How to configure Wi-Fi channels for top network performance

Understanding how Wi-Fi frequency bands and channels work is key to a reliable wireless network with minimal interference.

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Nothing is more important to the performance of your company's Wi-Fi network than the channels used by your wireless access points (APs). You can blanket a building with the latest and greatest APs, placed in the most advantageous spots, yet have a failing network if they aren't set to optimal channels on the Wi-Fi frequency bands.

You need to avoid co-channel interference, which is when APs within range of each other are on the same or overlapping channels. You must also circumvent non-Wi-Fi interference from cordless phones, Bluetooth headsets and other devices that emit wireless signals – even the office microwave. Both types of interference can be reduced by picking better Wi-Fi channels.

That said, it's nearly impossible to fully eliminate all interference, as it can come from inside your building from unknowing staff, such as those who install their own wireless router or enable the Wi-Fi hotspot on their smartphone or tablet, as well as from networks in neighboring offices and buildings that you have no control over. Adding further complication, the interference can change at any moment as users enter and leave the area with their devices, turn their gadgets on and off, and so on. This is why it's crucial to periodically check for interference.

Nearly all APs these days have an auto-channel feature that's supposed to choose the best channel when the AP boots up, and some additionally have a dynamic channel feature that scans the airwaves on an ongoing basis (either continuously or at set intervals or times of day) and switches to the channel with the best signal. But the level of sensing and accuracy differ among APs, so you should always manually verify auto-channel assignments immediately after deployment and periodically afterward. To properly analyze the channels, though, you need to understand the frequency bands and channels.

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