Welcome the latest WiFi Ninjas Blog!
At the time of writing, most of the world is in the lockdown due to the COVID-19 outbreak, but below tips stay relevant even after lockdown!
Lots of us are forced to Work From Home (WFH) and while some are well seasoned with this type of work, it’s a novelty for most.
It’s more important than ever to have a reliable WiFi connectivity at home that can handle not only remote work, video conferences and voice calls, but also all streaming, downloading, gaming and browsing with all family members now being at home too. All day, every day 😉
Today we are discussing WFH WiFi, Office Setup & Productivity.
Here is what we will cover:
WFH Productivity Tips
- Prioritise Tasks
- Create Space
- Separate Work Space From Personal Space
WFH WiFi Tips
- Validate Coverage
- Improve Coverage
- Change Your AP for a Better One
- Steer Away From Interference
- Streamline Your WiFi Configuration
- Choose Your Broadband Package Carefully
- Stay Secure
Let’s crack on!
WFH Productivity Tips
- Write down tasks for the day and prioritise them.
- Start with tasks that can’t wait and must be completed.
- Follow with most impactful tasks.
- Switch to less important tasks only if the “must do’s” and “most impactful” ones are done.
- Limit distractions.
- Disable notifications on your phone, tablet, computer and re-enable them 2-3 times a day tops.
- If possible, plan specific slots where you’re contactable. Respond to messages (email, WhatsApp, Twitter, LinkedIn, MS Teams, Cisco WebEx, Slack, Skype, Hangouts, Messenger, etc.) only in those allocated time slots:
- Matt has 3 slots a day: start of work, lunch, end of work.
- Mac has 2 slots a day: start of work, end of work.
- Close all tabs and programmes not relevant to task at hand so they don’t tempt you.
- Your tasks can sometimes be time consuming, outside of your comfort zone, scary, unpredictable. The bigger and scarier the task is in your head, the more chance is you’ll procrastinate! How many times you wanted to do something just to catch yourself scrolling down the social media or messaging platforms 10 seconds later?
- As difficult as it can be, set your mind to work on the planned task, and only that. Once you start, it gets only easier!
- If you find it impossible to focus for longer periods of time, start with shorter slots locked for the task. It’s OK if you start with 30 minute, 15 minutes or even 5 minutes for as long as you stay focused.
- Lock slots in your calendar for tasks outside of work any time that works for you before or after work
- Both of us study / upskill / lab things up during specific time slots that we try to adhere to.
- WFH is a perfect opportunity to spend more time on the above! A lot of us commute to work and back every day – get up at the same time you would as if you had to commute and instead use this time to smash your tasks.
- Allow for reasonable flexibility and don’t feel disappointed when you have to adjust something in your perfect schedule – sometimes life situations force us to change our plans with little or no notice!
Separate Work Space From Personal Space
- If possible try and separate your working space from your personal space in your house / apartment.
- We find you get into a much better mindset being in the place where you know you will be working rather than being in a place where you would normally relax and have some downtime.
- This therefore gives you more focus and you are less susceptible to distractions.
- Both of us have dedicated office space but we appreciate not everyone has that option!
- Noise cancelling headphones help.
- Talk to your family or friends you live with about your commitments. Communication and setting expectations with them is key.
WFH WiFi Tips
- Use your favourite WiFi Scanning tool and walk around your house to ensure that coverage is decent for your needs. Every device has different antennas, radios and sensitivity and sometimes your WiFi signal quality might be perfect for a laptop, whereas phone would struggle when used in the same place. Having it in mind, it’s best to use your least capable WiFi device for coverage testing, which would typically be your phone. But don’t worry if you’re using a laptop – it’s still OK to do so! Here are some best and easiest to use tools that will help you check the WiFi coverage:
- If you have more than a few neighbours, you would typically want to focus just on 5GHz as 2.4GHz is probably congested. More info farther down.
- Note Received Signal Strength Indicator (RSSI) value shown in [dBm] everywhere you expect WiFi to work.
- To ensure good WiFi quality, your aim is to get at least -67dBm everywhere! The higher the RSSI the better. In example, -55dBm is better than -67dBm.
- If your device falls below -67dBm, you might want to consider re-positioning your AP, changing it for a better quality one, or, in some cases, adding more APs.
- If you get -67dBm everywhere, you can ignore this tip 🙂 If you keep reading, it probably means you’re in trouble! Here are some tips.
