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Wi Fi Networks

Campus Coverage Bringing Wifi Outside

Anyone working in a campus environment often needs to maintain a connection to their internal network as they move about the campus. How is this best accomplished? Campuses are large, contiguous operating areas encompassing buildings and surrounding grounds that may be used by a single enterprise or institute, or shared among several organizations. A few examples of campus environments include: educational institutions, medical complexes, industrial plants, and corporate campuses. The key to achieving ubiquitous wireless coverage is that the campus area includes both indoor and outdoor spaces that are used by workers who, more and more, rely on wireless communications for voice, data, and video connectivity.

From their early days, local area networks, or LANs, connected together computers, printers, and storage devices over a common communications bus or backbone network that allowed these devices to communicate with one other. Typically, LANs only operate inside buildings; users can only access the LAN by physically connecting the device to the common bus via RJ45 jacks and a Cat 5/6 Ethernet cable.

Wi-Fi access points (APs) extend LAN functionality to users over wireless connections. APs have Ethernet ports for connecting to the LAN while providing wireless access to users who wish to connect to various devices even as they move to different points around the campus. At that point, LANs become wireless LANs or WLANs. Now untethered, users can move about the campus with their laptop, tablet, or smartphone while still maintaining computer connections via APs for exchanging data, text, email, and even video. Note that wireless access in this case does not mean mobility; users generally are stationary at a single location but connect to the LAN wirelessly.

Certainly, setting up APs at strategic locations inside a building requires a specific design for indoor applications. Deploying an outdoor campus-wide Wi-Fi network involves these and other considerations.

First, where do you locate the outdoor APs? Typically, this would be in locations to serve high-density areas where people congregate or areas with a lot of pedestrian traffic such as a quadrangle or plaza area that adjoins several buildings. Alternatively, outdoor APs could be located in outdoor parking areas, or at outdoor amphitheaters, auditoriums, and even stadiums. These venues all need some type of coverage for high-speed Internet access other than what the public cellular network can provide from a nearby cell site.

Second, how wide a coverage area is needed for each AP? A single AP in open areas can cover a radius of several hundred feet. That radius could be reduced in more confined areas. For very large coverage areas or large venues, the area can be divided into "sectors" that are each served by their own AP; multiple APs can provide coverage and capacity for the whole area. Once a location is selected, technicians can use a Wi-Fi tester to verify desired signal strengths in the designated coverage area. APs used for indoor applications can be the same ones used outdoors except that they must be housed in a secure, environmentally controlled enclosure. Different types of enclosures accommodate different makes of APs that can vary in form factor, connection types, grounding and lightning protection, and power options.

Most WLAN designs begin with a planning phase that only addresses the most pressing equipment needs first, focusing primarily on the active electronics needed to run the network. Often times, the security and installation of the WLAN APs and other ancillary equipment needed to support and protect the AP are not fully considered from the beginning. This common oversight can lead to higher deployment costs and delayed deadlines. Whether your system is installed indoors or outdoors, best practices should always be followed to ensure continuous and secure operation. Best practices include careful selection and installation of enclosures and devices that ensure stable operation of the AP and protect it from theft, tampering, or other environmental concerns. When the proper preparation, planning and design phases are executed, the implementation, operation, and optimization phases will transpire smoothly and your WLAN network should perform as designed.

John Celentano can be reached at celentanoj@tessco.com.

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WLAN Network Design Methodology

Phase 1: Preparation

  • What is the budget?
  • What devices must the network support?
  • What services must the network support, and to which locations must these services be delivered?
  • What is the appropriate coverage for these locations?

Phase 2: Network Plan

  • What is the existing network configuration?
  • What are my estimated hardware needs?
  • When will my site survey be conducted?

Phase 3: Network Design

  • What were the results if my site survey?
  • Where is my remote equipment to be located?
  • How do I protect my WLAN equipment in the field?

Source: TerraWave Solutions Enclosure Design and Development Guide