It should already be obvious that the networking world is rapidly converting to more than 90 percent of user devices connecting to their local network via Wi-Fi. This conversion is easily seen when looking at your own laptop computer. If you purchased a new one in the last two to three years, it is likely that there is no wired Ethernet port for connections. If you want to have a wired Ethernet hookup you will have to purchase an additional interface box that plugs into the computer.

As broadband service providers fight for their share of consumer connections and RMR, these companies will often advertise that their networks are faster than the competition’s. The reality of uplink and downlink speeds is obfuscated by these bold assertions that don’t include many important details that can reduce the actual throughput of internet-connected smart phones, laptops, tablets and the like.

The first issue is that network communication capacities should be termed as “bandwidth” and not “speed.” A good analogy is our road and highway systems. Consider a car driving at 60 miles per hour on a single lane road. Sixty miles per hour is the “speed” of the vehicle, but the single lane limits the number of cars that can travel. Now think about a major interstate highway that has four lanes in each direction. Now there can be multiple vehicles traveling in the same direction simultaneously. While the “speeds” of the vehicles remain the same, the “bandwidth,” or the capability of the four-lane highway, is four times that of the single lane road. Electrical (wired Ethernet) and wireless signals are transmitted at constant speeds usually characterized as the speed of light (186,000 miles per second). Data packets are all traveling at the same speed; the quantity of packets being transmitted is the bandwidth. For marketing purposes, the term “speed” is more easily understood by the common consumer and so is emphasized in ISP advertising.

Another issue that isn’t emphasized in consumer advertising is that their brand new Wi-Fi router has the latest and greatest communication capability by deploying the 802.11ac standard connectivity, along with the older 802.11n and B/G connectivity. This is accomplished by using different frequency ranges, with the older standards operating at 2.4GHz and the 802.11ac working on the 5GHz band.

While the 802.11ac standard can provide up to 1.1 Gbs, it is critical to understand that the only way that such sizeable bandwidth can be used is if the “end” device (smartphone, laptop or other Wi-Fi device) also has the 802.11ac capability built into the product. If the consumers’ cell phone or laptop is a few years old, it likely doesn’t have the latest Wi-Fi capability and cannot use the high-bandwidth 802.11ac that’s available from a new Wi-Fi router. Older devices will wirelessly connect with the type of Wi-Fi that they can use, typically 802.11n. The huge “speed” or “bandwidth” advertised may not be usable by the majority of Wi-Fi devices owned by a typical consumer.

And while I pound the table, let’s talk about the Ethernet standards and the realities of bandwidth usage. Consider a typical Ethernet device connected to a network switch via a 4 pair Cat5e copper cable. 10/100 Ethernet uses only two of the four pairs, which provide simultaneous transmit and receive connectivity paths. So theoretically, such a UTP wired device can have up to 100 Mbps in each direction at the same time.

The critical issue here is that the Ethernet standards are specific protocols, like languages. When two devices such as a network switch and an IP camera are communicating using the 100 Mbps Ethernet protocol, there isn’t necessarily 100 Mbps of data passing from device to device. A typical IP camera might output 4-6 Mbps, which will easily pass through a 10/100 protocol connection.

The devices we install for electronic security, access control and other services require much less network bandwidth than can potentially be provided by networks using the 10/100 and 1000 (“Gigabit”) Mbps Ethernet protocols.
In many cases network users may have purchased the latest and greatest high-powered Ethernet switches and Wi-Fi access points, only to use a fraction of the potentially available bandwidth of their networks. Add in some poorly terminated RJ45 plugs and reduced Wi-Fi capability due to building construction, and the realities of the available bandwidth will likely be much less than is touted by device manufacturers and internet service providers.

Dealers and technicians can use readily available internet bandwidth test websites such as Speed Test by Ookla to get a realistic idea of how much pipe is available for the remote viewing of IP cameras and control of devices.