- Re-position your AP.
- Always aim to put the AP as close to the areas where you use WiFi most as possible, typically in the middle of the house; especially true for bigger houses and apartments (Matt wouldn’t notice a difference in his little student’s accommodation).
- Mount / position AP or router antennas as suggested by the manufacturer.
- If you have an enterprise-grade dedicated AP, you would typically mount it on the ceiling to ensure best coverage. Mac’s Cisco 3802i AP:
- If you have a home router with external antennas, typically point them all up or down.
- Try not to place your AP inside the storage room, under the stairs, behind furniture, etc.
- Ideally, it should have clear line of sight to the devices served and, if not possible, penetrate as little walls as possible.
- If you have an office in a separate building, garage in the garden or similar as an example, it’s always best to run a good quality (outdoor rated cat6 or better) cable between your home router and the garage, and install an additional AP there.
- If your home and garage are on the same mains circuit, you could use power extenders instead of running cable, but running a cable is always absolutely best.
- Don’t use cheap mesh solutions or coverage extenders – they can increase your coverage but can also slow your entire network down.
Change Your AP for a Better One
- If your AP is positioned nicely and you do have SOME coverage but it’s not as good as you’d like, changing your AP for a better quality one might just be an answer.
- Good quality home grade APs don’t have to be too expensive. In example, TP-Link Archer C50 AC1200 is listed for £33 on Amazon at the time of writing.
- Home grade routers/APs are normally configured for DHCP on their WAN port, and assuming you already have Sky, BT, Virgin Hub etc. equipped with some ethernet ports, they’re very easy to integrate with your home network. Steps below:
- Connect WAN interface of your new home router to any free ethernet port of your existing hub
- Follow quick start guide to connect to the admin panel of your new home router. Remember how to get to that admin portal as you’ll need it later 🙂
- Set SSID name and password for both 2.4 and 5GHz. Ensure you can differentiate between them two.
- Enjoy better coverage!
- Another thing to consider is if you really need to buy more expensive AP, WiFi6 in example. You will definitely pay a premium to jump onto WiFi6 hype bandwagon and you’ll rarely see the benefits of the WiFi6 (802.11ax) in home environment, so if you’re not a mega power user, you’re fine sticking to WiFi5 (802.11ac). Just for your understanding, the only real difference would be theoretically slightly better data rates when few metres away (7-10m in clear line of sight, but all it takes is one wall to lose this benefit) from the AP due to use of more sophisticated modulation (1024QAM in WiFi6 vs 256QAM in WiFi5). You might also see some improvement in efficiency when most of your devices are WiFi6 capable and you’re heavily using most of them all the time due to OFDMA access method. This also comes with a caveat, as if had a chance to watch amazing presentation from Peter Mackenzie at WLPC 2020 in Phoenix (WLAN Analysis Tricks | Peter Mackenzie | WLPC Phoenix 2020; start watching at 28:45), even top of the range enterprise APs struggle with resource units allocation efficiency, so we can only imagine it would have been exaggerated even more in much cheaper home-grade APs. Additionally, your neighbours would also need to be using WiFi6 if you’re sharing the same spectrum in busier areas (like city centres, blocks of flats, etc.). Let’s leave it at that.
- If you are a proper nerd, you can invest in enterprise grade AP or APs. Plenty of good choices there, with cheapest being Ubiquity UniFi (requires controller, but it’s easy-ish), Mist or Meraki/Meraki Go (cloud based, requires subscription) or, if you’re a real hardcore, you can opt for a Cisco 2800/3800 series AP (getting quite cheap on eBay and are still rock solid) and either convert them for Mobility Express or use new Catalyst 9800 WLC – you’ll find plenty of resources about how to make this work on our website (Cisco Catalyst 9800 WLC WiFi Ninjas Series). Going with Aruba and other vendors might also be a solid option. Note, that most enterprise solutions will also require more underlying infrastructure, like PoE (or power brick) or DHCP.
Steer Away From Interference
- As you might have guessed, in most cases the biggest interferers are your neighbours (don’t tell them that just yet!)
- 2.4GHz travels farther than 5GHz so you might be tempted to use it instead of 5GHz. But use 2.4GHz with caution! Keep on reading.
- 2.4GHz has only 3 non-overlapping channels (1, 6 and 11).
- 5GHz has 25 non-overlapping channels (all 5GHz channels are non-overlapping).
