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Ambient Interference Effects in Wi-Fi Networks

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This paper presents a measurement study of interference from six common devices that use the same 2.4 GHz ISM band as the IEEE 802.11 protocol. Using both controlled experiments and production environment measurements, we quantify the impact of these devices on the performance of 802.11 Wi-Fi networks. In our controlled experiments, we characterize the interference properties of these devices, as well as measure and discuss implications of interference on data, video, and voice traffic. Finally, we use measurements from a campus network to understand the impact of interference on the operational performance of the network. Overall, we find that the campus network is exposed to a large variety of non-Wi-Fi devices, and that these devices can have a significant impact on the interference level in the network. KeywordsWi-Fi-Interference-Spectrogram-Duty Cycle-Data-Video-Voice
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Ambient Interference Effects in Wi-Fi Networks
Aniket Mahanti1, Niklas Carlsson1, Carey Williamson1, and Martin Arlitt1,2
1Department of Computer Science, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada
{amahanti,ncarlsso,carey}@cpsc.ucalgary.ca
2Sustainable IT Ecosystem Lab, HP Labs, Palo Alto, U.S.A.
martin.arlitt@hp.com
Abstract. This paper presents a measurement study of interference from six
common devices that use the same 2.4 GHz ISM band as the IEEE 802.11 pro-
tocol. Using both controlled experiments and production environment measure-
ments, we quantify the impact of these devices on the performance of 802.11
Wi-Fi networks. In our controlled experiments, we characterize the interference
properties of these devices, as well as measure and discuss implications of inter-
ference on data, video, and voice traffic. Finally, we use measurements from a
campus network to understand the impact of interference on the operational per-
formance of the network. Overall, we find that the campus network is exposed to
a large variety of non-Wi-Fi devices, and that these devices can have a significant
impact on the interference level in the network.
Keywords: Wi-Fi, Interference, Spectrogram, Duty Cycle, Data, Video, Voice.
1 Introduction
Wireless Fidelity (Wi-Fi) networks allow users with wireless-capable devices to access
the Internet without being physically tied to a specific location. Today’s Wi-Fi networks
are not only being used for Web surfing, but also for viewing live video content (e.g.,
live sports and news events) and voice communication (e.g., voice over IP or VoIP).
Many of these services require high quality of service and reliability, which can be
degraded by wireless interference.
Wi-Fi networks employ the IEEE 802.11 protocol, which uses the unlicensed 2.4
GHz Industrial, Scientific, and Medical (ISM) Radio Frequency (RF) band [6]. Since
the ISM band is unlicensed, it is available for use by multiple devices (both Wi-Fi
and non-Wi-Fi), inherently causing interference for one another. The 802.11 protocol is
considered to be a polite protocol in that an 802.11 device will transmit only if it senses
that the RF channel is free. Non-Wi-Fi devices such as microwave ovens are oblivious
to this protocol. These devices transmit regardless of whether the channel is free or not.
This makes the interference problem challenging in Wi-Fi networks.
Network practitioners often deploy Wi-Fi networks without knowledge of the ambi-
ent usage of the ISM band by non-Wi-Fi devices. For example, trace capture programs,
?c
IFIP, (2010). This is the author’s version of the work. It is posted here by permission of IFIP
for your personal use. Not for redistribution. IFIP Networking 2010, Chennai, India.
employed for site surveys used to select RF channels for problem-free functioning of
Wi-Fi networks, only recognize devices using the 802.11 protocol. Since this process
concentrates on the link layer and up, any activity from non-Wi-Fi devices is ignored.
Unfortunately, since several non-Wi-Fi devices may be operating on the same channel
as a Wi-Fi network, and cause severe interference, it is difficult to identify interference
sources using this trace capture technique.
For a more complete picture of the activity on the 2.4 GHz ISM band, one needs
to consider the physical layer. In this paper, we use an off-the-shelf wireless spectrum
analyzer to understand how non-Wi-Fi devices impact the functioning of Wi-Fi net-
works. Using controlled experiments, we characterize the interference properties of six
non-802.11 devices. Five are unintentional interferers: a microwave oven, two cord-
less phones (one analog and one digital), an analog wireless camera, and a Bluetooth
headset. We also evaluate one intentional interferer, a wireless jammer, for comparison
purposes. In addition to capturing the basic characteristics of these devices, we mea-
sure, quantify, and discuss implications of their interference on data, video, and voice
traffic. Finally, using passive measurements from an operational campus network, we
try to understand the impact of interference on the network.
