It has become clear recently that deploying high-performance and reliable wireless networks is a bit of a pain point for integrators. While I believe a physical cable offers higher performance and reliability, there simply are too many products designed to rely solely on wireless in today’s mobile-device-centric world for integrators to solve problems by running new cables. With multiple users accessing the network from different devices and clamoring for their share of the available bandwidth, it makes successful design, installation and configuration of wireless networks arguably the most valuable service integrators can offer clients interested in ensuring a future-ready home. Although there are many challenges to building a robust wireless network infrastructure, following guidelines can take you a long way towards meeting your clients’ needs.
Specify the Correct Equipment
There are many different Wi-Fi standards available. It is critical that you understand what frequency range they operate in, what the real world throughput capacities are, and how they relate to each other regarding compatibility.
802.11a/b/g are all generally considered legacy standards, so I won’t go into detail about them here; however, it is important to note that if your client connects older a/b/g host devices, there is a high likelihood that the entire network will experience a drop in performance in order to accommodate the older standards.
The most common standard in use today is 802.11n. This standard allows for operation in both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequency ranges. Note that while using the 5GHz spectrum is generally considered desirable due to increased throughput and lower interference, keep in mind that it does not offer as wide of a coverage area as 2.4GHz. Put simply, not all 802.11n compliant APs are capable of utilizing the 5GHz spectrum, and those that are may not be capable of broadcasting 5GHz and 2.4GHz at the same time, which leads to compatibility issues between older and newer host devices and results in network congestion and poor performance when older host devices are connected. Utilize products that offer dual-band (2.4/5GHz) and dual-radio (multiple broadcasts) functionality as part of a MIMO (multiple-in multiple-out) feature set to solve this issue.
Choose the Optimal Access Point Location
The most common method for integrating a wireless access point in a residential environment is to install a router with an access point already built in. While this offers a simple, all-in-one solution, it is rarely the best solution. Routers are typically installed somewhere out-of-sight, often in a basement or utility closet, and far from centrally located within the home. In the worst-case scenario, they end up in a metal equipment rack or cable distribution enclosure, both of which attenuate the signal further and degrade system performance. For these reasons, I recommend installing a separate, dedicated wireless access point with an omni-directional antenna in a centrally located position and connected via hardline Ethernet back to the switch/router.
The two operating Wi-Fi frequency ranges currently available are also open to use by other consumer electronics devices. This means that in addition to neighboring Wi-Fi broadcasts, products such as Bluetooth headsets, baby monitors, microwave ovens, PIR motion detectors, and cordless phones all can cause interference on a client’s network. In order to avoid conflicts and dropped packets due to this overcrowding of frequencies, it is paramount to equip yourself with the proper software/hardware tools to view and analyze the RF broadcasts in every client environment.
Wireless solutions are only going to continue to gain momentum, so be sure you and your business are prepared for success. Wireless networking is far too large a topic to tackle in its entirety with only a single page, so to learn more, check out the available CEDIA white paper series, online training offerings, and boot camp on the subject.
Contributed by the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association. To learn more about CEDIA membership visit www.cedia.org/join.