Why is the wireless network sometimes slow?

On an average day the wireless network handles approximately 1700 concurrent device connections, with peak loads approaching 2500 concurrently connected devices. Spread across campus we have approximately 425 wireless access points that handle this load. Because some areas have greater concentrations of users at any given time, and not all users generate the same amount of traffic, your performance may vary greatly from location to location and from time to time.

How Wireless Works

Due to the nature of wireless communication (multiple people accessing a single WiFi antenna) at any given time you are almost certainly sharing a network connection with one or more other people. This means that the total amount of bandwidth (the amount of network traffic that the connection can handle) is divided between all users connected at that time. When response is slow (or seemingly non-existent) it is usually because of one of the following things:

Access Speed

With the current wireless network, each access point slows to the speed of the slowest device that it is in communication with at that time. If all devices can operate at 54Mbps, then all devices communicate at that speed, but if an older device connects at 11Mbps, all connected devices must slow to that rate. With the new wireless network this should no longer be a problem. All of the components in the new system are capable to managing wireless traffic to accommodate older devices without slowing down newer, faster devices.

Bandwidth to the wired network

Although your wireless device is wireless, the traffic it generates does have to traverse the wired network at some point. Currently, each wireless access point anywhere on campus has the same amount bandwidth (traffic capacity), so the more people consuming that capacity the slower the response time for each user. This is different from the connection you have in your office where you are the only one using that bandwidth. The new wireless network had 10 times the bandwidth per access point (the most currently available) and we hope that this will improve performance for all users.

Interference from non-WiFi devices

Wireless devices use only select frequencies to communicate, and these frequencies are also used by other devices like cordless phones and Bluetooth devices which can interfere or disrupt completely wireless communication. They can also be interfered with by the electrical emissions of things like florescent lights (which are more and more common these days) and many types of machinery. If the emissions from any of these devices gets close to your wireless device or to the access point it can cause mild to severe signal degradation resulting in poor wireless performance.