2019-03-09

Serious WiFi case study (a house in Wales)

Two of my staff work from their home in Wales some of the time. Working for an ISP you expect that they have good Internet, and perhaps even good WiFi. Well, they have good Internet with our standard dual bonded FTTC offering, but WiFi posed more of a challenge.

The problem is the house! Whilst old buildings with thick walls are not an issue unique to Wales, they are a problem for WiFi. The outside walls are around a metre thick, and the middle of the house has huge fire places and chimney breast making an even thicker wall. Whilst the basic layout is two rooms per floor (one front, one back), it has three stories and high ceilings.

What this means is one WiFi access point in the front room does not working the back (kitchen). Similarly WiFi on the ground floor struggles on the 2nd floor, if at all. Basically, there is no one place to put a WiFi access point (AP) that will work sensibly for the whole house, or even most of it.

This is a big problem for the traditional arrangement of ISP provided combined router and WiFi AP. Even solutions using WiFi repeaters would struggle, so the best bet is to have multiple wired in APs.

The solution, for some time, was to have several Apple Airport Express APs, around 4 of them. This is very much "on the cheap". For some reason this was not a good solution. Much of the house was not well covered, and even in the same room as an AP a speed test would rarely show more than 1Mb/s and usually the WiFi was unusable - so much so that they took to turning off WiFi on phones and tablets and using mobile data instead, in there own house!

We recently added a new package to our order forms at A&A, a "Serious WiFi" package which includes two WiFi-5 APs, a PoE switch and selection of cables and couplers. The idea is that this gives you the kit to deploy two WiFi APs in such a premises. It is far from cheap.

They finally asked me to come and sort the WiFi, and I thought this was a great chance to test this new "package" which we have started selling in a typical situation. I took the two APs, a PoE switch, and cables. The APs are Aruba IAP-305s which are "WiFi-5" (802.11ac).

The first step was to work out where to put the APs for good coverage. This was a combination of looking at the rooms and the thick walls, and also considering where the mobile devices will most commonly be used. We decided high on the wall on the ground floor at the front facing in to the house, and high on the wall in a back room, on the 1st floor facing in to the house. There are a number of other places we could have set up the APs I am sure.

We unplugged the old APs, as the new ones do a frequency scan to decide on best channels anyway, and we used a double sided sticky pad to stick the new APs to the walls in the selected locations with a loose trailing network lead. This allowed us to test the positioning easily.

We looked at mobile signal strength and speed tests in each room, the results were good. Having decided on the position, this meant a masonry drill to fix the access points properly and cable clip the cable in place. Yes, I am not a decorator, I was only there to "make it work" - there are plans for some white trunking in the near future I gather :-)

We were quite pleased that the solution worked and did not need a third access point, which was always a possibility.

Once done, more testing, and they are over the moon with the result. Phones can seamlessly roam between the two access points. And the speed tests are somewhat better than the 1Mb/s they could manage before.
To be honest I was surprised how much difference this has made. The Apple Airports may be a bit dated, but they should basically work. Obviously the new access points have 2.4GHz, and 5GHz, and multiple radios and antenna, and newer (faster protocols), so this clearly makes a difference.

It does rather prove the worth of the new "Serious WiFi" package though, and I am pleased with the result. Expensive, but compared to "unusable" WiFi before, I suspect it was worth it - and would be well worth it for a business premises.

P.S. We had a bit of fun as well...

20 comments:

  1. I'm not surprised it's expensive, if it comes with a personalised "Wi-Fi by Revk(R)" installation service...

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  2. I have an Apple Airport Express and I never got good results with it anywhere. The Apple Airport Extremes I now use instead work much better. My conclusion is the Extreme is great but the Express is rubbish.

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  3. Where are the wifi packages on the Accessories pages? I can't find either this or the previos Ubiquiti pack you used to offer on the A&A web site.

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    1. They are not listed at the moment, but the new web site will be up shortly. They are on the broadband order form at present though.

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  4. Apple's APs seem very poor as repeaters IM(limited)E - my inlaws have one in that role at present, using a single radio and single channel, so all the relayed traffic has to share capacity with its own backhaul. Predictably lousy performance as a result. It probably worked fine with with 802.11n and ADSL1 ... Must take a better AP or repeater out there next visit.

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    1. Cockburn (pronounced "Coburn") 𓂺Wednesday, 13 March 2019 at 18:42:00 GMT

      I wouldn't bother with Apple APs tbh. Just use some Devolo homeplugs or something like that.

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    2. Homeplugs and other ethernet over mains stuff cause so many problems. They clearly breach emissions regulations since they radiate so much RF noise from the mains. They should all be banned, indeed existing regulations DO ban them. But somehow they remain on sale and in use, buggering up FM and DAB and TV reception all over the place.

