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Wi-Fi Signal Strength: Measuring Signal Loss and Gain

In this article, we take a look at Wi-Fi signal strength. We define the basics, like signal loss, gain, and causes, as well as how to measure it with 7SIGNAL’s Wi-Fi optimization solutions.

Here’s what we cover in this article:

Want to learn how 7SIGNAL can be used to measure signal strength in your enterprise Wi-Fi environment? Chat with our sales team!


Wi-Fi Signal Strength: Signal Loss, Signal Gain, and Causes

It should go without saying that Wi-Fi signal strength is important. From an enterprise perspective this is especially true since Wi-Fi plays an essential role in everything from productivity and collaboration to enterprise security, IoT integration, and customer experience.

Now, a little later on in this article, we’ll discuss ways enterprises and other organizations can leverage solutions — like the 7SIGNAL platform — to efficiently monitor, measure, and optimize Wi-Fi signal strength. But, before we get there, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page.

Below we cover the basics: what is Wi-Fi signal strength, what is signal loss, what is signal gain, what factors impact Wi-Fi signal, and why it’s important for enterprises to keep an eye on Wi-Fi signal strength.


What Is Wi-Fi Signal Strength?

Let’s start at the beginning. Wi-Fi signal strength refers to the power and quality of a wireless signal transmitted by a Wi-Fi access point and received by wireless devices, such as laptops, smartphones, tablets, IoT devices, etc.

Signal strength is quantified in the -dBm format, with 0 being the strongest possible signal and -100 being the weakest. When a signal is robust, it offers better connectivity experiences and device performance. On the other hand, weaker Wi-Fi signals can result in slower data transfer speeds, connection drops, and reduced network reliability.

In any event, while it’s not necessary to monitor signal strength in most small deployments (home Wi-Fi, small businesses, etc.), doing so is extremely important in larger environments (office buildings, shopping centers, concert venues, etc.) where network performance is often strongly associated with bottom-line revenue. For this reason, most organizations that manage complex Wi-Fi networks use tools to measure Wi-Fi performance and diagnose root causes of signal interruptions (more on this in a moment!).


What Is Wi-Fi Signal Loss?

Wi-Fi signal loss, sometimes referred to as "signal attenuation," is the reduction of Wi-Fi signal strength as it travels through space. Several factors can contribute to Wi-Fi signal loss, including distance between access points and clients, physical obstructions, interference from electronic devices and other Wi-Fi networks, Wi-Fi frequency, router capacity, outdated software and firmware, etc.


What Is Wi-Fi Signal Gain?

On the flip side, signal gain refers to when a Wi-Fi signal’s strength increases. Gain is often associated with things like antenna gain and directionality, as well as amplifier gain.


What Factors Contribute to Wi-Fi Signal Strength?

There’s a number of things that impact Wi-Fi signal strength. However, the most common are as follows: 

  1. Distance from the Router: The further you are from the router, the weaker the signal becomes. Wi-Fi signals spread out as they move away from routers and this dispersion reduces the signal strength.
  2. Physical Obstructions: Walls, floors, ceilings, and other solid objects can block or weaken Wi-Fi signals. Materials like concrete, brick, and metal are particularly effective at attenuating Wi-Fi.
  3. Interference from Other Devices: Other electronic devices that operate on the same or similar frequencies can interfere with Wi-Fi signals. Common culprits include cordless phones, baby monitors, microwave ovens, and other Wi-Fi networks.
  4. Frequency Band: Wi-Fi can operate on different frequency bands. Right now, the most commonly used bands are 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. The 2.4 GHz band has a longer range but is more susceptible to interference, while the 5 GHz band offers faster speeds but has a shorter range.
  5. Router Capacity: If too many devices are connected to a single router, it can become overloaded, leading to reduced performance for all connected devices.
  6. Router Antenna: The design and orientation of the router's antenna can influence the direction and strength of the Wi-Fi signal. Some antennas are directional, while others are omnidirectional.
  7. Channel Overlap: Wi-Fi networks in close proximity to each other that are operating on overlapping channels can interfere with each other, reducing signal quality.
  8. Network Load: High data usage activities, like streaming or large file downloads, can consume a significant portion of the available bandwidth, leading to reduced signal quality for other devices.
  9. Router Quality and Design: High-quality routers tend to have better signal strength and coverage compared to cheaper models. Features like beamforming can help in directing the signal towards connected devices, improving signal strength.

Why Is it Important for Enterprises to Measure Wi-Fi Signal Strength?

Measuring Wi-Fi signal strength isn’t just about ensuring connectivity to the Internet — it has real, tangible benefits. For example, access to high-performance Wi-Fi facilitates employee and system productivity, corporate security, enjoyable user experiences, and informed, data-driven decisions that align with an enterprise's operational needs and goals.

