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The sun is shining and it’s getting warmer, the call of the outdoors is becoming an ever-present ache that opening the windows just doesn’t scratch. You are yearning to be outside – but you may just find that you are being held captive indoors by your WiFi!
Unfortunately, we can be so concerned with getting good internet access inside the house that poor WiFi can become the tether that stops you having the freedom outdoors that mobile computing is meant to give you.
You may want to sit in your garden on your laptop or mobile phone or have Spotify playing at your BBQ. You may work from home and want to move into a shiny new garden office – you will need WiFi access that allows you to do these things.
Certainly, after spending all that money on your summer house or garden office – having electricity fitted, a beer fridge, and a TV, only to find out you can’t use Facebook, Netflix or Amazon Prime – would be something of an oversight! But the good news is that there are ways you can break the bounds of your WiFi and take your internet access outside with you.
Outdoor Access Points
Access Points (APs for short) are devices that allow WiFi communication. Mesh WiFi units and extenders are all forms of Access Points and routers typically have them built in. You can get APs that are made for external use as well as indoor use and you can attach them almost anywhere there is power. You can even use batteries or solar power, although our weather is probably a bit too changeable for that!
There are two basic types of Access Points:
- Ones that can talk to your devices, or other APs, such as mesh units. These allow you to connect to WiFi wherever you are.
- Ones that only talk to other APs, but can’t talk to your devices. These transfer WiFi from place to place over a distance.
Planning your WiFi coverage
When implementing your outdoor WiFi, there are two main factors to consider: how large is the area you want to cover, and how far do you need it to extend? Try and picture a map of the area you are covering and think about the following:
- Obstacles – other buildings etc will block WiFi signal even more than walls in your house.
- Distance and location – you might need to get WiFi out to your garden office, but you don’t necessarily need it in the garden itself.
Just like your home router, all outdoor APs talk on the same set of channels, so if you have too many too close together, you’re going to create interference. Therefore, when considering where to put your Access Points, you must remember that you can’t avoid all obstacles simply by adding more units.
Think about what activities people are going to be performing on the internet – email or web browsing is different to Netflix, for example, each activity needs a different amount of data to work efficiently.
Think of WiFi data like water moving through a pipe – if you reduce the diameter, you’re going to get less water going through. This is the same with bandwidth.
If you were to look at a mesh network, which is one where the access points talk to each other wirelessly; your bandwidth will be affected by how many hops and users you have on the network. It's almost like the pipe between each access point shrink by half so ideally, we want to minimise the number of hops.
Can you skip areas? an example of this is where you only want internet in your garden office. It’s much better to send WiFi directly their, rather than use a mesh to fill the gap.
This is where you need to think about the type of AP that best meets your requirements and there many types.
Another thing to consider is that the further apart you spread your mesh units, the weaker the signal, and they will start to struggle to talk between themselves. Different devices also work at different speeds and different frequencies.
Location, location, location
You need a power supply so you can turn your APs on, but this can pose a challenge, especially in remote areas. This can mean that you need mains power, but you also have the option of running Power directly over the data cable to the AP this is known as Power Over Ethernet (POE) and is typically supplied via a mains-powered switch. Not only can this power the device, Give you some freedom of placement but it can also send data back which is great for performance.
Remember POE distances are limited and there are special types of cabling that offer protection against the rigours of the outdoors – but it’s a perfect solution if there are just too many obstacles in the way or for other reasons that WiFi isn’t practical.
The legal side
The regulations around WiFi and spectrum usage are different outside to what they are inside, and some usages require a license. One final thing to remember is to check the Terms and Conditions of your Internet Service Provider
What can you do now?
By using household mesh units or repeaters you will be able to extend the range of your router outdoors much the same as you can indoors. Just remember to strategically place them close to the outside walls where you want the signal to go.
Opening a window and dangling the device outside will work great for short periods in nice weather.