The Uber Group guide to good Wi-Fi

Posted on: 30.10.18

Almost everyone accesses their broadband via wireless Wi-Fi connections these days. They’re much more convenient than wired connections and generally, work well.

Wi-Fi gear and standards are getting better each year, but they’re not perfect and those pesky laws of physics get in the way.

We’d like to share our experience with wireless technology, and how to make it work better for you. Bookmark this page as we’ll update it as wireless technology moves on and new things appear.

Easy fixes

Try restarting your access point and the devices connected to it. No, really: it’s a good first step. It often clears out the problem.

Another thing to look out for is if the access point is in direct sunlight, or for instance in a cabinet with poor air circulation. Electronics don’t like getting hot. When they do, you can get random malfunctions, or the device stops working completely. Move it into the shade and in an area with good air circulation.

If you need to shift the access point, move it to a central location – or nearer to where you will connect to it. The further away the access point is, the weaker the signal.

Wi-Fi uses two frequency ranges currently: 2.4 gigaHertz and 5ghz. The 2.4ghz band is unfortunately very busy with all sorts of devices causing interference. If you have any of these near your access point:

    • Microwaves
    • Cordless phones
    • Bluetooth enabled devices
    • Wireless printers
    • Your neighbours’ Wi-Fi
    • Baby monitors.

… then try to move the access point elsewhere. You could also try to switch off devices with wireless connections that are not used.

Wireless alarms and surveillance cameras for houses, farms and businesses can also interfere with Wi-Fi. Alarm companies can help out, by adjusting power levels or better yet, provide equipment that operates in the 60ghz range rather than 2.4 or 5ghz for outdoor links.

Upgrade! A new access point that follows the recent 802.11ac standard could make a big difference if you have old wireless gear but there’s a caveat: both the device and the access point have to support 802.11ac.

If they don’t, you might need to upgrade both the access point and laptop or tablet/smartphone, provided the budget allows it.

Newer access points have more powerful processors and handle multiple devices being connected to them better as well.

One important gotcha to watch out for when putting a new access point or router into your network is that it should be set in bridge mode.

The reason for this is a feature called network address translation or NAT. For reasons that are out of the scope of this article, subscriber networks use what are known as private network addresses.

These are not routable across the internet. This means the devices they have been assigned to, like your computer and smartphone, can’t directly talk to servers on the internet, without that NAT feature we mentioned earlier.

It goes something like this: subscriber network ⇔ NAT ⇔ the internet.

Out of the box, access points are usually set up to provide NAT service. Adding a new access point could lead to the dreaded “double NAT” problem, which confuses a range of applications, games in particular, so be careful here.

Trickier things to try

If you know how to log in to your router, and can find your way around the management interface and understand what this sentence means, there are some setting changes that could fix things – but please note, getting things wrong could make problems worse, and stop your access point from working.

Be careful, and don’t go “wonder what this button does?” if you don’t know how to reset and restore an access point.

The 2.4ghz band doesn’t have very many channels. Often, access points default to channel 1 or channel 6 which could lead to problems if other Wi-Fi access points transmit in those as well.

A software tool like Wireless Diagnostics in macOS, or Netspot for Windows, can tell you which 2.4ghz channels are free or less busy, and you can try setting your access point to use them.

The higher frequency 5ghz band generally provides better performance (but shorter reach) than 2.4ghz Wi-Fi; again however, there are some things to watch out for.

Because of the higher frequency, 5ghz doesn’t go through walls and vegetation as well as 2.4ghz. Newer housing with steel frames and dense concrete walls and floors can block and reflect 5ghz signals which could require more access points.

Important: be careful which 5ghz band you select, and the channel width if you’re a Uber fixed wireless customer to avoid interference that can impact the broadband connection’s performance.

The safe band for Uber fixed-wireless customers is 5150 to 5250 mhz. The channels for that band are 32, 34, 36, 38, 40, 42, 44, 46, and 48.

Uber Group fixed-wireless customers are supplied with customer premises equipment that has a Wi-Fi access point that’s specifically set up to work with the service, and cannot be reconfigured, for the best possible user experience.

Advanced users only

Try a firmware update for your access point. WARNING WARNING WARNING: this is a risky procedure which, if done wrong, could lead to an inoperable (“bricked”) access point. If you don’t know what you’re doing, stop now.

If using 2.4ghz, narrow your channel to 20mhz. Don’t use 40mhz; having a wider channel for better performance seems like a good idea, but it’s not. For the geeks in the audience, wide channels have lower power density and reach is often less as well, both of which will make your connection worse.

Furthermore, because there is only 83.5mhz of radio-frequency spectrum available in the 2.4ghz band, chances are high that a wider channel will overlap with your neighbour’s access point. That’s guaranteed to lead to interference, and poorer performance.

Likewise, you might think that turning up the transmission power to max is a good idea, so as to drown out other signal sources, but the opposite is often true. Turning down the power could make for a cleaner signal.

Better coverage tips

Houses are getting bigger and bigger, with sturdier, modern building materials used.

In an ideal world and newer houses with steel frames in particular: each room has a cabled network connection to the broadband router/switch (known as structured cabling), and its own, smaller access point.

Range extenders aren’t great, but adding a second Wi-Fi router set to bridge mode and cabled to the first one works well. Set the additional access points to the same station identifier (SSID) on both 2.4 and 5ghz so that devices can connect to them automatically – BUT, and this important: set the access points to different channels to avoid interference with one another.

(An important aside here: roaming between access points is one thing we hope Wi-Fi will do better soon. As it is, there’s no reliable mechanism to disconnect from an access point with a weak signal, and connect to a stronger one. Try switching off the Wi-Fi on the device – for instance by using flight mode – and on again, to make it pick the stronger signal.)

Powerline adapters are getting better, and can work well provided they network with each other over the same electric circuit, and are plugged into the wall socket and not extension boards – the signals from the adapters don’t like things like that, or circuit breakers between them.

Some powerline adapters even have access points built into them, which is very convenient.

So-called mesh Wi-Fi devices are becoming popular. They can provide good results, but make sure they’re configured correctly with the repeater access points being set to bridge mode.

As per above, if the mesh Wi-Fi repeater backhaul runs in the 5ghz band, be careful so that it doesn’t interfere with Uber’s fixed wireless service.

Wow, this is way too techie for me. Help?

We’ll be honest: wireless networking IS complicated stuff.

If things aren’t working well, please send a PM on Facebook (our preferred contact method) or drop us an email or give us a call. We’ve been there and done that over the years with just about everything possible when it comes to wireless and we’re here to help.

To make sure Uber Group customers have the best possible experience of our services, we can also configure access points and routers for you. Just contact us in advance, and drop in your device, and we’ll get it set up correctly for you.