What happens in the air between your router and your device? We’ve been talking to Vodafone UK’s WiFi expert Andy Pirie to find out exactly that...
Sign up to Vodafone Broadband and you’ll net yourself lightning fast speeds of up to 76Mbps, piped straight to all the devices around your home. That sort of speed is more than enough to handle all the digital demands of your whole household, but how exactly does all that information travel to your different screens?
What happens in the air between your router and your device? Well, probably more than you realise. We’ve been talking to Vodafone UK’s Wi-Fi expert Andy Pirie to get a better idea of exactly how Wi-Fi works, what you can do to improve your connection, and what makes Vodafone Broadband’s Wi-Fi the best in the business.
How does Wi-Fi work?
Ok, so before we move onto talking about what gives Vodafone Broadband the edge, it’s time for a quick science lesson.
“WiFi uses various wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum, similar to your smartphone’s 3G or 4G signal.”
“Wi-Fi uses various wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum,” Andy says, “similar to your smartphone’s 3G or 4G signal.” Essentially, your Wi-Fi router and your Wi-Fi-enabled devices are all capable of converting digital information (1s and 0s) into radio signals and sending or receiving them over the air. When information is received, they’re also able to unscramble the signal and turn those radio waves back into 1s and 0s. So far, so straightforward, right?
The other thing to know is that the parts of the spectrum reserved for broadband are much higher in frequency than those reserved for mobile data – with numbers in GHz rather than MHz – which is what allows broadband signals to send so much information so quickly. The higher the frequency in GHz, the more information. “We utilise two bands,” says Andy. “One is 2.4GHz and one is 5GHz in our spectrum range, which complies with the most modern WiFi standards available – that standard is called AC.”
And now you know that, Andy’s explanation about why staying at the forefront of those Wi-Fi standards is so important…
The best Wi-Fi technology
“It seems an awfully long time ago, but when broadband started everyone was connecting either with ethernet or USB,” Andy points out. We take Wi-Fi for granted these days, but there’s plenty of factors that can affect the quality of your Wi-Fi connection, starting with your router’s ‘wireless standard’ – industry standards that determine the quality and speed of your connection.
“Lots of services use ‘Wireless N’, which is an older, more common networking standard these days,” he says, “but we’re actually using ‘Wireless AC’, which is newer and has a much higher throughput.” Throughput? That’s the term for the total amount of data going in both directions – both up and down, to and from your devices. “Essentially, our Wi-Fi is capable of much faster speeds than many,” Andy explains, “because it uses the most up to date wireless standard.
“It also means that environmental objects which can interfere with your Wi-Fi signal – thick walls, microwaves and things like that – are less of a problem for Vodafone Broadband users. Not only does the up-to-date wireless standard help to penetrate further, but your home broadband network will have those two different channels to switch between – 2.4GHz and 5GHz – so our Wi-Fi can adapt very effectively to your home.
“Having two channels helps to reduce the load if you have a busy household with lots of devices,” he adds. “You effectively have two networks, so you can spread your devices across them.”
But does that upgrade in technology really make that much difference? The answer is a resounding yes, as Andy broke down some of the numbers for us.
“Essentially, our WiFi is capable of much faster speeds than many, because it uses the most up to date wireless standard.”
“Let’s say for example, that you were with a service that only gave you a 2.4GHz network with a Wireless N router, which is still fairly normal these days. The maximum speed you will get on your Wi-Fi will be about 70/80Mbps. Even if you’ve paid for faster speeds than that, your Wi-Fi simply won’t be able to push it through. Even worse, that signal will degrade pretty quickly as you move further from the router, and it’s going to struggle with thick walls.
“With Vodafone Broadband on Wireless AC and 5GHz Wi-Fi, you can get a throughput of between 200 and 300Mbps, and that connection will be far more consistent around your house.
“On top of that, we have some other great and unique features included in the router that are designed to further improve your Wi-Fi connection. One example of that is ‘Beam Forming’ technology, which essentially focuses the Wi-Fi signal on your device, to provide much better signal strength and consistency.” And of course there’s our Boost functionality, where you can ‘boost’ a device on the network and prioritise the Wi-Fi connection to that device. “I find that really great for when I’m working from home,” says Andy. “I can boost all day and guarantee that everything will go smoothly, even if the house is busy.”
So if you plump for Vodafone Broadband at home, you can be safe knowing that you have the most up-to-date Wi-Fi there is. But the tech in our router isn’t the only thing that stands between you and a quality Wi-Fi connection.
“The only other thing that is likely to affect your connection is the device you’re using,” says Andy, “and specifically the quality of the Wi-Fi components in the device. Some hardware manufacturers are notorious for having poor quality Wi-Fi components, so it’s always worth checking out reviews about that kind of thing. Also worth keeping in mind that some older devices can’t support the newer Wi-Fi standards, whereas newer devices can support all standards.”
The future of WiFi?
So, if Vodafone Broadband represents the cutting edge of wireless tech right now, where does Wi-Fi go from here?
“We’ve already put forward a whole bunch of requirements for the next generation of the router,” says Andy. “What we have now is fantastic, certainly one of the best Wi-Fi setups available on the market, but we’re always thinking about the future, and how we can improve Wi-Fi speed and penetration.
“What we have now is fantastic, certainly one of the best Wi-Fi setups available on the market.”
“If you look at the top corporate routers today, they have multiple antennas and they’re all based on 5GHz. We are recommending that for the next generation of our router, and we’re very much looking at using more intelligent Wi-Fi channel selection tech to make sure devices are on the right channels and operating at the right frequencies, and make sure there’s no interference between them.”
And as for the current wireless standards? Andy reckons that the 5GHz and Wireless AC standards are here to stay…
“I’m sure 10GHz is coming,” he laughs, “but at this point, it’s all about optimising 5GHz. I’ve certainly not seen any new standards on the horizon, and if they exist, they’re not even close to being ready. Normally it takes two or three years to get the technology ratified before it goes into a production, so it’s a fair way off yet. What we’re looking at is optimising the existing 5GHz technology,” he says, “and making things as efficient and as powerful as possible for our users.”