- If you and your neighbours use the same channel, all your devices are contending for the airtime. It means that if their device receives or transmits data, your device wait for its turn. Google “Clear Channel Assessment” (CCA) and “Distributed Coordination Function” (DCF) if you want to dig deeper. The more neighbours are using the same channel the bigger hit the WiFi performance will take. It is therefore much easier to avoid this channel contention on 5GHz band.
- Still, if you’re into IoT and home automation, you’ll need 2.4GHz, so don’t dismiss it completely just yet! Even though 2.4GHz is typically not the best choice for your capable devices (computers, phones, tablets, smart TVs, etc.) your IoT (hoovers, mowers, bulbs, bells, locks etc.) might still require 2.4GHz to operate and will most likely be quite happy and unaffected by higher contention and interference.
- It’s considered best practice to separate 2.4GHz from 5GHz and this is how we Ninjas do it:
- 2.4GHz SSID: used only for IoT and possibly guests (if you don’t like them).
- 5GHz SSID: used for streaming, gaming, calls, conferences
- Now that you understand the story behind 2.4GHz vs 5GHz, let’s dive into how to best avoid your neighbours (WiFi, not personally) and interference:
- Use only channels 1, 6 and 11 on 2.4GHz. Read the below only if you crave for technical explanation! 🙂
- Never use anything in between. Even in heavily congested areas, it’s better to have 9 APs all on channel 1, 6 or 11 rather than 9 APs each on a separate channel 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.
- If you can’t avoid channel overlapping and are sharing a channel with some of your neighbours, all yours and your neighbours’ devices will play it nicely and politely wait for their turn (CCA & DCF again). It will be slower for everyone, but it will work.
- If you can’t avoid channel overlapping and you and your neighbours are all using different, but still overlapping channels, yours and your neighbours’ devices won’t respect the WiFi rules and will all transmit whenever they need to transfer (that is when Energy Detect which is part of the CCA is happy), therefore creating collisions. Collisions will contribute to increased number of retransmissions. And mad number of retransmission will hurt WiFi network performance much more for everyone when compared to sticking to non-overlapping channels 1, 6 and 11. We know it’s kinda complicated but we still hope it makes sense! To make it slightly clearer, take a look at the 2.4GHz channels chart showing how they overlap with one another:
- Use only channels 1, 6 and 11 on 2.4GHz. Read the below only if you crave for technical explanation! 🙂
- Use 20MHz channel widths if available. You can bond multiple channels (up to 2 in 2.4GHz and up to 8 in 5GHz) and each time you double the channel width (20Mhz to 40Mhz, 40 to 80, 80 to 160MHz) you more than double the data rate. Sadly, wide channels are the default setting in most home routers provided by the ISPs. Read on to see why crazy channel bonding is not the best idea!
- On 2.4GHz, always use 20MHz channels. If you start using 40MHz channels, you will reduce number of non-overlapping channel from 3 (already very low) to 1, so everyone in your area will contribute to retransmissions, and in turn lower real performance of all your networks.
- On 5GHz you would typically want to stick to 20MHz in busier areas. You can use 40MHz but only if you’re sure you and your neighbours won’t share the same spectrum. Theoretically you could configure some systems to use 80 or even 160MHz but you don’t want to do it for 2 reasons:
- It’s more difficult to avoid interference with your neighbours.
- Every time you double the width of your channel, you double the channel noise and therefore reduce Signal to Noise Ratio (SNR) by 3dB, and this is directly translated to lowering WiFi quality at coverage cell edges.
- Use your WiFi Scanning tool that you used to validate your coverage to see what channels your neighbours operate on and steer away from them. If you can’t steer away and your neighbours bond their channels, buy a beer, go over to them (or shout over the window, as we’re in isolation now) and help them reduce their channel width so you both can enjoy clean 5GHz spectrum without contending for the airtime.
- Just as an example, look at how Matt has steered clear of his neighbours on 5GHz band. All his neighbours are using Sky and enjoy a very nice extreme congestion, where it’s crap for everyone. They have tons of retransmissions, their 4k Netflix goes tits up regularly. This is due to the really bad Sky default settings (Channel 36 at 80MHz, using channels 36, 40, 44 and 48) and radio limitations, so that those routers can only operate on those 4 channels. Additionally, you can’t set it up for 20MHz operation and the smallest channel width is 40MHz. In this scenario, you can’t avoid interference and you would want to buy a different AP that will allow you escape this congestion madness. Matt has a juicy Mist AP sitting comfortably on channel 108 at 80MHz, having totally zero competition and therefore enjoying best possible quality WiFi he can get.
