If you really want to find out if a router, repeater, or mesh network meets today's expectations and is ready for tomorrow's internet, you can't settle for yesterday's test strategies.
This applies whether you are going to test drive a Wi-Fi solution for yourself or do a review for others.
When the first wireless products came out, they did not have a lot of functionality or sophisticated technology, and the diversity of clients and usage patterns was quite limited. To compare the different manufacturers and products against each other, looking at the maximum speed was the usual way.
Since then, both the technology, the usage patterns and the expectations have changed radically, but old test strategies often remain--too often, in our opinion.
Below, we describe:
If you are not planning on doing any testing of your own, keeping the advice here in mind when reading other people's reviews can be helpful – to ask yourself what they have actually tested and how thorough they have been.
This is still the most common way consumers test their own wireless network, and it shows whether Wi-Fi is working here and now for one client:
Speed tests are by far the most popular internet connection test tools, and for wired connections, they are excellent and reliable test tools. For a wireless connection, the speed test is a spot check — it shows how much speed you achieved exactly where you were with the client, exactly when you stood there. Two steps away or three seconds before, the result could have been completely different. Another client would probably also get a different result.
More on speed tests: Speed test: Take wireless speed with a grain of salt.
If you perform more such spot checks, they can be a useful indication, but they should be used along with other tools and tests:
A more thorough test will also measure coverage, which many people experience problems with:
Remember again that the test also reflects the Wi-Fi capacity of the client you use to run the test. For example, if it's a new iPad, the coverage will look far more promising than will be the case for older clients on the same network.
These tests provide a good indication of the coverage for the clients it is tested with, but still say little or nothing about how the solution handles more realistic and complex usage scenarios.
If you want to know how the solution works in practice, you need to test even more thoroughly:
Today, most of us have the expectation that wireless should work everywhere, all the time, and it should be stable. It should work just as well in the living room on the ground floor as in the teenager's room on the second floor, regardless of what other wireless users on the network are doing. The Internet of Things brings new devices that need coverage into homes and garages and offices.
Speed and coverage spot checks are not enough to test whether a Wi-Fi solution meets these expectations, although they can provide reasonable snapshots of wireless coverage. For example, if you're evaluating wireless equipment for your business or customers, or writing a review of Wi-Fi solutions for a publication, you're obviously going to go deeper.
When testing Wi-Fi solutions, it is hard to get results that are representative of more than one user on a single client in one place at a time. The result is always a combination of access points, client and physical conditions, including interference.
Below are three advice and three test scenarios that:
Our starting point in this test strategy is that our goal is to have total coverage with stable performance – not the highest possible speed for each individual client, but a network that is ready to deal with the Internet of Things. This means handling a large amount of clients with different standards that require uptime and reliable coverage.
Our criteria for full coverage are:
Who are you testing for? If it's just for yourself, you will of course perform the tests in your own home. If you are testing for customers, or for your business, or for readers of a publication — it's crucial that the test environment is relevant:
To assess multiple solutions, the conditions should be as similar as possible:
Read more about what materials and other conditions cause problems for Wi-Fi signals:
Whether you are testing for home or office use, a realistic scenario would be that the wireless network must handle multiple wireless clients in different locations at the same time. Families with older children and teenagers are among those who report the most problems with Wi-Fi.
Here's how to test it:
If you have already taken a heat map, you know where in your home or office you have the worst the coverage. This lets you test how the Wi-Fi solution handles a scenario where one (or more) clients have poor coverage, also known as "Bad Apple", and whether this affects the performance of the network as a whole. For a more thorough introduction to the problem, see: Bad apple: How a single device with poor coverage can ruin your wireless network.
Here's how to test it:
This test scenario is most applicable if you are testing a solution with more than a single wireless access point, that is, a mesh network (such as eero or Zyxel MPro Mesh) or any combination of a router and one or more repeaters: Take a walk around your home or office carrying a client connected to a video streaming service.
What you can test then is how the solution handles what is often called a "sticky client". This means that a wireless client, once it has been connected to an access point, will often maintain this connection for as long as it possibly can, even when the signals are too weak to provide a functional connection. In an effective setup with multiple access points, the solution should ensure that the client is steered towards another access point that provides better signal strength. See also Sticky Clients: When Devices Cling to Bad Wi-Fi Connections.
Here's how to test it:
Article by Jan Pedro Tumusok, Geir Arne Rimala and Jorunn D. Newth