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    3. Cockburn (pronounced "Coburn") 𓂺Thursday, 14 March 2019 at 13:38:00 GMT

      Oh no, I've got them all over my house, I put a Devolo 1200 homeplug in practically every other room to get the fastest wifi possible. They seem to work OK - much faster link to the router than from my modem to the web - but wasn't aware that they might affect other people's TV and so on. Also very simple because of no cabling and very easy to replace when newer wifi standards and suchlike come out. You can't beat good old fashioned ethernet cables though really. That said, I watch a lot of TV and the reception seems fine even though the house is full of homeplugs. I don't really listen to FM radio though, only LBC on the iphone app and things like that these days. They do get really hot as well I've noticed (not sure but maybe 70 degrees or so?)

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  5. Cockburn (pronounced "Coburn") 𓂺Wednesday, 13 March 2019 at 18:40:00 GMT

    Looks like a nice set-up they have there.

    Regarding the colour of the ethernet cable, I was wondering if there are particular conventions. For instance, does blue mean it carries power but beige just means data only, that sort of thing?

    They must be so happy having such a fast Internet connection while also enjoying all the privileges of a large house in an idyllic rural location such as Wales.

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  6. Cockburn (pronounced "Coburn") 𓂺Wednesday, 13 March 2019 at 18:49:00 GMT

    I love watching these informative little videos, really interesting and entertaining too.

    The screen recording software looks handy, is there a particular package that is best for doing that sort of thing?

    Also, it seems that the screen recording is blurry for the first 5 seconds or so, is that because it takes a while for the compression algorithm to kick in or something like that? :)

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    1. I just used quicktime to record. The blurry effect will be YouTube being special for some reason.

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  7. I would be interested in seeing a bandwidth test of it located up the wall with the view of a cable or trubking Vs on the floor behind the couch

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  8. Homeplugs and other ethernet over mains stuff cause so many problems. They clearly breach emissions regulations since they radiate so much RF noise from the mains. They should all be banned, indeed existing regulations DO ban them. But somehow they remain on sale and in use, buggering up FM and DAB and TV reception all over the place.

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  9. In general its a bad idea to mount 5GHz radios near the corner of a room as :

    a) you're likely pumping 50% of your EIRP into concrete/brick/plaster (check the RF plots for the APs);

    b) you're going to be limiting diversity due to short-range reflections and hence you aren't going to be able to utilise all the chains efficiently.

    In addition "auto channels" on 2.4GHz are pointless as there's only two possible 20MHz schemes for multiple APs :

    1) C1, C6 & C11

    2) C1, C5, C9, C13 (if you're in the middle of nowhere and can turn off old modulation schemes on your radios).

    Everything else overlaps on the 2.4GHz band.

    On 5GHz auto channel selection is problematic as apart from C36-48 all the other channels are subject to DFS regs and hence its usually better to plan it manually in terms of fallback channels. Eg if I get a radar hit on C128 (quite likely in the UK) I wouldn't want an auto-selected fallback channel, I'd want it manually specified so it isn't going to pick an inappropriate channel.

    Also ALL ethernet over mains wiring kit in the UK is the spawn of the devil - ring mains do that. I found it amusing that the original SkyQ box (maybe still the same?) had to have ethernet over mains wiring disabled as it (unsurprisingly) fucked up the VDSL2 connections in a high proportion of (beta) tests. Maybe they ought to have tested it (during design) on a mains supply system which wasn't a star design ;)

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    1. Thanks for the tips. Obviously ceiling mount devices should aim mostly down (or “out” in this case) but worth checking the plots.

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    2. And I agree with your comment on ethernet over mains :-)

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    3. Made a longer post but tracker protection timed out so it got "eaten" by the browser :) Was probably some long rambing post anyway.

      Rough rule of thumb is to keep 5GHz APs at least 4 times their diameter away from corners you know are solid. Gives better diversity hence higher average PHY rates & therefore more efficient use of airtime.

      WLANs are nothing like wired plant networking Adrian. They're a lot more variable - contention, massive overheads, potential of one SS client eating most of your airtime. You should have a closer look at WLAN performance in your (now) spare time as its quite interesting & fairly cheap to play around with.

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    4. The Aruba are pretty comprehensive, and I am learning more about how they work. Wi-Fi 6 should be pretty interesting later in the year.

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    5. Heh.

      The claims being made by the marketing boys & girls are certainly "interesting".

      In fact I'd go so far as to say the claims being made for legacy WLANs (2.4GHz) are utter bullshit. They're simply unachievable in an overused unlicensed band.

      You're only as good as your weakest client on a WLAN & that won't change to "wifi6" anytime soon other than a corporate WLAN.

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  10. The Ubiquiti stuff is also worth a look if you want something a bit cheaper and still solid. I know RevK had a few issues with iphones in the past with them, but mine seem to be behaving, I do have 802.11r disabled though.

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