Our results show that among the unintentional interferers, microwave ovens, analog
cordless phones, and wireless cameras have the most adverse impact on Wi-Fi networks.
Because of its wideband interference, microwave signals affect several Wi-Fi channels
at close range, however, their impact is still felt at longer distances. Analog cordless
phones and wireless cameras are continuous narrowband interferers that completely
obliterate Wi-Fi service on any channels they are using. Digital cordless phones and
Bluetooth headsets have minimal impact on Wi-Fi because of their frequency hopping
nature. From our production network measurements, we find that the campus network
is exposed to a large variety of non-Wi-Fi devices, and that these devices can have a
significant impact on the interference level in the network. For example, during certain
times of the day, almost 80% of a channel may be occupied by interferers, and it is
common to see some interference device active (in the background) almost all the time.
The rest of the paper is organized as follows. Section 2 discusses the interferers we
studied and our experimental setup. Section 3 describes the organization of the Wi-Fi
channels and characterizes the physical layer properties of the six interferers. Section
4 studies the impact of non-802.11 interference on data, video, and voice traffic over
Wi-Fi. Section 5 studies the channel utilization of Wi-Fi and various interferers in a
production network. Section 6 describes related work. Section 7 concludes the paper.
2 Methodology
2.1 Interferers
Microwave Oven: We used a Panasonic NNS615W microwave oven. This device had a
maximum output power of 1,200 W. During our experiments, the oven was operating at
maximum power and had a container of food inside the oven.
Analog Wireless Video Camera: We used a Lorex SG8840F analog wireless video cam-
era operating at 2.4 GHz. These cameras provide long-range surveillance using analog
signals, typically use directional antennas, and can have a range up to 1.5 km.
8 meters
Server Access
Point
5, 10, 15, 20,
25, 30 meters
Clients
(a) Data and Video Experiment (b) Voice Experiment
Fig. 1. Experimental setup
Analog Cordless Phone: We used a Vtech GZ2456 analog cordless phone operating at
2.4 GHz. The phone consists of a base and a handset, and as with other analog phones,
works by converting voice into electronic pulses and sending them on a designated
channel between the base and handset.
Digital Cordless Phone: We used a Uniden DCT648 digital phone (base and handset)
operating at 2.4 GHz. This particular phone uses Digital Spread Spectrum (DSS) to
change channels frequently for enhanced voice quality and security.
Bluetooth Headset: We used a Plantronics Pulsar 590A headset. These are short range
devices and have a maximum operating range of 10 m.
Wireless Jammer: Wireless jammers may be used for RF Denial of Service attacks. The
power levels of these jammers vary from 1 mW to 30 mW.
2.2 Experimental Setup
We conducted two sets of measurement experiments to study the physical layer charac-
teristics of the above-mentioned interferers and their impact on Wi-Fi networks.
The first set of experiments examines the physical-layer characteristics of these in-
terferers in an isolated environment. We used an off-the-shelf spectrum analyzer called
AirMagnet Spectrum Analyzer3for this purpose. The spectrum analyzer is a hard-
ware/software unit that consists of a radio for detecting RF energy in the 2.4 GHz
ISM band, and a software engine that performs Fast Fourier Transforms (FFTs). The
spectrum analyzer uses these FFTs to classify known interferers. The physical layer
measurements were taken in an interference-neutral environment such that we only
captured RF energy from the specific device under study.
The second set of experiments quantifies the impact of interferers on the perfor-
mance of a Wi-Fi network. We measured the performance degradation of the network
3http://www.airmagnet.com/products/spectrum_analyzer/
22 MHz 5 MHz
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 910 1311 12 14
Channel
Channel Centre Frequency (GHz)
2.412
2.417
2.422
2.427
2.432
2.437
2.442
2.447
2.452
2.457
2.472
2.462
2.467
2.484
Fig. 2. Structure of Wi-Fi Channels in the 2.4 GHz band
in the presence of the interferers for three types of traffic workloads: data, video, and
voice. Our Wi-Fi network consisted of a single D-Link 2100 access point (AP) running
in IEEE 802.11g mode. We chose the 802.11g standard because it offers higher trans-
mission rates than 802.11b and is a popular choice for deployment in enterprise, aca-
demic, home, and hot spot networks. Additionally, most modern laptops are equipped
with 802.11g capable Network Interface Cards (NICs).
