What is Beacon Interval and What Should I Set it to?

When your internet speeds drop, there are a few common troubleshooting steps that you take, such as resetting or unplugging your router, changing configurations on your laptop, or even contacting your ISP. There is one step in optimizing that is often overlooked, and that is adjusting your beacon interval.

What Exactly Is a Beacon Interval?

A beacon is a packet broadcast sent by the router that synchronizes the wireless network. A beacon is needed to receive information about the router, included but not limited to SSID and other parameters.

The beacon interval is simply the frequency of the beacon - how often the beacon is broadcast by the router. Most routers are automatically set to a default of 100 milliseconds.

When to Adjust Your Beacon Interval

While the default setting of 100ms may work fine for most networks, adjustments may be necessary if there is a significant lag in wireless speeds. When troubleshooting other settings hasn't affected the speed of slow broadband service, an adjustment to the beacon interval may be necessary.

Benefits of Higher and Lower Intervals

Most routers allow the user to adjust the beacon interval within a range from 20ms to 1000ms (from the default 100ms). There are a few guidelines that can be used to guide you to the proper settings for your hardware.

Increasing the beacon interval above 100ms can increase throughput and may result in better speeds and performance. When the router is using less bandwidth to send out beacons, more of its capacity is dedicated to network throughput. Some who have tested this method have also found that longer times between broadcasts can improve battery life of devices including laptops and smartphones between charges.

Decreasing your beacon interval means that the router is using more of its capacity to send out beacons, which leaves less bandwidth for network traffic. Lower intervals are recommended for use with multiple access points, as the more frequent broadcasts allow devices to decide on the better AP for connection.

The drawback of lower settings is that they can be far more draining on the battery of your devices. However, if you struggle to stay connected, the tradeoff may be well worth it to get a steady signal, especially in areas where there is interference.

Beacon Interval Lower (More Beacons) Higher (More Beacons)
Throughput Less More
Access Point Scanning Shorter Longer
Client Battery Life Lower Higher

Finding the Right Beacon Interval Settings for Your Needs

If you are struggling with a weak signal, keeping your settings low will be a potential remedy for this issue. If you want longer battery life and a strong signal, higher settings can be used.

The specific setting also depends on the settings for your particular router. Different makes have different ranges that can be used. For example, Asus hardware ranges from 20 to 1000 ms, while D-Link is more restrictive at 25 to 500 ms.

A good router for a basic home network is the Netgear WG602. In addition to easy setup, this router also has a web-based configuration tool for adjusting settings including beacon interval and RTS threshold.

A general rule of thumb is that if you have a home network with a strong signal, you can adjust to the highest allowable range. However, if this number exceeds 700 ms, signal stability may be affected. In this case, you would adjust down to a number between 100 and 700ms.

If you have a wireless network that has multiple access points with multiple users, it is best to drop the value below the default 100 ms. A good place to start is 50 ms, and you can monitor performance, signals, and other data to determine whether this value needs to be tweaked.

Unfortunately, there is no set number that works best for all equipment and wireless needs. Signal strength, your network, and your particular equipment settings are just part of what should be considered to find your ideal beacon interval. Tweaking and adjustment should be expected for optimal results.

Final Thoughts

Setting up a network can be frustrating, especially when you don't have the fast speeds and strong connection that you're paying your ISP for. Changing your beacon interval can be quick and easy way to potentially speed up your wireless connection.

When your speeds drop or your stability wavers, remember the following:

  • Switch to a new router if your equipment is old or outdated.
  • Use your web-based configuration tool to check and adjust current settings.
  • Adjust to a higher interval for better speed, performance, and battery life.
  • If stability is affected at the higher interval, adjust down and monitor for performance.
  • For weak or interrupted signals, drop the value below the default of 100 ms.
  • Start with a setting of 50 to 75 ms and monitor performance.
  • Tweak your settings accordingly.

If you're struggling to find your correct settings or you need more information on how to adjust your beacon interval, leave your comment below!

Sources

  1. http://routerguide.net/beacon-interval-best-optimal-setting-improve-wireless-speed/
  2. http://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2015/04/10-top-tips-boosting-home-wi-fi-wireless-network-speeds.html/4
  3. https://dd-wrt.com/wiki/index.php/Advanced_wireless_settings#Beacon_Interval
  4. http://www.home-network-help.com/wireless-network-performance.html
  5. http://7signal.com/wi-fi-learning-center/top-wi-fi-issues-and-challenges/