Has WiFi Peaked?

So in the course of The Great Media Experiment, we've noticed a significant degradation of the Apple TV's ability to stream data from the computer upstairs.  Forget HD stuff, we can't reliably stream DVD rips.  One has to start the video, pause it, go away for ten minutes to let it cache, then start it.  And even then, some evenings that isn't enough.

The iPads are similarly affected, but that's usually written off to them being tablets with obviously inferior wireless equipment.  Why obviously?  Well, because it is bad, of course!

The real, real culprit is probably this:

Well there's your problem
Yeah, eight networks overlapping mine.  Nice.

(Actually, looking at that makes me wonder if I can solve a bunch of my problems by shifting to channel 11, since there are fewer coincident networks there...)

So yesterday I spent a bunch of time drilling holes in walls and floors and I ran a wire from the basement into the Apple TV.  And wouldn't you know it, all of our problems with streaming are gone.  Looking at the activity graphs on the computer upstairs, it looks like it can now stream data at 40Mb/s whereas over the WiFi it would plod along at 1Mb/s.  Huge difference.

I also discovered that my laptop can do a speedtest.net and show a 15/3 connection over the wireless.  Connected to the wire? 50/3.

It has a bit of the boiling frog problem.  When I started with this WiFi in the home thing eight years ago or so, I had a router in my basement.  The theory was that it would project the WiFi signal more or less straight up, and the concrete foundation would "hide" the signal from the rest of the neighbourhood, and to a certain extent hide the rest of the neighbourhood from my router.  It was all kind of academic, since I remember that I could see exactly one other wireless network from my laptop, and that weakly at best.

Now here we are, I have changed WiFi routers three or four times -- each time when the signal reception was getting unusable, I just assumed the router was dead or worn out and got another one.  The router has also been moved around the house -- from the basement, to the second floor office, to the shelf in the front room (a location I picked because it was the only network jack on the main floor).  The router's current location is less than 10m from the Apple TV with no significant obstruction between the two devices (one empty desk and the side of the entertainment unit -- no walls) and the throughput is still crap.  The iPads can barely surf the web from the couch in the living room.

I've even contemplated a wireless mesh network for the house -- multiple radios on each floor.  And frankly that seems just overkill ridiculous to me.  I'll be blasting out so much signal that my neighbors won't have any choice but to respond in kind.  And we'll be right back to where we started, except with more money spent.

5Ghz doesn't look like a solution because it doesn't work even half as well as 2.4GHz -- and given the choice, most devices will chose the 2.4Ghz connection anyways.  And looking at the InSSIDer screen above, it appears my neighbors have come to the same conclusion, as there's practically no 5Ghz networks in use.  Possibly the prevalence of 5Ghz cordless phones is what is killing 5Ghz WiFi.  I know we have 5Ghz phones.

I'd have to do the mesh solution to make 5Ghz work because it demonstrably doesn't work between floors.

All this makes me wonder if for the average person, WiFi might have peaked.  So many people have so many access points and devices that the spectrum is so congested.  People tolerate it because their tablets or phones are mobile devices, and therefore inferior (see my logic above) or because their laptops are running Windows and therefore obviously slow.

Or because their internet is slow.  (But that's a separate blog post.)

Overall the experience is so much worse than it could be.  Eventually people will stop putting up with it.  I wonder if my return to the wire is the beginning of the end of the WiFi wave in the same way that my router was the beginning of the same wave.  

As for my network, I'll probably move the router next to the Apple TV -- not for wireless streaming, since the wire is superior in every way -- but so that the iPads work better in the area where they primarily get used.  I'll try the channel change I speculated on above.  And I'll look into another router for the office upstairs.  We'll just have to see how it goes.