Streamline Your WiFi Configuration
- Now that you hopefully have a good coverage and don’t interfere with your neighbours, it’s time to look at some more sophisticated settings.
- Some home routers come as “tri band” routers. They will have 1x 2.4GHz radio and 2x 5GHz radios. More radios mean more channel overlapping, and as we know it might cause more harm than good. Use dual 5GHz ONLY if can ensure contention/interference-free operation.
- Some home routers might have a WiFi QoS functionality based on CPU-heavy packet inspection. Disable it if you experience any performance issues.
- If you have just one AP, disable 802.11r, 802.11v and 802.11k (if you have those settings available); if you have more APs and leverage WPA2-Enterprise, you can leave 802.11r & k enabled and you probably know what you’re doing anyway 😉
Choose Your Broadband Package Carefully
- Go for the fastest affordable / practical broadband available for you – in most cases in the UK that will be unlimited Fibre. If you live out in the sticks you might only be able to get a copper DSL or 3G/4G connection. Faster & unlimited broadband will significantly improve your home WiFi experience – especially if you have a lot of devices connected at the same time streaming or trying to do video conferencing, voice calls etc.
- (finger in the air warning) 50 Mbps down and 10Mbps should be enough in most cases, but having more won’t hurt. Having less may.
- Just because you are working from home (or from a public place) does not mean that everything you do is secure, so here are a few Ninja tips to keep you safer when working remotely.
- If you have enterprise-grade kit, ideally, use 802.1X EAP / WPA2 or WPA3-Enterprise for authentication
- It’s very difficult to hack EAP – see our blog about it here: https://wifininjas.net/index.php/2019/08/23/wn-blog-012-can-you-crack-802-1x-wpa2-enterprise-wireless-data/
- EAP-TLS is highest on the security list due to mutual authentication with certificates between the server and the client. It’s also the most complicated method and require some additional software and/or infrastructure (PKI, MDM, etc. – experts only!)
- EAP-PEAP is much less complicated and still considered very secure, just not as secure as EAP-TLS (we won’t dive into too much detail here but bear in mind that it’s Evil Twins attackable!)
- If you have home-grade kit and can’t use WPA(2/3)-Enterprise, use WPA(2/3)-Personal (PSK)
- Ensure you use strong PSK. Only use strong passwords for everything in general – non dictionary, not less than 8 characters. You DOB or dog’s name are not your best choices.
- You can use a password manager such as Dashlane, 1Password or KeePass to manage your passwords.
- Make sure that you use different passwords for different services so when one service is compromised (and it can happen even if it’s not your fault – sites are being hacked), attacker won’t get access to all your services.
- Never, ever use WEP – cracking your network takes an amateur minutes at best. Stick to WPA2 or WPA3
- Use multi factor authentication on everything. Cracking / stealing / guessing your password is just one part of the puzzle.
- Be careful in public areas
- There are times, where you might work outside of the office and home. May it be a coffee shop or public park, make sure to adhere to below rules and use common sense.
- Make sure you lock your devices when you are not using them.
- Use HDD encryption in case your laptop is stolen, now a default setting in Windows 10.
- Never use unsecure website. If the website does not have a little padlock next to its address, do not use it, and most definitely, do not enter any sensitive information into it, especially in public open/open network as all the data is then ‘sniffable’ as clear text. Look for that symbol:
- If your company offers a VPN (Virtual Private Network) use it or buy (or configure) your own one. There are many reasonably priced VPNs out there – Matt uses Dashlane. Mac normally doesn’t use VPN as he is generally anti-social so he don’t go to public places often anyway. But if he desperately needs some privacy, he has AnyConnect sitting on Cisco 5506x FTD to tunnel traffic back to his house. It’s quite nerdy though.
- Be wary and vigilant to phishing emails, people are very sneaky these days and can easily make emails look like they come from a trusted source but if you see something that doesn’t look right – do not open it. And certainly do not click on any links or give away your credit card details 🙂
Stay safe kids!
And keep an eye out for our follow up blogs where we will discuss our own WFH setups, home lab and WFH wellbeing tips.
Tons of love,
WiFi Ninjas x