Measuring wireless network performance: Data rates vs. signal strength
Although signal strength is often the de facto performance benchmark, signal strength alone won’t necessarily determine the usability of a wireless network. We’ve all experienced occasions when a Wi-Fi network was unusable even though the signal strength appeared to be adequate. For this reason, we at Luxul always suggest that you test signal strength and data rates to thoroughly validate a network installation.
A simple, effective and inexpensive method for testing data rates is the iPerf utility. iPerf is a tool for measuring TCP and UDP throughput, jitter and packet loss performance of IP networks. It is available for Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, iOS and Android platforms. For more information, and to download iPerf, visit the iPerf website.
What and Where to Test
When evaluating wireless network performance and/or comparing the performance of different wireless technologies, we suggest you test the following:
Problem Areas: Test known problem areas where the signal may seem to be adequate but connectivity has been a challenge.
Distance: As a general rule, the further away from the access point, the lower the data rates. At short range, there is likely little or no difference between wireless technologies; some wireless equipment maintains higher data rates at a greater distance. An installer can benefit by understanding where the network becomes unusable due to insufficient data throughput.
Equipment Required for the Test
You’ll need a couple of things to test network performance. First, you’ll need a wireless router or access point to test. Next, you’ll need a computer, router or access point with iPerf running on it to act as a server, connected to the LAN via Ethernet. Finally, you’ll need a computer or a mobile device with iPerf running on it to act as a client. The iPerf client will connect to the iPerf server and test usable bandwidth between the two (Figure 1).