Internet 101: Signal strength and Signal Speed

We’ve all had this happen before: You’re watching a hilarious Youtube video when suddenly – the video stops buffering! And in moments, the previous elation turns into an unimaginable rage and you want to flip your desk and break your computer. What is happening?!

The simple explanation is that you have slow internet.

Wait – you thought you had full bars of signal. So… how can your internet be slow? At home, internet speed and signal strength often are very highly correlated, but this correlation doesn’t mean it’s that strong speed is strong signal, or vice-a-versa.

First, understand that signal strength is NOT the same as internet speed. Think of it like… the kid who can toss the ball the farthest doesn’t necessarily toss it faster than the guy who can only throw closer. Who knows, maybe the second kid doesn’t know how to throw higher, but that aside, we see that the two are different in this sense.

The network’s signal strength (which is actually dictated by the capability of the router to broadcast the signal over a distance) would be like the previously mentioned kids’ trajectory of a baseball. The higher he aims, the farther he can throw. The higher the signal strength, the farther the signal can be broadcast. However, the internet’s speed is the speed at which the baseball players throw the ball, and is not dependent on its trajectory, but on the strength of his arm and wrist. (We all know that flicking your wrist can add a bit of distance to the ball, but that doesn’t mean the ball goes faster).

So now we know there is a distinction between speed and strength – sort of – we can now apply it to our daily lives and our use of the school’s internet.

Now there are about six networks, as you’ll notice. BenU-Stud, BenU-Staff, BenU-Guest, Ben-Stud, Ben-Staff, and Ben-Guest. (Students, of course, cannot connect to the Ben-Staff network which essentially leaves the other five networks as THE ONLY ONES you can actually connect to as they have no password security/encryption).

What I have found is that within the library, the “Ben-” networks tend to be the fastest, throughout the day. However in different buildings, sometimes the “BenU-” networks are the only ones available and therefore the only ones you can connect to.

For example, the “Ben-” networks are best within the library because these are the routers that can broadcast their names and can get their signal to your computer/device with the least amount of obstruction. But just because they can get the ball to you, doesn’t mean they’re throwing it very hard at all. By the same token, the information, data, and transmission from the router itself to your computer can all have varying speeds and that often depends on the time of day and how many people are using that network at the same time.

Sadly, there is no gauge we can get our hands on that tell us which network has the highest speed AND the highest strength, so we’re really taking a stab in the dark. But now, we at least know that the “BenU-” (which are generally the slower ones, actually), are not always the best ones to connect to. And we also know that even though Ben-Guest has a higher signal strength Ben-Stud, the speed of “-Guest” may not be faster than of “-Stud”.

So test out the different networks and make note of which ones appear faster and seem to have a more stable connection. These change all throughout the day, but at least you can get a baseline and a general direction for which network to connect to when your next Youtube video won’t load.

Well, hopefully that was rather helpful. If not, you can always find my email somewhere and I’ll do my best to help out.

See you when I see you.

David

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