We used the setup shown in Figure 1(a) for data and video experiments. We con-
nected a server workstation using an Ethernet cable. We placed four Lenovo T61 laptop
clients with built-in 802.11abg NICs at a distance of 8 m from the AP. We placed a
single interferer at successive distances of 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, and 30 m from the AP to
record the performance degradation of the interferer on the network. For each interferer,
we repeated this scenario four times to record our readings.
The experimental setup for the voice experiment is shown in Figure 1(b). The AP
was placed in the centre and was connected to a measurement workstation using an
Ethernet cable. We placed two pairs of laptops facing each other diagonally at a distance
of 8 m from the AP. We configured Ekiga4VoIP software on the laptops to allow direct
IP calling without using a SIP server. VoIP client 1 was communicating with VoIP client
2 and VoIP client 3 was communicating with VoIP client 4. Interferer placement was
the same as in the case of the data and video experiments.
3 Physical-Layer Characteristics
3.1 Channel Structure in Wi-Fi
Wi-Fi channels are organized into 14 overlapping channels each having a spectral band-
width of 22 MHz. Figure 2 shows a graphical representation of the Wi-Fi channels in
the 2.4 GHz band. The figure shows the centre frequencies of each Wi-Fi channel. Ad-
jacent channels are separated by 5 MHz, except for channel 14 whose centre frequency
is separated from channel 13 by 12 MHz. A single channel can handle 50 or more
simultaneous users [6]. Usage of Wi-Fi channels are governed by national regulatory
4http://ekiga.org/
(a) Microwave Oven (b) Analog Wireless Video Camera
(c) Analog Cordless Phone (d) Digital Cordless Phone
(e) Bluetooth Headset (f) Wireless Jammer
Fig. 3. Spectrograms for six non-Wi-Fi devices
agencies of the respective countries. In North America, only the first 11 channels are
available for use. In the rest of the world the first 13 channels are available for use.
Japan allows the use of channel 14 as well, however, it is only available to 802.11b
using Direct Sequence Spread Spectrum (DSSS) modulation. We restrict our attention
to the 11 channels in use in North America.
To avoid interference, wireless radios are expected to operate on non-overlapping
channels, i.e., channels separated by at least 22 MHz. For example, if two APs are
operating on the same channel in a wireless cell, then their signals will interfere with
each other. The same applies to any other radiating device, such as a microwave oven or
cordless phone. From Figure 2, we observe that the following channel combinations do
not overlap with each other: {1,6,11},{2,7},{3,8},{4,9}, and {5,10}. Channels 1, 6,
and 11 are the most commonly used non-overlapping channels in Wi-Fi deployments.
(a) Microwave Oven (b) Analog Wireless Video Camera
(c) Analog Cordless Phone (d) Digital Cordless Phone
(e) Bluetooth Headset (f) Wireless Jammer
Fig. 4. Duty cycle analysis for six non-Wi-Fi devices
3.2 Metrics
We use spectrograms and duty cycles to characterize interferers at the physical layer.
The spectrogram is a representation of the RF power levels over time in the spectrum.
Each vertical line in the spectrogram shows the RF power as a function of frequency
measured over a time interval of 1 second. Spectrograms offer a temporal perspective
of RF power in the frequency domain. The duty cycle measures the RF power in the
spectrum. In this work, duty cycle is calculated by measuring the percentage of time the
RF signal is 20 dBm above the noise floor. Duty cycle is an indicator of the impact of
RF power on network performance. We next describe the physical-layer characteristic
of each interferer in isolation.
3.3 Measurement Results
Figure 3 shows the spectrograms for the interferers. The X-axis represents the time
period of the measurements. The Y-axis tic marks represent the centre frequencies of
the even numbered Wi-Fi channels; i.e., channels 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, and 14. The colour
contour lines represent the power levels of the signal, where red indicates the strongest
and blue the weakest power levels. When interpreting these graphs, it is important to
note that each device may use a different range of RF power levels and the same colour
therefore may refer to a different power level in the different graphs. Figure 4 shows the
duty cycle FFT measurements for the interferers. The bottom X-axis tic marks represent
the centre frequencies of the even numbered Wi-Fi channels, while the top X-axis tic
marks show the channel numbers corresponding to those centre frequencies.
