How many customers on an ap? wrong question

Several years ago, I did an article on How many customers can I fit on an AP? I figured with the introduction of MU-MIMO and other things, it was time for an update. Several concepts still apply, but we now have Multi-User MIMO, better filtering, and better technology. One of the biggest questions I hear is, “How many customers can I put on an Access point?”. In this article, I will explain some of the ways to answer this question. Some of this will be geared toward certain products but will be an overall way of answering the question.

Thinking in terms of how many customers you can put on an Access Point is flawed thinking. What you really should be thinking of is how much capacity do I have to sell on an AP. From this, you can apply a formula to know how many customers an Access Point can support with quantifiable data.

Firstly, some things to know.  This article applies to mainly point-to-multipoint radios.  Most of your multipoint radios you come across are half-duplex radios.  The radios receive or transmit, but not at the same time. The over the air rate vs. real throughput come into play as a result. More on this later. Before we get into everything we have to know what affects the customer data rates.  I will break this into two sections. Ideal environment and the real world.

The Ideal Environment
This mainly has to do with radio specs and such.  You have channel width, data rates, and signal to noise to worry about.

Channel width is the first thing to consider. The bigger the channel, the more bits you can flow. If we want to use an analogy, we could compare this to a road or a water pipe. The bigger the road, the more cars that can drive down that road at faster speeds. A larger water pipe can flow more water. As with anything, there are drawbacks. The larger the channel, the more susceptible you are to interference.

Data rates and modulation are the next factors.  The higher the data rate the more capacity the client radio has.  Data rates are influenced by the channel width, radio limitations, and environmental factors.  Think of data rates as the top speed of your client radios. Just like a car road conditions are a huge influencer.

Signal to noise is one of the most critical factors overlooked. I have included this in the ideal and real-world sections for a couple of essential reasons. In the ideal environment, radio manufacturers publish the signal to noise needed to achieve max modulation. Modulation should be looked at first when it comes to a radio not performing as well as it should. The first thing I always look at is what is the current signal to noise.  For example, a Cambium 450M (Medusa) access point states,in the Spec sheet, that in order to achieve an 8x modulation, which is 256QAM you have to have a signal to noise ratio of 32dB.  This chart means if your noise floor is a -80, you have to have a signal of *at least* -48.  In the real world, this isn’t always achievable. Physics can fickle that way. If you want to geek on what QAM is you can watch the following video

The real-world environment
As many of you know the real world can be totally different than the lab environment.  Let’s discuss some factors which can alter the modulation rates, which then affect your overall throughput on an AP.

RF Landscape of a link

The RF “landscape” is the most significant influencer. In other words, how noisy is the spectrum? How many other devices does your access point “hear”? I always use the crowded room analogy. If you have a couple of people in a room, it’s easy to hear them and more comfortable to talk faster (modulation rate). As more people enter the room, you have to find a corner with a smaller group to talk (change channels). As the room becomes even more crowded, you have to speak a little slower because those around you are noisy and a distraction. Your modulation rate has to lower to have an intelligent conversation.

Line of sight is the next major issue. If a customer has any obstruction between them and the AP, the modulation level to drop because it has to deal with the extra noise. This is simple physics. Not only does the signal get degraded if it has to pass through objects or even dense air, but it is also deflected. This deflection is referred to as multipath. Other factors that influence modulation are the quality of antennas, the quality of any cables between the antenna and the AP, environmental factors such as bodies of water, and many other items. these are beyond the scope of this article.

On to determining the total capacity of an AP

Let’s take a Cambium ePMP 3000 ap as an example. This is a 4X4 Multi-User MIMO radio.   What this means is it can transmit four streams to a user at once.  This increases the bandwidth to the client. So where does the multi-user part come in? Most clients are not able to take advantage of the Access Point’s (AP) full capacity so the AP talks to multiple clients at once because it has the capacity to do so.

So let’s run some numbers.  The published spec sheet of an ePMP 3000 radio is a total capacity of 1.2 Gbps.  This radio is a TDD system. This means you over the air rate is half of your actual throughput due to the half-duplex nature of the radio.  It can only send or receive at one time, not both.

