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Wireless network connection troubleshooting for solution providers

Wireless network connection troubleshooting is a common problem for networking solution providers and their customers. In this tip, Lisa Phifer addresses some best practices for wireless network connection troubleshooting, including commonly made mistakes and how to educate customers.

Networking solution providers who design, install, or maintain wireless LANs for their customers know that wireless network connection troubleshooting can be a bear. Wi-Fi client behavior can vary significantly, even for two devices in the same location. A user can be happily connected to Wi-Fi from his laptop with an embedded Intel adapter while simultaneously being unable to use Wi-Fi on his iPhone.

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During wireless network design, pre-deployment site surveys are used to position access points (APs) to deliver required coverage. After installation, post-deployment surveys are used to verify results by measuring actual client performance, preferably not just signal strength but application goodput. A well-designed and verified WLAN can keep many Wi-Fi clients happy, especially users with needs satisfied by best-effort data delivery.

When the inevitable connectivity problems occur, however, help desks and end users often point to the WLAN as the culprit. In reality, many WLAN connection problems turn out to have nothing to do with a WLAN's design, installation or configuration.

The solution provider ends up fielding complaints by sending staff on-site to investigate problems that could have been easily traced to simple mistakes such as Ethernet cables yanked from RJ-45 ports, personal firewalls running on Wi-Fi clients, or incorrectly entered security parameters or SSIDs. When Wi-Fi capability mismatches are the culprit, a quick look at an interoperability checklist can shed light on mistakes like trying to connect a single-band 11n client to a 5 GHz WLAN.

Educating your customers can reduce Wi-Fi connection finger-pointing and wasted effort when dealing with wireless network connection troubleshooting. We recommend supplying customers with a step-by-step, illustrated Wi-Fi connection troubleshooting guide.

Armed with a guide like this (or one that you develop, tailored for your customers), users who have trouble connecting their Wi-Fi client (desktop, laptop, smartphone, e-reader) to their office WLAN can rule out common causes quickly. Many basic problems will be resolved faster, at lower cost, thereby improving overall customer satisfaction. Tough problems that do get escalated to you will be those that really do require your expertise and tools, justifying the cost of a service call.

Read Lisa's guide on on wireless network connectivity troubleshooting.

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