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Take Your Indoor Wireless Access Points Outdoors

The demand for widespread wireless coverage is a requirement for all businesses worldwide. As the number of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) services and wireless local area network (WLAN) demand capabilities are increasing, many organizations are reviewing their WLAN services and determining whether their networks need a simple upgrade or an entire system overhaul.

For those companies that want to extend their indoor WLAN coverage to outdoor locations, one option may be to use an indoor access point (AP) outside. This can be done but indoor APs must be protected. Many options exist for protecting WLAN equipment from the elements in an outdoor environment. But where do you start designing a complete wireless system that is secure and reliable without exhausting resources and driving up implementation costs?

Every WLAN deployment should follow a holistic network design methodology. This means that every aspect must be considered in order to ensure a proper, safe and reliable installation. A complete WLAN design methodology includes the following three phases: Preparation, Network Plan, and Network Design.

In the Preparation phase, the basic questions to be asked include the following: What is the budget? What devices must the network support and what is the appropriate coverage for these locations? What services must the network support and to what locations must these services be delivered?

WLAN planning phases address the most pressing equipment needs first, that is, focusing primarily on the active electronics needed to run the network. Often times, however, the security and the installation of the WLAN APs along with accessories and ancillary gear needed to support and protect the AP, are not fully considered. This common oversight can lead to higher deployment costs, delayed deadlines, and poor operation.

The Network Plan phase addresses the current network capabilities and helps determine whether additional hardware is required. Some of the appropriate questions to ask during this phase include: What does the existing network look like? What are the estimated hardware needs? When will a site survey be conducted? We strongly recommend that a site survey be conducted. The main reason is to gain the valuable data needed to plan a proper network implementation. The site survey helps identify the optimum AP placements for reliable wireless coverage. It also reveals what signal levels are needed to support the WLAN services and prevents overlap and interference with other APs.

The Network Design phase utilizes the results of the site survey, determines what remote equipment is needed, and figures out how to protect the WLAN equipment outdoors.

While options exist for securing WLAN equipment, a National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA)-rated outdoor enclosure is the commonly deployed product for ensuring an AP's physical security and environmental protection. An enclosure can be thought of as the foundation of an intricate security system for your AP. Each enclosure system component is carefully selected to provide the best protection for the valuable equipment mounted inside. Careful consideration of each of these components will guide you in configuring the appropriate enclosure system that meets your needs. A typical bill of materials (BOM) for an outdoor AP includes the AP itself, available from a variety of manufacturers, the NEMA-rated enclosure, grounding and surge protection, a power source usually Power-over-Ethernet (PoE), and a switch or router.