Microwave Oven: Figure 3(a) shows that the microwave oven affects about half the
available channels (6-12) in the 2.4 GHz band with the highest energy concentrated on
channel 9. Note that the microwave oven is operating at high power levels of -80 to
-60 dBm. RF power levels above -80 dBm are enough to cause interference with Wi-
Fi networks. Figure 4(a) shows that the average duty cycle of the microwave is 50%.
Since the microwave signal sweeps through a wideband of the spectrum and has a high
average duty cycle, it is likely to affect nearby Wi-Fi devices. Microwave ovens are
created with a shield such that all radiation is restricted to the oven cavity, however,
with use over time these ovens can leak some radiation.
Analog Wireless Video Camera: Figure 3(b) illustrates the narrowband continuous
transmitting nature of an analog video camera. The transmit power is similar to that of
the microwave oven, however, in this case this energy is concentrated on a very small
portion of the spectrum (channels 4-8). Figure 4(b) shows that the duty cycle of the
analog video camera reaches 100% indicating that no Wi-Fi device in the vicinity will
be able to operate on channels 4-8. Because of its continuous transmission nature, this
device can cause prolonged periods of service disruption.
Analog Cordless Phone: The analog phone concentrates most of its energy on chan-
nel 3 in Figure 3(c). The figure also highlights the narrowband fixed-frequency trans-
mission nature of the analog phone. Figure 4(c) shows that the analog phone has duty
cycle as high as 85%. The high duty cycle of the analog phone indicates that it will
severely impact Wi-Fi operation. Analog phones are quickly becoming out-dated, how-
ever, they are still available for purchase and are widely used around the world.
Digital Cordless Phone: The frequency hopping feature of the digital phone is il-
lustrated in Figure 3(d). This phone utilizes DSS, a newer technology than the one used
by analog phones. The phone continuously changes channels, only staying on a portion
of the spectrum for a small amount of time, reducing its interference. In Figure 4(d)
we observe that the maximum duty cycle is 4.5%, indicating that this device may not
severely interfere with Wi-Fi devices.5
Bluetooth Headset: The Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum (FHSS) nature of
Bluetooth is highlighted in Figure 3(e). The Bluetooth device hops across all the chan-
nels. Although the energy emitted by the Bluetooth device may appear high, its duty
5More recently, Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications (DECT) phones have become
popular. These phones operate on the 1.9 and 5.8 GHz band and do not interfere with 802.11
devices.
cycle values are much lower. Furthermore, FHSS technology is limited to 2 Mbps and
does not consume much of the available bandwidth. Figure 4(e) shows that the maxi-
mum duty cycle attained is 3.5%, which may not affect Wi-Fi devices seriously.
Wireless Jammer: Figure 3(f) shows the wideband characteristics of a wireless jam-
mer. The jammer emits signals on all channels at high power levels in quick succession.
Figure 4(f) shows the duty cycle varies between 10% and 60%. Wi-Fi devices use Clear
Channel Assessment to sense when the channel is clear for transmission. The wideband
jammer ensures that the RF medium is never clear, thus preventing Wi-Fi devices from
functioning properly.
4 Impact of Interferers on Wi-Fi Traffic
In this section, we study the impact of interferers on Wi-Fi traffic. In particular, we
study the impact of interferers on data traffic, video traffic, and voice traffic. The first
experiment for each workload was conducted in an interference-neutral environment.
Next, we repeated the experiments where the Wi-Fi link was subjected to interference
from one specific interferer at a certain distance. The distances used were 5, 10, 15,
20, 25, and 30 m. We did not consider the digital phone since its physical layer char-
acteristics are similar to that of Bluetooth. Each experiment was performed four times,
and we report the average percentage difference between the baseline performance (no
interference) and that when the experiment was subjected to interference. For the data
experiment, we used the throughput Quality of Service (QoS) metric. For the video
and voice experiments, we used a Quality of Experience6(QoE) metric called Mean
Opinion Score (MOS).
4.1 Experimental Workload Traffic
Data Traffic: We used the Iperf7tool to measure throughput of the Wi-Fi link. We ran
Iperf in server mode at the server and in client mode at the four wireless client laptops.
