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Radio Frequency Interference: WiFi’s Nemesis

To avoid some of the most common WiFi problems, it’s important that you understand what RF interference is and know how to minimize it.
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Severe RF interference may render an entire WiFi network completely useless and make its users very unhappy.

What Is RF Interference?

Radio frequency interference is the presence of unwanted signals in the radio frequency spectrum used by WiFi networks (most commonly 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz). These unwanted signals are typically transmitted by other electronic devices that use the same radio waves as WiFi networks.

Because of RF interference, WiFi access points and users may become unable to transmit data, reducing their throughput and causing delays and performance degradation.

As such, it’s important to proactively eliminate RF interference by reducing its sources and designing WiFi networks to accommodate certain types of interference.

What Are the Causes of RF Interference?

The most common causes of RF interference are:

RF interference scanner capable of revealing WiFi channel usage
  • Other WiFi networks: Most WiFi networks today use the 2.4 GHz band, which is divided into several channels, only three of which are non-overlapping. When two or more WiFi networks transmit on the same channel, the so-called co-channel interference occurs. When two or more WiFi networks transmit on adjacent channels, the so-called adjacent-channel interference occurs. Both types of WiFi interference are bad and should be avoided with the help of an RF interference scanner capable of revealing WiFi channel usage.
  • Microwave ovens: Not all microwave ovens are WiFi killers, but some models are capable of emitting interfering signals that occupy the entire 2.4 GHz band at up to 25 feet. Because microwave ovens emit interfering signals only when they are in use, measuring their impact can be problematic even with a capable interference detector. The most important thing is to never place a microwave oven close to a WiFi router.
  • Cordless phones: Most cordless phones use the 900 MHz, 2.4 GHz, and 5 GHz bands, with 2.4-GHz cordless phones being the most common. The good news is that cordless phones are gradually becoming obsolete, replaced by cellphones and VoIP phones, so their impact on WiFi networks is usually not drastic.
  • Bluetooth devices: Unlike cordless phones, the number of Bluetooth devices in use has been increasing at a very high rate, driven by the growing popularity of the Internet of Things and smart home devices. Today, Bluetooth connectivity is present in everything from headphones and speakers to watches and health monitors to smartphones and tablets, and much more. Bluetooth devices use the 2.4 GHz band, hopping over 802.11 transmissions and sometimes bumping into them (especially when it comes to older 2.4ghz 802.11b networks).

Other, less common sources of RF interference include video cameras, baby monitors, power lines, electrical railroad tracks, and direct satellite providers.

How to Minimize or Eliminate RF Interference?

Eliminating RF interference requires not only a good understanding of its causes but also a structured approach supported by RF planning software.

Most WiFi equipment vendors advise users who are experiencing problems with RF interference to simply switch to a different WiFi channel, one that’s less busy. While sound in theory, this advice often fails to deliver the desired results in practice because there are only three non-interfering WiFi channels in the 2.4 GHz band.

What’s more, switching to a different WiFi channel only solves continuous RF interference produced by other WiFi networks. To guarantee flawless performance, it’s also necessary to deal with intermitted RF interference by improving the so-called Signal-to-Noise (SNR) Ratio, a measure used in science and engineering that compares the level of a desired signal to the level of background noise.

eliminating sources of RF interference

There are two ways how SNR can be improved: either by decreasing interference or increasing signal gain. The former can be accomplished by eliminating as many sources of RF interference as possible or, in some cases, by using the 5 GHz band. The latter can be accomplished by increasing the power or density of WiFi access points.

Regardless of the chosen approach, an RF interference scanner should be used to gather supporting information and help determine the best possible course of action for minimizing or eliminating RF interference. This can be achieved with the help of the right RF interference WiFi tool.

How to Check for RF Interference with NetSpot?

NetSpot is a professional WiFi interference scanner for macOS and Windows used by WiFi engineers and home users alike to visualize, manage, troubleshoot, audit, plan, and deploy WiFi networks.

It comes equipped with more than 15 heatmap visualizations for analysis and troubleshooting WiFi networks, and they include signal-to-noise ratio (macOS only), signal level, quality of access points, noise level (macOS only), signal-to-interference ratio, frequency band coverage, PHY mode coverage, wireless transmit rate, and more.

Heatmap visualizations

With NetSpot’s visualizations, it’s easy to discover sources of RF interference and areas of signal weakness, also called dead zones, and know exactly what type of equipment to get and where to install it in order to eliminate RF interference.

In addition to the assortment of heatmap visualizations, NetSpot offers many other features that make it one of the best RF interference detection software solutions on the market, such as a customizable enterprise-level report builder, cross-project survey data sharing, automatic predictive multi-floor AP positioning, basic graphic editor for quick area maps, and project auto-saving, just to name a few.

Wi-Fi Site Surveys, Analysis, Troubleshooting runs on a MacBook (macOS 10.12+) or any laptop (Windows 7/8/10/11) with a standard 802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax wireless network adapter.
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NetSpot works on any MacBook running macOS 10.12+ or Windows 7/8/10/11 laptop with a standard 802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax wireless network adapter. With NetSpot, RF interference becomes a simple problem to solve and getting started couldn’t be easier thanks to the risk-free full-featured trial of NetSpot PRO.

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Read next in All about Wi-Fi

If you want to dive deeper into this Wi-Fi thing, check out the following articles about Wi-Fi security, the best apps for wireless networking, inflight WiFi, etc.
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Wi-Fi Site Surveys, Analysis, Troubleshooting runs on a MacBook (macOS 10.12+) or any laptop (Windows 7/8/10/11) with a standard 802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax wireless network adapter.