What is the best Wi-Fi AP, and what is the max number of users that it can handle?

What is the best Wi-Fi AP, and what is the max number of users that it can handle? by Westley Julio

Answer by Westley Julio:

The answer to this question is a little bit more involved than I think you’re expecting. Essentially, there’s no simple metric that Company A’s Model X supports ___ users. If there is such a metric, it’s artificially imposed and reflective of a guesstimate of what the hardware can reasonably accommodate.

If you have a lot of users who won’t be sending or receiving a lot of data, your effective user limit is high. If your users will be streaming netflix and downloading torrents, the amount of users you can support will be low. This is due to the nature of wireless. If the AP is sending, the client(s) are listening and vice versa. Everyone needs to take turns ‘talking’ so that everyone can ‘listen’ as needed. The more a device talks, the longer everyone has to wait for their turn. In turn, the worse the experience gets for everyone.

You then also have the limitation of your internet connection. If the guest wi-fi will be sharing an internet connection with an office, your guests may be impacting the experience of the office. Worse yet, if the guest and corporate networks aren’t properly segregated company collateral may be exposed. This can be an issue even if the company users don’t use wireless.

What you need to do before deciding what hardware to buy is decide what the network needs to do and why.

  • Do you want to allow people to watch netflix and download torrents? If not, you’ll need content and/or application filtering policies in place.
  • Do you need to shape the wireless use on a per client or aggregate basis to avoid impacting the company use of internet? The AP or router/firewall equipment will need to be capable of this.
  • What are the security concerns of giving guests access to the network? How can these concerns be mitigated?
  • Do you have a fast internet connection and want guests to have access to it? If so, you’ll need equipment that can handle the throughput in terms of processing power. Otherwise you introduce an bottleneck (and network equipment that runs out of processing power brings things to a halt real quick). You need less capable equipment if you intend to delivery lower throughput.

What is the best Wi-Fi AP, and what is the max number of users that it can handle?