Sep 21 2021

Fixing the Back-to-School Slow-Network Blues

Try these four tips to improve bandwidth weighed down by additional devices in the classroom.

If your network seems to be underperforming now that everyone is back in the classroom, you might have a bandwidth problem — too many devices contending for too little network capacity. When troubleshooting a slow network, you need to look for a chokepoint. Here are some good places to start.

1. Optimize Wireless Access Points

Wireless access points are often overlooked chokepoints when Wi-Fi signal is strong, but there’s more to the story than strong signal. If too many devices are trying to use the same AP, signal strength doesn’t matter.

For wireless devices performing low-bandwidth tasks such as sending email or browsing the web, a rough rule of thumb is 50 clients to 1 AP to keep collisions in check. The ideal ratio depends on application mix and wireless hardware. Possible solutions to improve wireless network throughput include adding APs, improving the channel plan or only using the 5-gigahertz band.

Getting a wireless network right can be tricky. A wireless professional who knows the quirks of your buildings, traffic mix, hardware capabilities, cabling plant and budget is key to having a wireless installation that performs consistently.

2. Boost Internet Connections with Additional Bandwidth

Internet connections create another common network chokepoint. As your network device count climbs, your internet pipe will become more taxed. When the internet pipe has too many users to support, performance will vary. Sometimes, the network will feel speedy. Other times, frustrated users will refresh web pages to make them load. The network will feel slow. Folks will complain –– sadness throughout the LAN.

You can easily solve this problem with more bandwidth. Consider increasing the speed of your internet pipe — call your ISP for options, which are often very affordable — or add more pipes. For campuses, consider one internet connection per building. This approach requires thoughtful network design and more security devices, but scales beautifully if the budget permits.

3. Check Network Uplinks for Potential Bottlenecks

Beyond the more common chokepoints, you’ll need to think about your network holistically. Review the uplinks between APs and closet network switches, and between closet network switches and the core network. Bottlenecks in these areas are less common but worth investigating.

4. Monitor Utilization at Network Junctions

A network monitoring system, or NMS, will help you chart bandwidth utilization at network junctions. But don’t assume all poor performance is due to traffic overload — it could be that a link is throwing errors. An error-prone link is a “gray” failure that can be tricky to isolate, but an NMS can help with this too.

Armed with monitoring information, you’ll be able to identify problems and plan budgets. Maybe faster internet will get the biggest bang for your buck, or perhaps more APs are needed. Maybe a consultant should perform a network tuneup. If you aren’t monitoring, you don’t know what you don’t know. An NMS can help you stay on top of your users’ network experience.

MORE ON EDTECH: Optimize and secure your network for the return to in-person learning.

Illustration by OnstOn/Getty Images

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