There's no technology simultaneously more useful and frustrating than Wi-Fi. Wireless local area networking shouldn't be rocket science at this point, even though it involves fiendish calculations and increasingly sophisticated physics.
While setting up a Wi-Fi network has become simpler over time and networks more reliable, when a connection doesn't work, you could tear your hair out. This might explain my expanding forehead space.
I haven't yet been able to crack why some OS X users continue to have connection issues with Yosemite. In successive updates, Apple has apparently solved frequent disconnect issues for some users, but they persist.
However, in this column I walk through a mystery sent by a colleague that, in the process of working out, will provide a lot of insight for those of you troubled by the heartbreak of inconsistent conditions that ruin streaming.
Google for it
Aaron in Kansas City, a longtime email and Twitter friend, wrote in to brag about his Google Fiber throughput. No, wait, he didn't (but I can still be jealous of gigabit broadband). Rather, his Google-supplied Wi-Fi router wasn't playing nice with an array of Macs and Apple base stations. Despite having a raging torrent of bandwidth, Aaron couldn't get consistent, hiccup-free streaming, among other problems, whether he used AirPlay or Rogue Amoeba's Airfoil.
A quick bit of background. Wi-Fi works in two different frequency bands, 2.4 gigahertz (GHz) and 5 GHz. Each band is divided up into channels to allow multiple networks to operate in the same area without causing direct interference. Apple started adding support for 5 GHz networking in 2006 with the Intel processor switchover. Apple began shipping simultaneous dual-band base stations in 2008 — ones that could create two networks at once, one in each frequency range.
The 2.4 GHz band is congested, but works well through walls and over longer distances; 5 GHz can't penetrate solids as well but has relatively fewer users. Shorter distances mean less congestion, because fewer adjacent networks interfere.
Aaron has a mix of old and new Macs, his oldest being a 2006 MacBook, plus some iOS devices. All MacBooks support both frequency bands, the first generation to do so. All the troubleshooting advice I tried with Aaron would work with anyone's network. I started out with the usual:
Consider whether interference is an issue. If you're near an industrial area, some microwave sealers and other equipment can spit out noise in the 2.4 GHz band. Near a hospital or corporate campus? Their networks might overwhelm yours or, using techniques the FCC seemingly has now found invalid, may try to shut down "rogue" networks — any network that the system can't identify as its own but which has a signal that their sensors can measure.
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