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Onion Approach to Wi-Fi Troubleshooting Basics: Knee-Jerk Reaction

By George Stafanick, Blog Contributor
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In this Onion Approach, we will discuss the knee-jerk reaction. Less experienced and new wireless engineers have a tendency to stress under pressure, and as a result, they will make changes without really understanding or narrowing down an issue. I know from experience because I was there once myself. Today I mentor a number of folks and I see my old self in some of them.

As wireless engineers, if you are designing, deploying, troubleshooting or managing a Wi-Fi network, we have a tremendous amount of responsibility. Along with this responsibility comes accountability. We don't like when someone calls our baby ugly. But sometimes we have some very ugly babies.

In a previous blog post  “Wi-Fi Mental Checkbox,” I shared why we as wireless engineers need to have a mental checkbox when it comes to our wireless networks. All to often when faced with problems and not truly understanding the issue we get that twitch to change something. You know that twitch we all have been there and sometimes more than a few times.  I discovered that this knee-jerk reaction can be the result of a number of things:

  • Not knowing how to troubleshoot an issue
  • Under stress to resolve a problem
  • Not having the proper tools
  • Unable to read debugs
  • Overwhelmed with tickets
  • Unsure how to capture over the airframes
  • <You fill in the BLANK here>

The results of the knee-jerk reaction:

  • Add more access points
  • Remove access points
  • Power up access points
  • Power down access points
  • Changing configurations on the fly
  • Blaming things other than our network
  • <You fill in the BLANK here>

Ask yourself. Is your knee twitching when wireless issues come in? It is, let's fix that twitch!

I would like for you to read my previous blog post: Onion Approach to Wi-Fi Troubleshooting Basics - Do You Have A Wi-Fi Network Mental Checkbox?

As wireless engineers, we aren't afforded the luxury of plugging in a cable and it just works. The connection between the wireless radio and access point, while small in the overall communication, is the most important in our world. In most cases, the knee-jerk reaction is the result of not knowing where to look next.

  1. Do you have a mental checkbox that the wireless is not the problem, YES
  2. Interview the users having the problems and collect as much info as you can
  3. Boots on the ground to reproduce the issue. If you can reproduce the issue you are in a good position to identify it more quickly.
  4. Collect debugs from the infrastructure, logs from the client and OTAC (over the air captures).
  5. Baseline against known working devices
  6. Wireless solid — Look at the application layer. Put Wireshark on the wireless box to collect packets captures.

At the end of the day, we need to understand the issue first and make changes second.