Iperf can run throughput tests using TCP or UDP packets. We used the TCP option for
our experiment. For the TCP tests, Iperf requires the user to set an appropriate TCP
window size. If the window size is set too low, the throughput measurements may be
incorrect. We found that a window size of 148 KB was sufficient to properly measure
the throughput of the Wi-Fi link. The workload consisted of creating bidirectional TCP
traffic between the server and the four clients for a period of 3 minutes.
Video Traffic: Video (or Voice) quality can be quantified using subjective methods
such as MOS. For our experiments, we used a hybrid subjective assessment scheme
called Pseudo Subjective Quality Assessment (PSQA) [7, 8]. PSQA uses random neu-
ral networks to automatically calculate MOS of a video or voice sample. We set up the
server workstation to stream a 3-minute video using the VLC8media player. The (nor-
mal quality standard-definition) video had a resolution of 624 ×352, frame rate of 29
frames per second, and was encoded using the Xvid9codec at a bit rate of 656 Kbps.
6http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quality_of_experience
7http://iperf.sourceforge.net/
8http://www.videolan.org/vlc/
9http://www.xvid.org/
(a) Data Traffic (b) Video Traffic
(c) Voice Traffic
Fig. 5. Impact of interference on different workloads
The VLC players on the four clients were configured to receive this video stream. We
collected the MOS measurements using PSQA from the client-side.
Voice Traffic: We recorded a 3-minute VoIP conversation between two people. We
next separated the voices of the two people and created two different audio files. Recall
our voice experiment setup had two pairs of communicating laptops. After establishing
a direct connection via the Wi-Fi link for a pair of laptops, we played one audio file on
one end and the second audio file on the other end. The two audio files were synchro-
nized such that at no time the two audio files played a human voice simultaneously. The
(telephone quality) audio files were encoded using the FLAC10 codec at a sampling rate
of 16 kHz and a bit rate of 56 Kbps. We used a workstation connected to the AP to
collect the MOS measurements using PSQA of the voice communication.
4.2 Experimental Results
Figures 5(a), (b) and (c) show the degradation in data throughput, video quality, and
voice quality, respectively, in the presence of interference.
As the diverse nature of these workloads require different quality measures, direct
comparisons of the degradation of the different services require some care. Voice traf-
fic, which typically uses smaller packets, handles interference the best (with the metrics
10 http://flac.sourceforge.net/
used here). As expected, we consistently notice close to 100% degradation for our ex-
periments using the wireless jammer. This is consistent up to 20 m, beyond which we
observe a slight decline in its impact. In the following, we discuss the impact of the
unintentional interferers on the different workloads.
Data Traffic: The Bluetooth headset reduced the throughput by 20% at close dis-
tances. The degradation may be surprising, since Bluetooth devices have low duty cycle
and are designed to accommodate Wi-Fi devices; however, it is less serious compared
to other interferers. For example, the microwave oven resulted in zero throughput at
close distance. While its impact declined gradually as it was moved away from the Wi-
Fi network, it caused a 25% degradation in throughput even at a distance of 25 m. The
analog phone and video camera are both continuous transmitters. Hence, their impact
on throughput is similar. Their interference is significant at close distance, however,
there is a sharp decrease at distances beyond 20 m.
Video Traffic: Although Bluetooth had some impact on data traffic, there was min-
imal impact on video traffic. The microwave oven at close distance severely disrupted
the video stream, while at longer distances it reduced the video quality by only 10%.
The analog camera and analog phone had similar impacts on the video stream. Even at
longer distances, they reduced the video quality by 50%.
Voice Traffic: Bluetooth had minor impact at short distance and no impact at longer
distances. The microwave oven caused approximately 75% degradation at close range,
and this plummeted as the distance increased. The analog phone and video camera had
severe impact at close range, but this consistently decreased with longer distances. They
still caused about 30% degradation at a distance of 30 m. The impact of interference is
comparatively lower for voice traffic.
5 Interference in Campus Network
We used the Spectrum Analyzer to study the channel utilization of our campus network.
We took physical-layer measurements for 8 hours during a weekday (Tuesday, January
20, 2009). The passive measurements were taken at a popular location in the campus
frequented by students and faculty members. We report our results using the channel
utilization metric. Channel utilization is the percentage of time a transmission is present
from a known RF source in a given channel. It helps us understand how much of the
channel is available for use at a given time.
