4 reasons residential Wi-Fi is broken, and how AI can fix it

People and media tend to measure the quality of their internet access in bandwidth. Institutions like UN and the World Bank measure and rank countries on their average residential internet bandwidth. The European Union established 50% Fiber-To-The-Home coverage as a central aspect of the entire 2020 Digital Agenda.

Bandwidth is used as a global measure of how developed a country is.

So if your internet connection sucks, just getting more internet bandwidth must be the answer? Right?

Not so fast. We collected data every second for over a year from thousands of residential Wi-Fi networks, adding up to more than 60 billion data points. The data show that Wi-Fi bandwidth is already the bottleneck in most homes and not the internet bandwidth. This trend seems to be increasing as we get better and better internet bandwidth while adding more and more connected home devices that rely on Wi-Fi bandwidth.

Internet Bandwidth, i.e. what you buy from your ISP, is a familiar concept. Now, let’s introduce the concept of Wi-Fi bandwidth. Wi-Fi bandwidth is the total amount of data that can be transferred wirelessly from a router. It is shared by all the connected devices, and with any other router, like your neighbor’s, using the same frequency.

If the Wi-Fi Bandwidth is lower than the Internet Bandwidth (assuming no devices are connected through a cable), buying more internet bandwidth will have no effect. Our data shows that this is the case in the majority of Norwegian households. In fact, 46% of Wi-Fi traffic is transmitted at less than 10 Mbps bandwidth. In Figure 1 we have made a histogram of the measured Wi-Fi bandwidth for a collection of Norwegian households. The important observation is that the vast majority of households have a Wi-Fi Bandwidth of less than 20 Mbps. Keep in mind that the Wi-Fi bandwidth is shared by both upload and download traffic.

Figure 1

Data also show that 59% percent of the wasted Wi-Fi Bandwidth can be fixed by better configuration of the router. The remaining 41% is caused by coverage or radio noise issues that is typically solved by installing extender.

So with the exception of extenders, there is no need for new protocols or hardware to fix the problem. We just need to make the existing work as it was supposed to.

There are four main reasons why existing routers are not able to run at max capacity:

  1. Transfer Rates
  2. Contention / Interference
  3. Band Steering Failures
  4. Weak coverage / Extenders

Click on each of the 4 reasons for more info and how AI solves it.