Now that we know our radio will do approximately 600 megs of capacity minus some overhead we can factor in oversubscription.

Oversubscription
Oversubscribing in the ISP world has been going on since the dial-up days. When managed properly, it is not a bad thing. The theory is that not every user is online at the same time doing the same things. Out of ten households doing things on the Internet at any given moment in time, you may have three or four streaming Netflix, two watching Youtube videos, three checking Instagram/Facebook/Twitter, and one just reading webpages. Let’s say each of them is paying for a 25 meg down by 5 meg up speed package. Out of those 10 accounts the Netflix streamers may be using 5 megs, the Youtube watchers may be using 3, and the rest are using a combined 5 meg. Out of 250 megs of sold capacity, those 10 accounts only use 31 megs at that point in time. Out of those users, only the streaming services are using that bandwidth the most. In an earlier article, I did a video on a Netflix stream at my house. As customer plans have more bandwidth available, they are grabbing data less frequently because they can grab bigger chunks at a time. This blog post illustrates this as well as this video

Here is where oversubscription becomes a moving target. Not every household is the same. Some may have two or three devices that stream at the same time.  Some may only have one.  Some may watch streaming services very little.

So how do you plan for oversubscription?
In today’s world of streaming a 3:1 oversubscription ratio is a pretty safe bet.  Depending on your customers you might be able to go 4:1, 5:1, or even more.  The faster your plans the less time the customer gets on and off the connection.

Formula
So let’s put it all together.
600 megs of AP capacity at a 1:1 ratio
1200 megs of AP capacity at a 2:1 ratio
1800 megs of AP capacity at a 3:1 ratio

For easy figuring, we will say we are selling 20 meg packages.
1:1 we can sell 30 20 meg packages
2:1 we can sell 60 20 meg packages

Will these numbers hold up in the real world? In most cases, they will not due to the real world conditions mentioned earlier in this article.  If you keep all of your customers at high MCS rates you should expect 70-80 percent capacity numbers in a real-world scenario.  Your mileage may vary. So let’s adjust our numbers.

70 percent of 600 megs is 420 megs
420 at 1:1
840 at 2:1
1260 at 3:1

Those same 20 meg packages
1:1 we can sell 21
2:1 we can sell 42
3:1 we can sell 63

Is the above formula absolute? It is just designed to give you an idea. The following link was published today. it shows 72 ePMP clients on a single AP. As I have stated the client connection isn’t the whole story.  Look at the throughput running through the AP to illustrate the formula is highly dependent on your customers and how they use the service. Remember when I talked about channel width and data rates? Pay attention to these in the video.

In conclusion think of how much capacity you have on an Access Point instead of just customer numbers.  The numbers can be impressive, as in the above video, but don’t tell the entire story.  Customer counts on an AP are nice to know and you can take the above formula to determine how many you can put on at what levels.

#packetsdownrange #epmp #rfelements #cambium

 

 

 

Capacity of a UBNT AP vs the number of clients

Note: I am in the process of updating this for AC based radios. This was published in 2014, but much is still relevant.

Almost all the time I get asked: “How many clients can an AP handle?” . My answer is always a very long and drawn out one. There is no set in stone answer. There are many factors which can affect this. I will go into some of these and then explain how to calculate this.

Some things that we will assume.
1.You are calculating on an 802.11N Ap with some kind of polling (TDMA, NSTREME, AIRMAX, etc)
2.You know the MCS values and/or data rates at channel widths.
3.When I say in an ideal situation I mean basically in the lab. This is our baseline. This means no outside noise, everything is working properly, and all the connected clients are excellent.

Before I get into what affects how many clients can an AP handle we need to shift our thinking a little. We don’t think in terms of how many clients can an AP handle. We need to think in terms of how much capacity an AP has. This is very important to think in these terms. If you do so things will become more clear and more quantifiable.

So now, on to what affects the total capacity of an AP.

