Don’t Go Cheap on WiFi!

Don’t Go Cheap on WiFi!

Before we dive into the actual subject of this post let me first apologize for its title on two counts:

  • One – it’s deliberately offensive. Calling someone “cheap” in some circles can be on par with questioning someone’s integrity but I’m a fan of attention grabbing blog post titles hence the title of this post!
  • Two – it’s completely subjective though it pretends to be objective. Specifically, what is “cheap” exactly? Who decides what the dividing line is between “cheap” and “not cheap”? Can you really just know what “cheap” is when you see it? Lots of questions…no easy answers. Sort of like life.

Apologies having been made we are now on with the show…

As the graphic that goes along with this post hints at, if Abraham Maslow was still alive in this age of ubiquitous “WiFi” – or “Wireless Local Area Network” (WLAN) technology as the geekier among us may call it – then he would almost certainly have added WiFi to his now famous “hierarchy of needs”. (Alas, Maslow died in 1970…almost 30 years prior to the introduction of the IEEE 802.11 standard in 1997.) The humor of the graphic of course being that as you go down Maslow’s 5-layer “needs pyramid” (triangle technically…but I digress) you get closer and closer to the fundamental requirements of human life culminating in our physiological needs like breathing, eating, hydrating, etc. So simply insert a “WiFi” layer below the “physiological” layer and nerdy psychological humor ensues!

While the graphic is funny because of its hyperbole (I think so at least), there’s a wee bit of truth to it these days…WiFi really is everywhere now. Indeed, we are perturbed when we don’t have access to WiFi wherever we happen to find ourselves…even when we’re up in the air at 35,000 feet!

So as a leader of a small business (or non-profit) who sees herself as “technologically hip” you have, of course, taken the plunge in WiFi by now and you’ve purchased some Wireless Access Points (“WAP” or simply “AP”), got them on your network (they can even “talk to the Internet”) and you’ve thought to yourself, “we’ve got WiFi just like the ‘big boys’”…you’ve checked it off your to-do list as “done” and you’ve since moved on to the next ten items on that list. I hate to be the one to break this to you but, no, you really don’t “got WiFi” even though you think you do.

What you in fact have are some APs strung up in your office, shop or wherever your organization happens to do its thing that…

  • …might be providing you adequate coverage of that workspace (but probably are not)
  • …might be providing you with decent signal strength which correlates directly to your WLAN’s perceived speed (but, again, probably are not)
  • …might have been put on separate channels to avoid competing with other highly saturated WiFi network channels from nearby buildings/offices (but I know for sure that you didn’t do that!) which correlates most directly to the perceived reliability of your WLAN

I could go on and on with the list above (I didn’t even hit “sources of signal interference”) but I’d simply bore you to tears (as I do my wife when I talk about these things) and, besides, I think I’ve made my basic point: That is, no, you don’t “got WiFi”. You’ve recognized the “need” for WiFi – good on ya’ for that – but the fulfillment of that need is, shall we say, “lacking”. (Don’t hate me…I’m just the messenger!)

Moreover, lest you think that we’re just talking about the difference between aFerrari and a Hyundai, a slice of Kobe Beef and a Big Mac or perhaps a bottle of “Macallan 25” and a “bottle o’ Jack”…meaning, that this is just a question of spending more money to get more value (perceived or “real”), then I would clarify by saying “no, this is not just a matter of spending more money” on your WiFi gear.

Indeed, if we take the Ferrari/Hyundai analogy just a bit further here…I could hand you the keys to a Ferrari and say “it’s yours…now go drive fast but don’t kill yourself or anyone else” but the chances are very high that you would not be able to do so. Why? Because even though you now have the means to “drive fast” you do NOT have the corresponding knowledge required to do so…safely. In the same way that I could hand you the most expensive WiFi equipment in the world and say “here you go…put all this stuff together and you’ll have the fastest WiFi in the world…you can thank me later!” Again, the knowledge would be lacking here so you would not get very far…in fact, I would venture to say that you would get further “driving fast” in a Ferrari than you would with your new WiFi gear.

So will you have to pay more to get yourself a good WiFi network? I’m not going to lie to you…yes, you will have to pay a bit more but that cost has two realistic forms that it could take:

  • Time – you could acquire the knowledge to expertly put all the pieces of a very speedy and reliable WiFi network together and be thrilled with your results. We’re not talking, though, about spending a couple of days Googling “setting up WiFi” because the reality is that to do WiFi networking correctly you really do need years of experience here…not months…YEARS!
  • Money – you could hire a technology team (with the prerequisite expertise) to do the job right and to get it done in a reasonably timely manner. (I say “a reasonably time manner” here because even after a solidly designed WiFi network has been deployed, it will require a post-installation survey to verify that the network is performing as expected and some care and feeding over the life of the network to improve its security, performance and reliability.)

So the real question is not whether you’ll have to pay more for a good WiFi network implementation than you would for a not-so-good WiFi network implementation but rather what sort of value are you expecting from that implementation?

Do you value the “workplace flexibility” that WiFi offers? (Ethernet cables are perhaps even more hated than power cords.) Do you value the “device flexibility” that WiFi offers? (More and more devices are dropping Ethernet altogether so if you want to use those devices in any productive way, then you must have a WiFi network.) Do you value the speed and reliability that a well-designed WiFi network can provide? (Let me answer that for you: Yes, you do…you may say that you don’t…but you do.)

So (taking this post back to its title) what does a “cheap WiFi” network look like? It looks like one where the people who are trying to use it are asking/saying things to each other like, “are you able to get on the WiFi?” or “I can’t get Internet while I’m on the WiFi” or “as I walk around the building on the WiFi I’m constantly being asked to re-enter the WiFi password” or “which WiFi network am I supposed to connect to again?”, etc. Don’t opt for cheap with your organization’s WiFi…instead, opt for value!


When Danny is NOT busy “calling people cheap”, he’s also leading a technology consulting company. Hit him on Twitter or Facebook.

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