Vendors turn WiFi into a total disaster

Summary:I have to be honest with you, despite being someone who makes almost daily use of WiFi, it's a technology that never fails to disappoint me. Partly the disappointment is down to the limitations of the technology and the rules of physics, but most of the disillusionment is down to the gulf between the marketing hyperbole and reality, which is now so vast that it sometimes reads like sci-fi.

I have to be honest with you, despite being someone who makes almost daily use of WiFi, it's a technology that never fails to disappoint me.  Partly the disappointment is down to the limitations of the technology and the rules of physics, but most of the disillusionment is down to the gulf between the marketing hyperbole and reality, which is now so vast that it sometimes reads like sci-fi.

There isn't an aspect to WiFi that hasn't been hyped to the point of insanity Let's face it, WiFi has always been far from perfect.  Over clear open spaces, WiFi works, sort of.  But put a wall, ceiling or other obstruction between you and the WiFi box and things become unpredictable.  The more walls and ceilings you put between you and the WiFi box (and adding a microwave oven for good measure) and the more unpredictable the technology becomes.  You can try compensating for this by adding more access points and repeaters, but even then acheiving good coverage is tricky.  What's the difference whether you're tethered to sitting with your notebook in one particular spot in your living room or office because that's where the Ethernet cable comes out of the wall or because you have to sit there as it's the only place where you can see the WiFi box?  Either way, the end result is that you're tethered. 

One thing that you can be guaranteed of with WiFi is that there are no guarantees.

OK, so WiFi is  flawed.  Big deal.  Show me a technology that isn't.  But what makes the flaws in WiFi so much bigger and so much more annoying is that there isn't an aspect to WiFi that hasn't been hyped to the point of insanity.  Read through almost any piece of sales or marketing literature related to WiFi and you'll find it crammed with ridiculous claims relating to range, speed, reliability, security, performance and ease of use.  In the words of Scotty, "Ye canna change the laws of physics!"

If you manage to get past the WiFi hype and become comfortable with the limitations of the technology (and of the laws of physics), the very next thing that you discover is just how badly designed and implemented WiFi is by almost all the vendors.  Want examples?  Here are a few: 

  • Why do you almost always have to fiddle with the IP address of the PC that you use to configure a WiFi box? 
  • Why most WiFi boxes allow you to set them up with no security whatsoever?
  • Why isn't it mandatory that the default password is changed during the setup process?
  • Why do most vendors assume that the WiFi box is at the center of any network universe?

I could go on ...

But things are getting worse for WiFi.  Back when your WiFi box was the only one of the block, that meant that it had complete freedom of the airspace that fell within it's range, and you could either see and connect to it or not.  But as more people start using WiFi that means that there's more competition for the available airspace.  You might be sitting in your lounge or office and unable to connect to your router but be able to clearly see your neighbors WiFi box (and more than likely you'll be able to connect to it as well because chances are that it's not encrypted).  Now we have a situation where every WiFi box is operating at full power, and, more than likely, all competing on the same channel.  Even if you do manage to reconfigure your WiFi box onto a quiet channel, this offers you no protection from someone who's switched on the Turbo setting on their router and is hogging all channels.

And things are set to get worse.  As more and more devices are now WiFi-enabled which means that the already crowded airspace is going to become painfully overcrowded.  This is going to mean problems for everyone using WiFi.

The main advantage of WiFi over Ethernet is the fact that you don't have to drill holes and install cables.  In every other respect - speed, reliability, security, performance - 100Mbit Ethernet beats WiFi hands down.  Upgrade your network to support 1000Mbit and WiFi feels primitive.

Thoughts?

Topics: Wi-Fi

About

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes is an internationally published technology author who has devoted over a decade to helping users get the most from technology -- whether that be by learning to program, building a PC from a pile of parts, or helping them get the most from their new MP3 player or digital camera.Adrian has authored/co-authored technic... Full Bio

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