With Pith

Ethan Petuchowski

Why the WiFi Sucks on the Porch

Why is WiFi so slow on the porch?

The problem at my house is that WiFi connectivity is generally fine inside the house, but while sitting on the porch it is nearly impossible for anyone to browse the Hinternets. I think a lesson of my Wireless Networking course explains this observation.

In Wireless networking we have the situation called the Hidden Terminal Problem, which is the following. Node A is too far from node C to hear its transmissions, but both are in range of node B which sits between A and C. Suppose C is currently transmitting data to B. Now A checks whether any transmissions are currently happening, and finds that there are none (because it is out of range of C). So A goes ahead and sends data to B. Now B can’t understand either data packet because they collided and interfered with each other in an unrecoverable way because they were both sent in the same channel.

I think the porch scenario is simply an example of the Hidden Terminal Problem above. In my room, my laptop can hear many of my neighbors’ WiFi LAN networks, but it’s the same set that my WiFi router sitting in the closet can hear. However outside, where there’s less cause for signal attenuation, my laptop can hear many more WiFi LAN networks than the router inside. So the router checks whether there is congestion, doesn’t hear any, and sends the data. But there is, in fact, congestion, and my computer doesn’t receive the data properly. The data is therefore not ACKd, the router times out on the ACK, and has to retransmit, and so on. This makes for a far slower Hinterconnectivity outside on the porch than in my room.

Maybe the lesson learnt is that the WiFi router should be situated in a place where it can hear more of the outside noise so that it can compensate better for that noise.