Content provided by : Steve, N5AC

We've been receiving some questions about WiFi networks and Maestro so I want to explain some of the requirements for Maestro. Most of the applications you use over WiFi do not require low latency -- the exception would be a VoIP connection. When you watch YouTube or Netflix, for example, you need the application to "keep up" with the speed of the video, but the application has been programmed to know that you as a consumer understand that buffering is a necessary part of watching the video. When you launch the video, the application buffers at as fast a rate as it can, measures that rate and then starts the video only when it is assured that it can keep up through the end of the program. This results in a brief start-up period while the buffering occurs.

For Maestro, we assume that there is a high likelihood that you will actually want to communicate with the folks on the other end of the path in near real-time. They're not going to be tolerant of a 10-second buffering period nor are you. How weird would it be to call CQ and then hear someone respond 5-seconds into your conversation with another ham? Because of this, we buffer the audio streams very little and expect that the WiFi router will be able to provide good streaming performance. In other words a steady stream of packets with low loss and data that is not bursty or has variable delay (called jitter).

We've tried a number of routers and have found that some work much better than others. The ones we've had the best success with are the newer 5GHz AC3100/AC3200 etc routers. We've also had good luck with the AC1900 routers. When at hamfests, we've had issues with all of the other vendors and convention centers on 2.4GHz so we often stay away from that band. Unless you run VoIP, or other streaming application that does little buffering over your WiFi router, you probably have little visibility into whether it offers good coverage or not. What seems like a slow site or slow Internet could be your WiFi losing a large number of packets and having to resend them. So with all this in mind, here are some recommendations:

If you experience WiFi issues:

  1. Check the performance of your router or look up a review to see how it should typically perform. Routers that advertise they are for "gaming" are usually best suited to a low latency environment since this is a desired requirement for gaming
  2. Check your Wifi channels to ensure they are not shared with another router. Often times everyone in a neighborhood will end up on a default channel on 2.4GHz like channel 6. Scan the neighborhood and be sure you are not on a channel with others if possible.
  3. Switch to using 5GHz if your area is crowded on 2.4GHz.
  4. Do not use channel bonding also called wide channels on 2.4 GHz
  5. Check your settings in the router to ensure they are setup for "gaming" or other low latency applications. This can include disabling features like packet coalescing that hold packets to be sent only after larger quantities of data are received at the router. On the newer routers, we've had good luck using the default settings.
  6. Check forums on your router to see if there are specific settings that could help with any issues you encounter
  7. Upgrade your router's firmware to the latest version.
  8. Signal strength or nearness to the wifi router is not a reliable presumption of high data throughput.  Low signal strength will limit data throughput.

If you decide to upgrade your WiFi router:

  1. Check reviews for the routers from reputable sources to verify if the router performs well. Some companies rush to get their router to market first and have performance issues on specific bands/etc. Often the reviews report these problems
  2. If possible, use a router that has both 5GHz and 2.4GHz so that you can use whichever is less congested in your area
  3. If you use both 5G and 2.4G, name the SSIDs differently in the router so that you can be aware of which you are connecting to. For example, name one "MYROUTER" and the other "MYROUTER_5G"
  4. Read the manual looking at all the options to ensure that you have the lowest latency settings enabled.

We have used several routers that provide excellent performance and no dropped packets. We have also used routers that are horribly misbehaved and cause many, many lost packets. We've seen one recently that dropped over 30% of the packets it should have sent. Having a good WiFi router capable of streaming is a requirement for Maestro due to our requirements as hams that we are able to communicate with folks on the other end of the connection.