If you live or work in San Francisco, then there a few things you need for survival: food, water, shelter, and wifi. You may be able to last a few hours in the cold fog without food or water, but imagine if you can’t book an AirBnB for shelter, have Postmates deliver a Gordo’s burrito, or even worse, get your favorite craft brew from Saucey. There’s nothing more infuriating than a bad wifi connection. If you run a business in this city, fast wifi is even more crucial for survival.
The most common calls we get are from businesses looking for help with their wifi. We hear reports of spotty wifi, slow wifi, drops in the wifi, crappy wifi, sh!%ty wifi… you get the point. If any of those sound familiar to you, then you should know that you’re not alone. The fact is that getting wifi to work in a business can be a real challenge. This is especially true in a densely populated city like San Francisco where there is a startup in every building and ruthless competition for wireless frequencies.
For the purposes of simplicity in this article, when we refer to, “wifi,” we’re talking about all of the factors involved in getting a solid connection the internet. Fast wifi involves having the right hardware, the right internet service provider (ISP), and the right placement of wireless access points (WAPs) in your office.
If you’re one of the chosen few who can get your wifi to work well at home, that is one thing. However, when you get ten or more people connecting to a wireless network simultaneously, it can get a little tricky. When you have one-hundred people connecting to your wifi network during your weekly all-hands meeting, wifi gets really challenging. In addition, just having your office in an urban area like downtown San Francisco can cause problems for your wifi network. Our engineers affectionately refer to the SOMA area between 1st and 3rd streets as the “wifi war zone.” Whether you have ten people in your office or over one-hundred, the commonality is that the wifi connection in your office is not getting any less important any time soon.
Your wifi network needs to be reliable or else employees can become frustrated, work slips through the cracks, deals are lost, meetings are pushed back, and overall efficiency decreases.
Bad wifi is one of those things that it often takes our customers a long time to admit they have. People often treat it like a weird rash, trying to ignore it in the hopes it will just go away on its own. It is hard to acknowledge that you have a problem with your wifi network, especially if you have already invested money in it. However, if your office exhibits the following signs frequently, it is a strong indication that you need to have a professional look at your wifi network.
1. You often see Page Cannot Be Displayed errors
Chances are, Google isn’t down. If you crack open your laptop in the morning, fire up Chrome, and log into Gmail only to get the infamous, "Page Cannot Be Displayed,” error, then you have a wifi problem. Gmail isn’t the only indicator of bad wifi. If you see any error page which states something along the lines of, “The page/server cannot be reached/is not available,” it is likely that it’s your connection. Seeing a page load error on any website that you’re trying to visit generally means that you have a problem with your wifi network, even if after you hit refresh the page loads up.
2. Slack Keeps Reconnecting
If you’re like many businesses these days, then you’re constantly tied to your Slack client. If you don’t know what Slack is, you should. In short, Slack is a powerful means of communicating with your team that ties together most of the apps you’re probably using already. We talked all about it and how it has changed our business in a past blog post, which you can check out here, but I digress. Because Slack is an instant messaging client, its value relies upon being, well, instant. With all of its integrations, Slack has quickly become the business hub for all messaging, alerts, updates, and, my favorite, links to classic 90s music videos. If you’ve ever experienced the dreaded Slack “Reconnecting” error, then you know how infuriating it can be. It’s probably a sign that you have a wifi problem (and you’re probably infuriated).
3. Your 15 Minute Meeting Took An Hour
If you haven’t read one of the thousands of books about how meetings are inefficient, then maybe this one isn’t applicable to you. But if your time is valuable and you want to minimize the time you spend in meetings, then you don’t have the option of wasting time fiddling with the wifi connection in your conference room. If you can’t get your Hangout to load, your GoToMeeting to connect, your screen to show up on the AppleTV, or if your Skype call is choppy, then you probably have a wifi issue that is impacting your business.