1.The channel width. In and ideal situation you will get more Capacity out of a 20 mhz channel than you will a 10mhz channel.
2.Noise. In the real world you will have interference. If you have interference the noise floor drops, customer signals can’t reach maximum modulation, and there are retransmits.
3.Plain old signal. Things such as trees, distance, fresnel zone, and antenna gain all affect signal
4.The speed you are giving to each customer.
5.Overselling. The concept of overselling has been around since the dial-up days. You are betting your customers are not all online at the same exact time doing the exact same stuff. So you can oversell your capacity. I will explain this a little more in a bit how this factors in.

Okay, so let’s dive into this. I am going to use a Ubiquity Rocket M5 as an example. Again, this can be applied to any polling type N radio.

Say we have a Rocket M5. At a 20MHZ channel the best modulation this M5 will do is MCS 15 at 130 Megs of over the air. What do you mean Over the Air? Well there is a difference between actual throughput and the Wireless Data Rate (aka over the air). Your actual throughput/capacity will be 1/2 of the over the air rate minus a little for overhead. I factor in 10% overhead for easy figuring.

Back to our figuring. You have 130 megs of capacity on your AP in an ideal situation on a 20 mhz channel. If we do our math:
130 / 2 = 65 Megs of Capacity to sell on the AP.
Now here comes the overselling part.
If we oversell at a 2:1 ratio we have 130 Megs of capacity on the AP.
If we oversell at a 3:1 ratio we have 195 megs of capacity on the AP.

We can do higher ratios, but it starts to become a moving target. With the spread of Netflix, Youtube, Hulu, and other streaming services the average customer is sucking down more and more bandwidth for longer periods of time. Think of a restaurant with so many tables. If your customers are staying longer and longer, you don’t have as much seating capacity to turn over for new people to sit down and consume your food. This is for another blog post.

So, let’s say we are overselling at 3:1. We have 195 megs of capacity. We now need to think about what packages we are selling to our customers. If they are all say 5 meg packages, this means we can safely sell 39 connections to the AP. 195 / 5 = 39. You can figure up the math if you have 3 Meg, 10 meg, or a mixture.

Now to the real world (aka why do my customers hate me and my AP sucks?).

The following is a real AP in the wild.  Blacked out to protect the innocent from script kiddies.

ubnt-main-screen
Couple of things to Note (circled in Red).

20 MHZ Channel
Capacity at 45% . This is more important than anything, even CCQ.
43 clients associated.

Let’s apply our math we learned earlier. We know a 20 mhz channel nets us MCS15 – 130 Megs

Here is the kicker.  Our capacity is at 45%.  This means we only have 45% of 130 megs of Over the air capacity.  Take this in half (130 / 2= 65   45% of 65 = 29.25.
This means all 43 of these customers are sharing 29 megs of capacity on the AP.  And the quality isn’t the greatest (37%).  So this means there are retransmissions going on between the client and the AP. The client can’t talk as fast as it is capable of in most cases. This means you can’t oversell the AP as much due to the quality of the signals being poor.  It is important to note I am talking about the quality and capacity of the signals, not signal strengths.

If those 43 people are all paying for, let’s say, 2 Megs download.  That means your AP needs to support a minimum of 86 megs. Thats without overselling.  We only have 29 megs in the current state!

We need to get those capacity numbers up.  How do we do that?

1. Channel selection. A noisy channel will drag everyone down.

2. Antenna gain.  This can be done at both the client and the AP.  A higher gain or better quality antenna can cause the clients to “hear” better.  You might not get an increase in signal strengths, but you are looking for an increase in quality. I use a loudspeaker metaphor.  You can hear a loudspeaker from a far distance, but you might not always be able to make out what is being said.  If you can somehow make out what is being said more clearly, then you don’t have to have the speaker turn up the volume.

3. Shielding. This helps eliminate the amount of stuff a client or AP hears.

4. Channel Width.  Sometimes dropping the channel width down can increase signals, thus raising the overall capacity.  Keep in mind it will lessen the overall capacity of the AP.

5.Simply getting rid of customers that shouldn’t be installed.  We have all done installs that were iffy.  These can drag down the overall capacity.

I hope this has helped understand.  The biggest thing I want you all to take away from this is think in terms of the amount of capacity you have to sell, not the number of connections.