Figure 6(a) shows the channel utilization of the three channels used in our campus
network. The figures record the channel utilization by all devices (Wi-Fi and Interferers)
transmitting in the 2.4 GHz ISM band.11 We observe that channels 1 and 11 had heavier
usage in comparison to channel 6. In case of channels 1 and 6, utilization peaked near
60%, while for channel 11 it was over 90%. After close inspection, we found that most
of the spikes were caused by interferers.
On channel 11, the spikes are the most alarming. We focus on three spikes and try
to understand the interferers involved. These spikes are observed at times 12:45, 15:38,
and 17:17. We found that each of these spikes was mainly caused due to microwave
11 The Spectrum Analyzer cannot separate the Wi-Fi and non-Wi-Fi channel utilization over time,
but it did allow to us to investigate the utilization at particular points in time.
(a) Channel Utilization (b) Interferers on Channel 11
(c) Active Time of Interferers
Fig. 6. Passive measurements from campus Wi-Fi network
ovens and cordless phones operating simultaneously in the area of the Wi-Fi network.
For the first spike, we also noticed some other fixed-frequency interferers, whereas the
second and third spike were highly influenced by Bluetooth communication. In total,
the interferers consumed 80% of the channel during the first spike. The second and third
spike used much less of the channel.
Figure 6(b) shows the average number of interferers observed on channel 11 as a
function of time. We observed 100s of interference occurrences involving non-Wi-Fi
devices on channel 11. These include 22 instances of Bluetooth device pairs commu-
nicating (6 unique piconets), 3 instances of analog cordless phones (base and handset),
71 instances of digital cordless phones (30 bidirectional base and handset instances and
41 cases where only the base station was observed), as well as 46 instances involving
other unclassified interferers.
Overall, we found that microwave ovens and cordless phones were surprisingly ac-
tive throughout the trace period, while Bluetooth piconet instances were temporally
clustered. Furthermore, we note that most active times for the various interferers were
relatively short, but with a few long instances. For example, the average active period
for microwave ovens (2:12), Bluetooth (3:05), digital cordless phones (7:32) and other
interferers (0:42) were relatively short compared to the corresponding devices’ longest
observed active periods (16:37, 22:27, 2:28:01, 5:02).12
Figure 6(c) shows the cumulative active time (i.e., the time the interferers were
transmitting) of interferers over the trace period. Microwave ovens were active 31% of
12 The active period length is reported in hours:minutes:seconds.
the total trace period and had an average (and maximum) duty cycle of 9% (40%). The
average signal strength was approximately -80 dBm, which is enough to cause some
interference. Bluetooth devices were active 12.5% of the time and had an average (low)
duty cycle of roughly 5%. With digital base stations always transmitting (at a duty cycle
<7%) when not connected with the handset, it was not surprising that we found that
cordless phones were cumulatively active for more than the entire trace period. We
note, however, that the average (maximum) duty cycle increased to 15% (20%) when
the base and handset were connected. Other interferers were observed active only 6%
of the total trace period, but had the highest average duty cycle (15%), maximum duty
cycle (60%), and signal strength (-43 dBm) of all the interferers observed in the campus
Wi-Fi network.
The exact channel usage of these observed non-Wi-Fi devices may differ from that
of the particular devices studied in our controlled experiments, however, the general
characteristics are similar. With a small number of heterogeneous non-Wi-Fi devices
active at each point in time, it is not surprising that we do not find strong correlation
between the average number of active devices and the peaks observed above (e.g., com-
paring Figures 6(a) and 6(b)). Instead, individual device characteristics and the distance
of devices from the network are likely to have the most impact. Referring back to the
impact of device and distance (Section 4), it is clear that a few non-Wi-Fi devices can
have a huge effect on the performance of the Wi-Fi traffic, especially if located close
to the network. Furthermore, while our measurements were taken (in a student/faculty
lounge) away from the campus food court and office areas, the interference from mi-
crowave ovens and cordless phones would likely be even more significant in such areas.
We leave comparisons of the non-Wi-Fi interference in different areas as future work.
6 Related Work
Interference in wireless networks has been investigated mostly in the context of coex-
isting Wi-Fi networks, Bluetooth networks, and microwave ovens.