4. Your engineering dashboards go down
Nothing is more aggravating to engineers than when their fancy dashboards go down. No problem, you say? They’re engineers, they know how to fix it. The problem is that the engineer that you had to pay a ridiculous amount to lure from his or her last job is now going to spend the next hour tinkering with wifi instead of working on your product. That “Reconnect Me” screen on your Chromecast just evolved from mildly disruptive to extremely costly, which no business wants to see.
5. Your employees are tied to their desks.
If you dropped several grand on pricey work nooks designed somewhere in Europe that no one ever uses, it’s probably because they’re tethered to their desks by the ethernet cable. Bad wifi forces your employees to huddle around the wifi access points instead of working where they can be most productive. Your floorplan doesn’t need to be determined by wifi hotspots.
There are many factors that can influence the quality of your wifi, such as your office location and your ISP.
The first thing we commonly notice when we’re helping a new client with wifi troubles is that they’re using consumer-grade wifi gear. That Apple Airport may have been great when you were starting out in your parents garage, but once you have eight to ten people in your company and have moved to your brand new office in SOMA, it’s time to upgrade to enterprise equipment. The brands we most commonly see companies grow out of are Apple, Ubiquiti, Unifi, Netgear, Engenius, Linksys, D-Link, etc… We’re not saying these brands aren’t any good. In fact, we used an Apple Airport Extreme for the first few years when we had around four people in the office and it served us very well at the time. However, there’s a limit to the number of people you can support with a router meant for your home.
Jones IT now has around fifteen people on the network at any given time so our setup is considerably more complex than it was when we first started out. We have two enterprise WAPs, or wireless access points located in strategically located spots in the office that give us a strong, consistent signal throughout the office, as you can see in our wifi heatmap below. The green indicates a strong signal. If we saw a lot of red while doing this test at the office of one of our clients, it would indicate areas where the network needs improvement.
If you feel as if your whole office could use some wifi improvement and you are experiencing a lot of the issues we listed above, you can rest assured that there are things you can do to fix the problem. Most companies that are growing rapidly leave their network infrastructure as an afterthought. We know this because when businesses reach out to us for the first time, they most commonly need an equipment upgrade. I’m not talking about a futuristic spider-looking wireless router that your boss read about in PC Mag, I’m talking about getting the proper enterprise-grade networking equipment. If your IT team knows what they are doing, they should also diagnose issues within your network before you spend money on upgrading your hardware. High quality routers can often cost a lot more than you would think, but when you do the math, it makes financial sense.
While you may see the effectiveness of a network upgrade, you may need to convince your boss or partners it’s time to upgrade the wifi. The two most effective ways to do this are:
1. Create a log of any network issues.
We’ve seen a lot of companies create a #wifi channel on Slack where people can log a message any time they experience a problem. If you do it this way on Slack, you’ll get a nice history, including timestamps of who has had issues and when. If you’re not using Slack, then a simple spreadsheet will also do the trick. Have people email you when they have an issue and then stick all of these emails in a folder so you have a record.
2. Do a quick time estimate of how much time is lost a day due to wifi or network issues.
If you have one-hundred people and your wifi slows down each of them by thirty seconds each day, then you’re losing almost one hour of productivity per day. How much does that cost you?
If neither of those options work and your company is still not ready upgrade its network, then the most common strategy we see is waiting for the network to break. It is rare for your entire network to completely break and your router to totally bite the dust. However, there are only so many times your wifi can go down in that crucial moment before you decide you need the network fixed today. This strategy often works, but you may end up making a rushed decision and get the wrong people to install the wrong equipment.
We’re in the business of selling great wifi and technology that works as it should, so we would always love your business. However, we also hope that our potential customers do some shopping around and find the solution that works best for them, whether that means going with us or a different provider. That is why we made a helpful checklist of questions you should ask any potential IT provider before you let them near your network. Just fill out the form below and we'll send it right to your email.
We believe that the best solution for your business comes out of an informed decision, so we want you to have all of the information you need before you spend a significant amount of money on your network. We encourage you to talk to several providers, and we would love to have a conversation with you about getting the wifi setup of your dreams. As always, we’re just a phone call or email away.