5 Tips to Improve Skype for Business Wi-Fi Performance

This article offers 5 tips to increase overall performance for Skype for Business (Sfb) over Wi-Fi at home or a Public Hotspot. These tips were created from my own experiences at home and using Wi-Fi in different circumstances. 

Delivering a good SfB Wi-Fi experience in the enterprise is a much larger topic with more infrastructure and configuration options and recommendations. A good start here is Microsoft’s Guide “Ensuring an Enterprise Class Wireless Skype for Business Experience” which provides end to end planning, best practices, and proactive maintenance and operations to deliver enterprise grade Wireless Skype for Business service.

Here are the 5 tips I will discuss:

  1. Make Sure the Gas Tank Isn’t Empty
  2. Use a Dedicated 5 GHz Wireless Band if Possible
  3. Try a Different Wi-Fi Channel
  4. Consider Implementing Quality of Service (QoS)
  5. Still Having Issues … Ditch the Wi-Fi

 

Tip 1 – Make Sure the Gas Tank Isn’t Empty

Diagnosing and resolving Wi-Fi issues can be really challenging.  Ensuring these basic pre-requisites are met will greatly increase the chances of success:

  1. Keep Skype for Business Clients Up To Date.  This sounds like advice your mother would give you, but it really can help – especially with the SfB mobile clients. Update an Windows desktop clients in use to the latest-and-greatest via Windows Update.
  2. Ensure there is Adequate Network Connectivity from the Wireless Access Point (WAP) / Router to the Internet!  I’ve lost track on the number of times I was trying to diagnose a Wi-Fi issue, and it the real problem was a temporarily internet outage on the Internet Service Provider (ISP). The Windows Network Troubleshooting tool will usually identity whether it is a problem with the Internet connection, or to be sure, test connectivity from a wired device (pointing your browser to http://fast.com is an easy and convenient method to test the connectivity and download speed).
  3. Ensure you have Adequate Bandwidth. Support for real-time communications that use real-time media such as audio, video, conferencing require, above all, a consistent and reliable network stream to work well. Bandwidth is not the same as ‘stability’ (i.e. low latency and jitter), but when bandwidth is congested, network reliability will suffer.  The more bandwidth, the better. One often overlooked bandwidth requirement is upload (or uplink) bandwidth. It is often overlooked because many ISP’s offer a fraction of upload speed compared to download speed. Microsoft’s recommends a consistent 1.5 Mbps of consistent uplink bandwidth to support real time communications. In my experience, I can have good quality audio, video, & conferencing Skype sessions with as little as 800 Kbps but your mileage may vary.
  4. Use a Good Quality Network Interface Card (NIC) and Wi-Fi Router.
    • Most Wireless NIC’s shipped with desktops and laptops in the last 3-4 years have an adequate NIC. However performance and stability differ between.
      • If Wi-Fi issues occur on multiple Wi-Fi networks (e.g. your neighbourhood coffee shop, work, and your friends Wi-Fi network), take a look at your NIC, and make sure it has the latest drivers installed.
      • Performance – newer cards supporting the 802.11n with multiple antenna support typically offer the best performance (Intel has a good article here explaining this Multiple-Input Multiple-Output technology).
    • For your Wireless Access Point (WAP) / Router, I highly recommend newer models that support dual-band (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz).  They are engineered to support many devices connected at once.  If you add up all the Wi-Fi enabled devices in your home, you will likely be very surprised at just home many there are.  Using a router which supports the new 802.11n and 802.11ac standards will generally give much more network throughput than the older 802.11a and 802.11g.
  5. Consider Bluetooth Device Interference.  In theory Bluetooth devices can interfere with Wi-Fi communications. I have a wireless mouse and keyboard and have not really noticed a difference, but this is something to consider if you have many Bluetooth devices.

 

Tip 2 – Use a Dedicated 5 GHz Wireless Band if Possible

Many routers are multi-purpose devices (acting as wireless access points (WAP) for a variety of devices, DHCP servers, and firewalls).  Worse, as a WAP, most run with one ‘network’ (SSID) that all devices (smart phones, tablets, TV’s, etc..) connect to. In this scenario, the real-time voice and video traffic Skype for Business uses is competing with, and prioritized the same as, the Netflix cartoon your children are watching and the firmware your Smart TV is doing … among other things.

If the router supports ‘dual band’, that means it can support essentially two separate wireless networks simultaneously on different Radio Frequency (RF) bands.  The two bands are 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz.

To help real-time applications perform well, it can make a big difference to dedicate one wireless network (SSID) to devices running real-time applications and move all the other devices to the other 2.4 GHz wireless band.

