Why is the wireless network sometimes slow?

About Wireless Technology in general:

Wireless technology cannot provide as reliable or as stable an experience as a wired network due to limitations with the technology needed to manage multiple devices connecting over a shared medium (the air essentially). There are a number of factors that can degrade wireless performance, a few of which are outlined below. These are the same issues that apply to your personal wireless access point at home, but the difference is that at home you are not supporting almost 2000 wireless devices so you don’t experience them the same way to will here on campus.


In a wired network each device uses a dedicated physical connection to the network hardware so there is never any cross communication, but in a wireless network there is no physical connection, every device uses a shared medium to communicate, and at any given time a new device may enter the service area and attempt to communicate at the same time another device is sending or receiving a signal. This can cause any number of issues until the access point negotiates with all clients to reestablish proper communications, just like a room full of people all talking at once cannot clearly communicate until a speaking order is established.

Nearby devices that also use WiFi channels (printers, Bluetooth devices, etc.) as well as general electromagnetic energy from lights, copiers, etc. add to this problem, acting much like someone who refuses to adhere to the speaking order and constantly talks over the person trying to talk. Add to that objects that absorb or reflect wireless signals, like metal furniture or wall studs, which generate what equates to echoes in a lecture hall.


In a wired network each device has it’s own connection and it always gets %100 of the bandwidth of that connection, but with wireless multiple devices share a singe connection. Since an access point can only support a fixed amount of traffic and all devices using the access point must share that fixed bandwidth, the more devices that are connected at once the less bandwidth per client is available..

Some applications take up far more of this bandwidth than others (video for example takes exponentially more than checking email) so the type of traffic being generated by each device at any given time can create variable performance for all connected devices.

Additionally, each antenna can only transmit at one speed, and that speed is decided by the device with the lowest communication speed. For example, if you are connected using the latest and greatest smart phone, and someone else is connected to the same antenna using a 4 year old laptop, the antenna will ‘talk’ to both of your devices at the slower speed set by the older laptop. The technology works this way so that both older and newer technology can utilize the wireless network.


The closer you are to the access point the stronger the signal from that access point is, and the stronger the signal that your device generates is when it reaches the access point. Conversely, the farther you get from the access point the weaker the signal to and from both devices. When the signal weakens it takes more time to send the same amount of data, so the weaker the signals the slower the connection. This contributes to the speed issue mentioned above, as the farther you get from the antenna, the slower your data transfer rate will be, and that is the rate that sets the speed for all clients using that particular antenna.

Bandwidth limits:

Some wireless networks are bandwidth limited (BereaGuest) because they are intended for light use only (checking email, briefly viewing a web page, checking the weather, etc.) When using a rate limited network you may encounter a lower page load rate or reduced performance – this is normal and prevents people not associated with the College from abusing the service.

General Notes about wireless technology:

In order to have the best performance you need to be very close to the access point, have as little electromagnetic interference in the vicinity as possible, and have few, if any, other people sharing your connection to that access point. Needless to say, it is difficult to get a connection that is close to the quality and reliability of a wired connection at all times in all locations. If you know of an area that has chronically poor wireless service please report it to NetworkServices@berea.edu and we will evaluate the situation and do what we can to improve the conditions in that area.