The bulk of networked devices are now wireless. Most Wi-Fi manufacturers now offer some form of Wi-Fi monitoring, including cloud-based solutions, and often have great dashboards that require no setup at all. But if you don’t know it’s there, or how to take advantage of it, is it really any help?

This quick guide is designed to help your team with best practices when it comes to Wi-Fi monitoring: how to understand and make the most of what is available to you.

Where to start when starting Wi-Fi monitoring

If you are evaluating Wi-Fi traffic monitoring solutions, there are two major factors you should consider that represent the bulk of challenges end-users experience (aka your problem) when using Wi-Fi networks: How efficiently are devices connecting to the Wi-Fi network, and what may be impacting the performance of the access point itself.

How efficiently are devices connecting to the Wi-Fi network?

“I’m connected but there’s no internet!”
“I can’t connect at all!”

Yes. A lot of these may not be true “wireless” issues, but they feel like it to the user, and in the new last-mile network, that experience is what really matters.

A lot of various factors play into this issue and can be extremely easy for an end-user to miss the solution. Here are some basic best practices we recommend to help you diagnose and fix connection issues.

1. Check for human error:

  • Users are on a Guest network, unaware they need to log in through the captive portal
  • A user may have entered the wrong password for the network
  • A device may have outdated drivers that are incompatible with the network’s configuration
  • A user may have changed their password, but may not have updated it for their Wi-Fi connection

2. Check the following network factors for issues that might prevent a connection:

  • Radius Server response times are incredibly delayed
  • WPA2-Enterprise EAP-TLS Certificate issues such as expirations or endpoint misconfiguration
  • A user was assigned the wrong VLAN by the WLAN infrastructure
  • The DHCP server has exhausted its list of available IP addresses
  • The DNS Server has stopped responding

What to look for in a Wi-Fi monitoring solution

So! A monitoring solution should be able to show the history of a device attempting to join, and where things may have failed. A monitoring solution should generally provide historical data on the following onboarding metrics:

  • SSID
  • Client authorization state
  • Client authentications attempts
  • Authentication Success or Failure
  • Roam
  • VLAN
  • DHCP Request
  • DHCP State

For organizations using WPA2-Enterprise, getting the reason codes from the radius server can be incredibly helpful. A monitoring solution that ties into the 802.1X syslog data can be a lifesaver.

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Image: Fons Heijnsbroek/Unsplash

What may be impacting the current connections on the access point itself?

Because Wi-Fi is all about enabling mobility, context about a device’s location and connection (the AP it is trying to use) are absolutely critical. Issues based on an area tend to be related to Wi-Fi Channel or Signal Strength coverage. And sometimes these issues may be outside of your control. But for owned Wi-Fi networks, we recommend you work through the following steps.

“I have issues everywhere”

  • Check the maps of access point locations and a history of access point associations to understand client roaming behavior.
  • Look at the client device roam history for changes in band or SSID
  • Review the Channel Utilization of Access points in the client event history.

“I have issues in this specific area”

  • Look for low signal strength of client devices.
  • Check for high Channel Utilization levels of the Access Points in that Area.
  • If the Access Points with higher levels are in the center of the map review your legacy data rate settings and the number of APs that are on the same channel
  • Look at the client counts
  • Review alert histories for interference alerts (if your WLAN is capable of identifying interference)

“The wireless gets really slow”

  • Check which Access Point the device is connected to, and ask for their current location.
  • Review the Access Point’s radio channel utilization.
  • Open the event history to understand the device’s roaming behavior
  • Does it jump between bands or SSIDs?
  • What was the channel utilization for each of those associations?

What to look for in a Wi-Fi traffic monitoring solution

This means that a Wi-Fi monitoring solution should be able to provide historical data about a client’s connection in the form of a time graph. Maps of access point locations and a history of access point associations will help piece together a story of the client device’s behavior.

A Monitoring Solution should be able to highlight the historical measurements of:

  • Access Point Channel Utilization
  • Client Received Signal Strength (RSSI)
  • Client roam history
  • Data Tx/Rx
  • Retransmissions
  • Non-Wi-Fi Interferers

Some monitoring applications may aggregate events, or may only update client/AP associations every 1-5 minutes. A lot can happen in that amount of time and may not be helpful in understanding the full client user experience. The end users may be insistent that the issue is affecting productivity despite what a monitoring solution states.

A lot of modern wireless solutions provide APIs, webhooks, and other forms of telemetry for near real-time troubleshooting. These are incredibly helpful when leadership is breathing down your neck! These newer technologies are still limited to what the infrastructure hears.

Bonus: Make experts out of your onsite technicians

For the same reasons we all use network monitoring systems, we also need Wi-Fi monitoring solutions— to help with troubleshooting devices connecting and staying connected. But it’s not enough to rely solely on software for visibility. Each onsite technician, if you have them, should have a way to understand Wi-Fi issues, and how to make proactive recommendations to keep your Wi-Fi traffic and connectivity running smoothly.

Turn your technician saying, “Everyone is complaining about the Wi-Fi being slow!” into, “Can we turn down the 2.4 GHz transmit power of the hallway AP down? Everyone walking into the lecture hall is staying connected and not roaming to any of the APs we have in the room.”

Check out MetaGeek’s tool for onsite Wi-Fi troubleshooting, Tonic. Tonic provides a reliable process for troubleshooting Wi-Fi devices (endpoints) on-site, no matter which technician gets sent out and how much Wi-Fi expertise they have.

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Got Wi-Fi Issues? Say Hello to Chanalyzer

When the network “seems fine” but end users are still reporting wireless connectivity problems, it’s time to bring Chanalyzer on-site to visually diagnose Wi-Fi configuration issues.

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