The 5 GHz band is preferred because it offers less interference with other consumer products such as cordless phones. The trade-off is the 5 GHz band usually has less range than the 2.4 GHz range. Your range however will depend greatly on the location of the router and the device connecting to it. Having a clear-line-of-site from the client to the WAP will increase the range.

What about wireless range extenders?

Many people consider adding a wireless range extender – especially if their work area typically does not have clear-line-of-sight to the WAP. Generally this will not help for real-time media because these extenders increase network latency and jitter. I have had good results with an extender that plug’s into a power wall socket and uses Ethernet over Power to get to the WAP / Router. Bottom line though, you are probably relocating your router, or investing in a better one with better antenna range.

What about adding a second dedicate router?

This might seem like overkill, but it seemed like a good idea to me!  With a growing number of Wi-Fi enabled devices in my house, I added a newer second Wi-Fi router capable of better handling simultaneous connections and the latest 802.11 standards to combat my intermittent poor voice performance and dropped connections – mostly on my laptop running Windows 10 and the Windows version of Skype for Business.  The result?  It did not help, and the performance actually got worse!

This is when I started to learn about 802.11 channel congestion… which is the perfect segue into the next Tip.

 

Tip 3 – Try a Different Wi-Fi Channel

After my unexpected two router results, I had learned about the “802.11 Channel 6 Congestion” issue, and made some simple changes that helped my Wi-Fi experience.

802.11 Router Basics

As perviously discussed many home routers operate on one or two bands or frequencies – 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. Each band is further segmented into channels – 11 narrow radio frequency channels.  When devices communicate with the router, they use whatever channel is set on the router.  If many devices (a close neighbours WiFI devices, cordless phones, etc…) use the same channel, this will likely result in congestion in that frequency – and that means trouble for your WiFi.

Wi-Fi devices bought in North America ship with a default of Channel 6 – increasing the likelihood of congestion unless you change it.

802.11 signals are designed to partially overlap – the spectrum of one channel will overlap a bit with another channel, but the further away your channel is from what is being used around you, the better throughput and performance you will have.

If you are on channel 6, one simple change is to try channel 1 or 11 – these are far away from the de-facto channel 6 specturm. However many people have started to use 1 and 11, and some devices by default use this, so you should try a couple of different ones. The change is easy to make on your router (consult your router documentation).

Another approach which is more involved is to scan the wireless environment around you using a third-party or open source application. This will show you exactly how congested each of the channels are.

I settled on using channel 8 on a dedicated 5 GHz band and had much improved performance.

Some WAPs / routers support automatic channel selection (ACS) which will in-theory auto-select a new channel when it detects RF interference. In my experience, enabling ACS has not made a difference, and I question the impact on real-time media sessions while my router attempts to switch channels.  I prefer a dedicated static channel.

There are many third party Wi-Fi application (for Windows clients) which scan and analyze your Wi-Fi networks to show which channels are in use, and the interference levels. I’ll be updating this blog entry with some of them shortly.

 

Tip 4 – Consider Implementing Custom QoS

In a nutshell, Quality of Service (QoS), is a network tagging methods which allows certain types of traffic to me tagged and treated as priority on the network. In practice, real-time media requirements for more important applications (such as voice and video application like SfB) can be tagged a higher priority over entertainment applications such as NetFlix.

Implementing QoS on a home router is likely beyond the expertise of many users, but highly recommended for those who use Skype for Business a lot from home (e.g. home workers).  It will make your life better!  Watch for a future blog article on how to do this.

 

Tip 5 – Still Having Issues … Ditch the Wi-Fi

Getting to the root cause of Wi-Fi issues can be frustrating and time-consuming. If you are still experiencing issues, and rely on good consistent networking for your daily activities, another option is to ditch the Wi-Fi at home all-together!  This might seem inconvenient and sliding down the evolutionary technology chain, but new wired options such as Ethernet over Power adapters make it very easy to add wired capabilities to almost anywhere in your home. I’ve had very good experiences with NETGEAR Powerline products.

 

Got a Wi-Fi tip for Skype (or any voice and video application) you want to share?  Please do!

 

Resources & More Information

Easily check your Download Speed in any Browser with Fast.com (Powered By NetFlix)

Microsoft TechNet – Ensuring an Enterprise Class Wireless Skype for Business Experience

Microsoft TechNet – Planning for Optimal Skype for Business Experience over Wi-Fi

Microsoft Download – Delivering Lync 2013 Real-Time Communications over Wi-Fi

Microsoft TechNet – Plan network requirements for Skype for Business 2015

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