Taher et al. [14] used laboratory measurements to develop an analytical model of
microwave oven signals. Karhima et al. [12] performed measurements on an ad-hoc
wireless LAN under narrowband and wideband jamming. They found that in case of
wideband jamming, 802.11g can offer higher transmission rates than 802.11b, when the
packet error rate is the same. They also found that 802.11g was more prone to complete
jamming, while 802.11b could still operate at lower transmission rates due to its DSSS
modulation scheme. Golmie et al. [9] explored the mutual impact of interference on a
closed loop environment consisting of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth networks. They found that
even by sufficiently increasing the transmission power levels of the Wi-Fi network to
that of the Bluetooth network could not reduce packet loss. Our work complements
these studies. We use measurements to characterize a wide range of common non-Wi-
Fi devices (including microwave ovens and Bluetooth) at the physical layer and use
experiments to quantify their impact on different traffic workloads.
Vogeler et al. [15] presented methods for detection and suppression of interference
due to Bluetooth in 802.11g networks. Ho et al. [11] studied the performance impact on
a Wi-Fi network due to Bluetooth and HomeRF devices using simulations and described
design challenges for deployment of 5 GHz wireless networks. Our work is orthogonal
to these papers. We focus on passive measurements to study interference from common
non-Wi-Fi devices.
Gummadi et al. [10] studied the impact of malicious and unintentional interferers
on 802.11 networks. They found that some of these interferers could cause consider-
able performance degradation for commercial 802.11 NICs. Using an SINR model, they
noted that changing 802.11 parameters was not helpful, and proposed a rapid channel
hopping scheme that improved interference tolerance for these NICs. Farpoint Group
studied the effect of interference on general, video, and voice traffic in a Wi-Fi network
from two vantage points: short-range (25 feet) and long-range (50 feet) [3–5]. In con-
trast, we present a comprehensive measurement study of impact of interference from
non-Wi-Fi devices. We also used QoS and QoE metrics to quantify the degradation
of video and voice quality in a Wi-Fi network due to interference. We observed that
operational Wi-Fi networks may be subject to ambient interference effects at anytime.
7 Concluding Remarks
In this paper, we characterized the RF behaviour of non-Wi-Fi devices, analyzed the
impact of interference on data, video, and voice traffic, and examined interference in a
live campus network. Overall, we found that the campus network is exposed to a large
variety of non-Wi-Fi devices, and that these devices can have a significant impact on
the interference level in the network. Our controlled experiments showed that, even at
distances up to 30 m, some of these non-Wi-Fi devices can have a significant negative
impact on data, video, and voice traffic. While microwave ovens, wireless analog video
cameras, and analog cordless phones typically have the most significant negative im-
pact on Wi-Fi networks, the performance degradation due to a digital cordless phone
or a Bluetooth device (which tries to be Wi-Fi friendly) can be noticeable (e.g., 20%
at close distances). With the campus network (and likely many other home and enter-
prise networks) being highly exposed to different types of unintentional interferers, it is
important to find (new) ways to identify and mitigate non-Wi-Fi interference.
Network practitioners often use link-layer and transport-layer statistics to investi-
gate interference in a Wi-Fi network. We note that these alone should not be the means
for troubleshooting a network. We observe that physical-layer characteristics may be
used as primary indicators to identify and mitigate interferers [2]. In general, we be-
lieve that interference can be mitigated by identifying and removing the interfering
device (if possible) or shielding interferers instead. Careful channel selection at APs
may be helpful (e.g., in both our controlled and real world measurements we found
that microwave ovens primarily affected channels 6 and higher). APs may be fitted with
sensors to detect interference and switch channels automatically [1]. Using multi-sector
antennas [13] and controlling data rates to avoid false backoffs can make the network
more interference-resilient (although this is a trade-off since the lower data rates allow
more noise-immune communication). We conclude by noting that there are many differ-
ent non-Wi-Fi devices that may cause interference in Wi-Fi networks, and it is therefore
important to understand and quickly adapt to the devices affecting the performance of
the Wi-Fi channels.
8 Acknowledgements
Financial support for this research was provided by Informatics Circle of Research Ex-
cellence (iCORE) in the Province of Alberta, as well as by Canada’s Natural Sciences
and Engineering Research Council (NSERC). The authors also thank the anonymous
reviewers for their constructive comments on an earlier version of this paper.
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