Here are 11 reasons enterprises should be measuring and optimizing signal strength across their Wi-Fi ecosystem:

  1. Optimal Performance: Enterprises rely heavily on internet connectivity for their operations. A stable and strong Wi-Fi signal ensures that business processes run smoothly, from communication and collaboration tools to cloud-based applications and data transfers.
  2. User Experience: Employees, visitors, and customers expect a seamless online experience. Slow or interrupted connections can lead to frustration and decreased productivity, while simultaneously impacting the perception of the business.
  3. Capacity Planning: By monitoring Wi-Fi signal strength, enterprises can understand the current network load and plan for future expansion or upgrades. This is especially important in growing organizations or in facilities that host events with a large number of attendees.
  4. Security: A weak Wi-Fi signal can be an entry point for malicious activities. Attackers can exploit weak signals to intercept data or launch attacks. Monitoring signal strength can help in identifying potential vulnerabilities.
  5. Cost Efficiency: By ensuring that the Wi-Fi signal is optimal, enterprises can avoid unnecessary upgrades or over-provisioning. Conversely, identifying areas with weak signals can lead to targeted improvements, rather than blanket upgrades.
  6. Coverage Analysis: Enterprises can identify dead zones or areas with weak signals. This is especially important in large facilities like warehouses, hospitals, or campuses where consistent connectivity is crucial.
  7. Device Management: Different devices have varying capabilities when it comes to Wi-Fi reception. By measuring signal loss and gain, enterprises can make informed decisions about hardware procurement and deployment.
  8. Data-Driven Decisions: Continuous monitoring and measurement provide data that can be analyzed to make informed decisions. For instance, understanding peak usage times or high-traffic areas can guide network design and resource allocation.
  9. Support and Troubleshooting: When issues arise, having data on Wi-Fi signal strength can expedite troubleshooting. IT teams can quickly identify if signal loss is the cause of a problem and address it accordingly.
  10. Compliance and SLAs: Some industries have regulations or service level agreements (SLAs) related to network uptime and performance. Regularly measuring Wi-Fi signal strength can help in ensuring compliance and meeting SLAs.
  11. Enhanced Mobility: In modern enterprises, employees often move around the premises, attending meetings, collaborating, or accessing resources. A consistent Wi-Fi signal ensures that mobility doesn't come at the cost of connectivity.

How to Analyze and Measure Wi-Fi Signal Strength

Alright, so clearly measuring Wi-Fi signal loss and gain is extremely important. Here’s where we introduce you to the 7SIGNAL platform. In particular, we’ll quickly show you two ways you can use 7SIGNAL to audit signal strength in your enterprise’s network and identify areas for improvement.

We’ll show you two 7SIGNAL dashboards:

  • Average Signal Strength
  • Average AP Signal to Noise Ratio


Average Signal Strength

First up, let’s take a look at 7SIGNAL’s average signal strength dashboard, where you can (unsurprisingly) monitor and measure signal strength across your network. Here’s what it looks like:

While coming up with good network design and selecting high-quality antennae is important, measuring signal strength is absolutely essential for understanding what’s happening in a particular Wi-Fi environment.

This is where the 7SIGNAL Sapphire Eye solution comes into the picture. For those unfamiliar with Sapphire Eye, it’s a Wi-Fi sensor designed for enterprise usage. It feeds real-time network performance data, such as received signal strength for each AP, to 7SIGNAL’s dashboards, enabling you to make informed enhancements to the digital experiences you offer end users.

To demonstrate, take a look at the section inside the red box below:

The lines inside the box depict a particular access point operating at roughly -70 dBm. However,  at some point, the network jumped to -67 dBm, indicating that something either entered the environment or was removed from the environment that caused the jump. In this case, there’s a good chance something entered the environment since, an hour later, the network fell back to -73 dBm.

Now, it’s worth pointing out that fluctuating between -67 and -73 dBm is a pretty massive jump. Indeed, every 6 dBm change has an impact that’s roughly equivalent to doubling the distance between the endpoint and the access point. So when you see a jump that big, it’s important to keep in mind that it has a major impact on data rates.


Average AP Signal to Noise Ratio

Okay, next up, the average access point signal to noise ratio dashboard. Here’s what it look like:

This dashboard depicts what happens in your network as it becomes “noisy.” That is, it shows what happens when devices begin to move in and out of the environment, as crowds of people begin to move about, as end users begin accessing multiple devices, etc.

Of course, every Wi-Fi network functions perfectly when they're empty. This dashboard tells you how they look when they’re at capacity. Do they bend, or do they break?

Now, take a look at this point down here:

The signal-to-noise ratio plummeted 15 dBm. This is a good case to investigate in this particular network since, to achieve high data rates, you need your network to be operating in the neighborhood of -25 dBm or -30 dBm. 

So there you have it. With 7SIGNAl you can monitor signal strength in real time and monitor how your network performs as it reaches capacity.


See It in Action: 7 Minutes with 7SIGNAL

Eric Camulli, VP and Customer Success Officer at 7SIGNAL, covered the subject above in a recent segment on our weekly webinar. You can watch the full recording here:



Learn More From the 7SIGNAL Experts

We’re always here to answer your Wi-Fi questions at 7SIGNAL. Our enterprise Wi-Fi optimization platform helps you plan and execute a healthier network. Contact us to learn more.

7SIGNAL® is the leader in enterprise Wi-Fi optimization, providing insight into wireless networks and control over Wi-Fi performance so businesses and organizations can thrive. Our cloud-based platform continually tests and measures Wi-Fi performance at the edges of the network, enabling fast solutions to digital experience issues and stronger connections for mission-critical users, devices, and applications. Learn more at www.7signal.com.