavy fire doors, thick steel walls or other structural obstacles that severely limit the range of the Wi-Fi signal. There are several methods for ensuring uninterrupted coverage – for example, radio coverage, using a software such as Ekahau for WLAN planning, or by simply experimenting.

The latter may be a sensible solution for the private user, who may achieve better Wi-Fi coverage in his home by repositioning his Fritzbox or by using a repeater. Experimentation may also work in a manageable environment with a handful of workstations in a small establishment. In a larger company that wants to wirelessly connect several offices, possibly over several floors, radio coverage or a Wi-Fi planning tool is the more realistic option.

List of wireless networks with weak signal

What makes a good wireless network monitoring

Connected dots with different sizes

Keep an eye on your wireless infrastructure

The observation of the wireless network should include all wireless components like access points, routers and controllers.

CPU connected with a brain

Ensure a working Wi-Fi

Besides the hardware components, a good wireless network monitoring should also monitor the bandwidth used on the Wi-Fi components, as well as parameters such as the status of the individual devices, the number of subscribers or the signal strength.

Hand signals "OK"

Analyze to avoid gaps in Wi-Fi coverage

Tools for WLAN analysis can help to avoid possible gaps in coverage by providing the right location and the right number of WLAN access points.

A system of connected cubes where some of them are being checked out

Capacity planning for the wireless network

To avoid slow connections and connection errors in a wireless network, the administrator should know how many devices are connected to one AP. This helps him to react before the wireless network collapses because of too many users.

What influences the Wi-Fi connection?

Graph showing error pakets on a WLAN port

An unbroken Wi-Fi provision is no guarantee for a problem-free connection. Numerous other influences can play a role here. Access points that support the current standard Wi-Fi 5 (IEEE 802.11ac) operate in both the 2.4 and 5 GHz frequency band. The previous standard Wi-Fi 4 (IEEE 802.11n) only transmits via the 2.4 GHz frequency band.

However, the radio range of the 2.4 GHz band can quickly become overloaded, especially in large cities and apartment buildings, where there are many flats equipped with a Wi-Fi in a small space. This is because not only Wi-Fi routers compete for the limited radio channels in the 2.4 GHz band, but also other devices such as telephones, microwaves or Bluetooth devices use it.

If the radio channels in the 2.4 GHz band are congested, the wireless network will not work, or only work to a limited extent. If Wi-Fi routers and existing terminal equipment allow it, it is often enough to switch to the 5 GHz band. Should you depend on 2.4 GHz, it can help to switch to a less used radio channel.

In the meantime, all newer Wi-Fi routers are able to automatically select the optimal radio channel. Fritzbox models from FritzOS 7 onwards, for example, examine the WLANs in the vicinity and select the optimum radio channel for your own Wi-Fi. For users who do not use a Fritzbox or a router with this function, various PC programs or apps for smartphones or tablets are also available to check the strength of the Wi-Fi signal, find less frequented radio channels or measure the speed of the wireless connection.

In businesses, on the other hand, the use of special tools for analysis is suitable for finding possible gaps in Wi-Fi coverage, for example by using a tool such as Ekahau to create a WLAN heat map of the office, and by also taking the floor plan into account thus find the right location and the right number of access points to be installed.

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Too many Wi-Fi users cause a lot of trouble

In organizations, it can also be a problem that too many devices are connected to one access point (AP). Since all devices share the bandwidth provided by the AP, this can quickly lead to slow connections and connection errors, for example because the AP is simply overloaded. In the worst case, the wireless network is therefore not only frighteningly slow, but can also collapse when there are too many users. It is therefore essential right from the planning stage to consider areas, such as conference rooms, where by definition there will be many connected users.

Although a current access point with 802.11 ac and MU-MIMO can support up to 100 clients, whether all connected devices also receive the required performance values is another matter. For an optimal internet availability, one should not exceed between 25 and 30 participants per access point.

For companies that already monitor the status of the access points of their wireless infrastructure with their network monitoring solution, it makes sense to also check additional metrics of their Wi-Fi. For example, the number of subscribers and the used bandwidth of access points and routers can be included in the IT monitoring. This data can also be used for capacity planning.

The wireless network monitoring of Checkmk provides the connections of a Cisco WLAN controller

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WLAN monitoring: Capacity planning for your wireless network

With a powerful network monitoring, administrators not only have an overview of whether the access points provide the required bandwidth, but also whether the switch port to which the access point is connected can provide the necessary throughput or needs to be replaced. This means that with their network monitoring, companies can not only detect an imminent bottleneck and thus a possible performance collapse of their wireless network at an early stage, but can also take the necessary countermeasures at an earlier point in time.

In addition, a network monitoring solution that can read wired network traffic is also able to inspect the data traffic in a wireless network environment. In this way, such monitoring software offers the functionality to examine the wireless data traffic or to monitor it for anomalies.

Graphs with bandwidth details of a network interface

Checkmk is a monitoring solution that provides exactly these required functionalities for monitoring your entire network. The software helps you to keep track of all important metrics for the operation of wireless or wired IT infrastructures. The solution helps IT teams not only to monitor the current status, but also to identify trends so that they can react to network developments at an early stage.

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