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Why Mediocre Wi-Fi Isn’t Enough for High-Density Areas

Airports, music venues, and other organizations with a lot of foot traffic require the strongest Wi-Fi to support all those entering and exiting devices.

Key takeaways

  • High-density areas sometimes have hundreds or thousands of users trying to connect to Wi-Fi
  • Special considerations for IT administrators include:
    1. Wireless deployment models
    2. Access point throughput
    3. Bandwidth requirements
  • Best practices include using dual-band access points, increasing bandwidth, overlapping access points, and utilizing wireless network monitoring

The increased dependence on digital applications and the influx of new devices create a perfect storm of challenges when high-density organizations manage their wireless networks. Users need to access online applications instantly, and operations depend on seamless Wi-Fi to carry out a range of essential tasks. 

Network administrators have special considerations in these areas while maintaining end-user connectivity. Here are some of the basics on high-density areas and best practices for wireless coverage.

What are high-density areas?

A high-density area is a location where many different users connect to the network using one access point—sometimes hundreds or thousands of people at once. Examples of high-density areas include:

  • Sports stadiums
  • Auditoriums
  • Music venues
  • Conference centers
  • Airports
  • Hotels
  • Lecture halls

Not only do these environments have to deal with new users entering and exiting the coverage area constantly, but all of the user devices require wireless service for many different applications, some of which are integral to the event or service the organization provides. Devices may range from computers to tablets to smartphones to networked scanners to IoT wearables, like smartwatches. A high-density network thus has unique challenges when delivering strong Wi-Fi service.

Priorities for high-density wireless

To manage all of the incoming and exiting devices in high-density areas, IT staff should keep the following network priorities in mind:

1. The wireless deployment model

Coverage and capacity are two types of wireless deployment models, and your organization’s needs will determine how to set up your model. Coverage-based deployments are typically used for very large spaces that don’t have a lot of Wi-Fi device congestion in all areas, like some medical facilities or hotels. Coverage-based models take into account physical obstructions like walls. The access points will need to be deployed strategically so that signal strength is highest where devices will be used and lowest where there isn't much traffic.

Capacity-based models aim to provide strong Wi-Fi to users concentrated in one location, like a conference room or library. Capacity considers how many users will have to be on the network at once, what applications need to be supported, and the like. Often, organizations will need to use both coverage and capacity models to manage high-density areas since these requirements will apply to different locations within the larger coverage area.

2. Access point throughput

There are a few reasons that throughput may be reduced in high-density areas, including unevenly distributed users, co-channel and adjacent interference, packet overhead, and more. These factors make it a challenge to estimate how much throughput an access point can support. 

For example, even if an IT manager believes that one access point can support 24 Mbps per user based on theoretical calculations, that access point, in reality, can only support 3 Mbps per user, as outlined in an example from a NetGear report. The frequently changing conditions of a high-density area need to be accounted for.

3. Bandwidth requirements

If a setting qualifies as high density, users are likely accessing a wide variety of applications on the network. For example, individuals within a university building may be using online video tools for teaching, file-sharing platforms, and online training solutions simultaneously. Throughput needs can thus vary greatly. But if the bandwidth required for each of these applications is known, you can then calculate how much average bandwidth each projected user needs.

4. Wireless network monitoring

An effective wireless network monitoring (WNM) platform can evaluate the above factors and point network managers to solutions, assessing the performance of access points, devices, and more. The 7SIGNAL platform measures more than 600 key performance indicators, including wireless coverage, congestion, throughput, bandwidth utilization, interference, and roaming. This visibility enables network managers to spot and address issues fast and often proactively. WNM also allows them to collect data that informs the design, revision, or expansion of Wi-Fi environments to meet a facility’s needs.

Best practices for high-density areas

High-density areas require special wireless considerations, including these best practices:

  • Using dual-band access points: These access points utilize both 2.4GHz and 5 GHz to provide as much throughput as possible.
  • Increase bandwidth: Once you can identify bandwidth requirements based on estimates of application and user needs, increase bandwidth accordingly to better support these areas. 
  • Overlapping access points: If only one access point is available to a client in a given area, they can easily become overloaded. However, ensuring that access points have some overlap will trigger client devices to balance out automatically.
  • Deploying wireless monitoring: Use a wireless network monitoring solution to help IT administrators respond to many issues and troubleshoot before the client experiences a Wi-Fi problem. 

High-density areas like airports and venues can’t afford to offer bad coverage to users, as today’s consumers depend on staying connected on their many devices. With the right approach to planning, even these settings can offer robust, continuous Wi-Fi. 

How 7SIGNAL helps high-density areas

7SIGNAL’s Wireless Network Monitoring solution helps organizations with lots of foot traffic meet the demand for better Wi-Fi. Our experts recognize that high-density operations can’t stop because of network issues, whether a stadium needs to scan digital tickets or an airport needs to provide in-the-moment updates to passengers.

The 7SIGNAL platform provides greater visibility into what’s happening across the environment so that IT managers can respond instantly. Our solutions help ensure that large organizations maintain consistent operations and a positive customer experience, no matter how many devices are entering and leaving the network coverage area.

7SIGNAL® is a leader in enterprise wireless experience monitoring. 7SIGNAL provides a cloud-based platform that continuously monitors wireless networks and identifies elusive performance issues impacting application performance and digital experience. By taking the “outside-in” approach to monitoring, 7SIGNAL has visibility into the edge of any enterprise or home Wi-Fi network where complex device interaction exists, and user experience matters most. The platform maximizes employee productivity, operational efficiency, and network ROI. Sapphire Eye® and Mobile Eye® are designed for and deployed at the world’s most innovative organizations, educational institutions, healthcare systems, and government agencies. Learn more at www.7signal.com.