In an ideal world, as employees move around a building, their devices seamlessly switch from one wireless access point to another. This is referred to as wireless roaming. The trouble is, not all devices are designed for mobility. Nor are all networks properly designed for roaming.

The result: “sticky” clients. A “sticky” client is a device that remains connected to a wireless access point that offers worse signal strength or load than a different, more optimal access point would. This creates a poor wireless experience.

Left unsolved, poor roaming is more than a nuisance. It can have major repercussions for any setting where people are always on the move, like warehouses, universities, airports, hospitals, and even offices. 

Below, we explain the science behind roaming and the hurdles to achieving a stable mobile connection. And we share how Meter mitigates roaming issues for our customers.

How does roaming even work?

Before we dive into troubleshooting roaming issues, let’s unpack how roaming works.

At minimum, a wireless network is typically composed of multiple wireless access points (APs), which are in turn connected to network infrastructure (the connection to that infrastructure and its related services are not within the scope of this piece). The APs broadcast an SSID (the network's name) that client devices, such as a laptop, can connect to. As client devices are moved, like when someone carries their laptop from their desk to a meeting room, those client devices roam between access points. This involves three phases:

  • Scanning: The client device sends out a probe request to locate all available APs nearby. The APs individually process and respond to probe requests. exchange data with one another. (Note that the determination to scan varies between devices. Some client devices scan for other APs preemptively, while others do so only when their signal strength dips below a certain threshold.)
  • Authentication: The client device decides which AP is best and sends an authentication request to join the network. The new AP determines whether to accept or reject this request. If the authentication is acceptable to the AP, the client device will be permitted to join the network.
  • Association: If the request to join the network is accepted, the client device associates itself with a particular AP. All of the client device's traffic is transmitted to or from this AP. As a client device moves around a space, it repeats this process to roam and connect with other APs.

It’s (mostly) up to the client

Many network experts describe roaming as a “client-side” issue. This is because it’s ultimately the client device that determines when to switch from one connected access point to another. 

Sounds straightforward—except from Apple to Samsung and more, different brands and manufacturers use their own proprietary algorithms to decide how devices select which access point to connect to. There are dozens of factors and each algorithm weighs them differently, which means there is a wide range of how devices behave when roaming.  

Complicating things further, as new wireless technologies are developed, old devices may not support the latest developments. Or they may simply not be built or optimized for mobile connectivity, as is the case for many Internet of Things (IoT) equipment. For instance, some client device algorithms might be inadequate for handling challenging environments. And they might make decisions based on limited data, which may not be beneficial for the client device or the network.

While you can dive into roaming analytics to understand client device behavior, it’s fairly onerous. IT professionals must manually sift through timelines and connection logs to pinpoint entries related to the specific device in question. When you’re working with a large enterprise, this level of granularity to understand how client devices connect is often a much bigger undertaking than you can afford to spend time on.

Your network infrastructure matters, too

It’s the client device that makes the final decision on roaming. If the client device’s algorithm is flawed, after all, there’s only so much you can do. There’s no way to guarantee that a client device will connect to the appropriate AP.

Even if the client device makes the final decision, you can increase the success of roaming through better network design.

Think of it like a road trip. On the one hand, you need a reliable and functioning car (or client device) to get from point A to point B. But if you’re driving on miles of poorly planned roadway with many detours and dead ends, your journey is bound to take hours longer.

In much the same way, a capable client device cannot roam well without efficient and thoughtfully designed wireless network architecture. 

Too few access points could cause devices to have poor signal or to disconnect from the network altogether. An over-provisioned network with too many access points, on the other hand, would unnecessarily use the limited RF spectrum, creating high signal interference and poor data rates. Then there’s the actual physical environment—the amount of open space that your network’s radio waves travel through versus the walls and other physical barriers that stand in their way, absorbing these waves and preventing quality connection.

The point is, network infrastructure can make a big difference in how smoothly your client devices roam.

How we manage roaming at Meter

At Meter, we take a holistic approach to network design and implementation. Specifically:

  • We provide extensive site surveys to ensure consistent signal across the board. Knowing the importance of network design, we strategically plan out Wi-Fi configurations and hardware placement according to your unique floor plan and occupancy needs. Meter carries out site surveys both at the time of the deployment and periodically when we observe—through real-time measurements—that the network is performing suboptimally.
  • We collect constant, real-time data to understand how client devices are functioning. Our technicians are quick to detect fluctuations in customers’ networks—even the changes that you might not realize impact connectivity, like adding new cubicles or meeting rooms to your office. Whatever the case, our systems keep us informed so that we can respond proactively.
  • We make all your data easily accessible in the Meter Dashboard so that you can see how your network is performing. We may handle your infrastructure, but you have complete visibility and control through our network dashboard. In just a few clicks, you can get quick, real-time insights to discover potential roaming issues. Meter’s APs also support 802.11k/v/r protocols, which our technicians can enable based on your network’s needs. 

IT professionals already have enough on their plate—roaming shouldn’t be yet another challenge you have to navigate. That’s why Meter handles everything from network planning to deployment and management.


There’s a lot happening behind the scenes of wireless roaming. While client devices play a pivotal role in the process, continuous connectivity is doomed from the start without an efficient and reliable network infrastructure.

With Meter, your roaming issues are taken care of. By taking a comprehensive approach to network design, we ensure that your team can move around as needed without any disruptions to their connection.

Special thanks to 


for reviewing this post.