Why should you care how WiFi works?

If you’re suffering connection problems, a basic understanding of how WiFi works can be really useful. It will help common issues – like drop-outs, black spots and a weak signal – make a lot more sense.

Why does this matter? Because a bit of knowledge can make it much easier to find a solution to your WiFi issues.

How WiFi works: 6 basics infographic

When it comes to WiFi, sorting fact from fiction seems to cause a great deal of confusion. So firstly, here are six WiFi facts you wouldn’t be alone if you didn’t know:

Basic facts about how WiFi works

1. WiFi is a radio signal

The basics of how WiFi works are actually pretty simple. The physics is very similar to how radios, mobile phones or walkie-talkies (for those of us old enough to remember those!) send and receive signals.

The tendency is to think of WiFi as very high tech and complex. However, at the heart of it, it in fact relies on good old fashioned radio waves.

Because of this it can also suffer some of the same old problems.

2. There are two WiFi frequencies

WiFi works on two different frequencies, with advantages and disadvantages to each. Older and/or cheaper WiFi routers and wireless devices may only work on the 2.4 GHz frequency. Whereas nowadays, dual-band is much more common. These devices are able to operate on both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequencies.

Here are some key differences:

2.4 GHz WiFi

  • Offers coverage for farther distances, but performs at slower speeds.
  • Only 11 channels available. Since most of the devices we use support this frequency, they tend to use the same channels, creating overcrowding.

5 GHz WiFi

  • Provides faster data rates, but at a shorter distance.
  • 23 channels available. Fewer devices use this band, so there’s less traffic crowd and therefore less interference.

3. WiFi & Internet/Broadband are not the same thing

It’s such a common confusion, but so key to getting to grips with how WiFi works.

  • Your broadband delivers an internet connection to your workplace or home network
  • WiFi broadcasts a signal that enables you to access your network, and therefore the internet, via wireless devices

That’s why you can have ultra-fast broadband, but an ultra-slow wireless internet connection. And conversely, it’s also possible to see a strong WiFi signal, but still be unable to connect to the internet. Even with the internet connection disabled, WiFi can still broadcast a visible signal. In this case, you can connect your device to the WiFi, but wouldn’t be able to access the internet.

Internet and WiFi are entirely separate entities.

A simple analogy would be: if broadband is the hose, the internet connection is the water and WiFi is the sprinkler. The hose and sprinkler form the delivery infrastructure. The water is the resource being delivered.

4. Ground noise is WiFi’s biggest enemy

Interference from ground noise can cause a lot of issues for WiFi. What you may experience as crackling on a radio, or audio break-up on a mobile phone, translates to buffering and signal drop-outs with WiFi.

There are many commonplace devices and environmental factors that can interfere with a WiFi signal. This blog on WiFi interference covers our top 10.

5. Closely followed by blocking materials

Another common barrier to good WiFi is the building materials and objects within our workplaces and homes.

It’s not just thick walls that can cause problems. Even seemingly innocent objects like filing cabinets or mirrors can repel WiFi signals.

Expecting the signal from your WiFi router to reach all parts of your building? It can be a bit like having a light on in the kitchen and expecting to be able to use it to sit in bed and read a book.

6. WiFi can go for miles!

But only with a strong enough signal from dedicated equipment, and nothing blocking it. Given clear line of sight a wireless signal can be ‘beamed’ from a sender in one location to a receiver somewhere else. This can be used to share an internet connection.

This technology has been used for many applications. One example is in remote communities, including those in developing countries. Locations without cabling to provide internet access can have it broadcast to them wirelessly from a location that does.

Point-to-point WiFi can also be used for more mundane purposes. It can easily broadcast a signal to another office across the road, or an outbuilding, or even the garden shed. This is, however, dependent on nothing else getting in the way.

Improving how WiFi works for you

If you’re experiencing WiFi problems it can be hard to know where to turn for help. (Even armed with a basic knowledge of how WiFi works.) Particularly if you’ve already tried the usual fixes – boosters, repeaters, router upgrades.

If you’re based in the Bristol and Bath area we can help. Get in touch today for advice and a free quote for a WiFi solution that works.