Switching Wireless, a Soap Opera

Now that I’ve gotten my Wireless Perceptions guide out of the way, I can mention one of my favorite misconceptions.

Myth: “Switch to MUSTANG, it’s faster than MORNINGSIDE.”

The observant reader will note that this myth is contradictory to my previous assertions. No right-thinking person would possibly believe that something is slower when it is faster.

One wrinkle in our understanding of wireless is that we expect it work just like cell service. When we are close to a tower, we want to use that tower. If we move across the city, we want to change to closer towers without a blip.

Wireless (802.11, WiFi, etc) does not always work this way. The decision to leave one “tower” for another is completely up to the client. All of our radios have ways of encouraging clients to move but cannot force a client move to a closer radio.

It is the practice of most clients that I have seen–Windows 7, Mac OS X, and others– to stay associated with the original tower until practically disconnected. In one instance, a user closed their laptop in an area while connected to a nearby radio and walked down the hall to their office (which is out of range of the first, but well covered by a second radio). When they opened their laptop, it registered almost no connectivity in spite of abundant local wireless because it was still connected to the classroom radio.

At this point, it is not irrational to open up the AirPort menu to investigate. After the computer reconnects to MORNINGSIDE from down the hall (because it can still see a trickle of the wireless signal back in their office) they see that their network is performing poorly. In that menu, MORNINGSIDE will be presented with zero bars and MUSTANG with maximum bars.

In this case, the connection strength shows the MORNINGSIDE radio that is currently connected and in use. The MUSTANG network strength is displayed from the closer radio.

Fact: Close wireless is better than distant wireless.

At this point, our user disconnects from MORNINGSIDE in favor of MUSTANG and observes that it is significantly faster.

To conclude at this point that MUSTANG is faster than MORNINGSIDE is a half truth. A near MUSTANG is faster than MORNINGSIDE at a distance.

Moral of the story: Sometimes disconnecting and reconnecting to wireless will allow the computer to connect to a closer radio.

There is a difference between performing a calculation and solving a problem. I’ve been considering the equation of a circle, . Except, you see, that’s not the entire thing. There’s a bit that we’ve dropped because it’s  zeroes (and therefore doesn’t affect our equation): . This equation contains the full information–everything that is necessary to draw and position […]