Intro: The Ultimate Wifi Network
I have a funny shaped house - it's narrow, but long and the house itself is solid concrete / stucco and has a lot of features that are poison for wifi signals.
Here were my requirements:
- I am working out of the house and wanted to ensure that I have excellent wifi coverage throughout the house and the backyard.
- I also needed the ability to connect many devices - computers, laptops, tablet, cell phone, wifi thermostats, and all that good stuff without compromising network quality.
- In case I needed more than one wifi antenna, I did not want to have to manually connect to a second wifi network, but preferred to have "seamless" roaming.
I am going to talk about the products I used in this instructable, but I don't have a commercial relationship with the vendors and derive no benefits from mentioning them here. It's just stuff I picked and tried and that works really well for me.
Step 1: Network Backbone
I have Internet service through my local cable company, but did not want to rely on whatever shoddy modem / wifi / router functionality they provide.
So, I bought my own:
- NETGEAR DOCSIS 3.0. The only thing it needs to do is decode whatever comes out of the coax cable and provide a single Ethernet port
Mikrotik RB750GL. I chose this router because it had really good reviews and was apparently made to handle a lot of data throughput and concurrently connected devices. Many people have problems with their home network because the routers can't handle all the packet switching, so investing in this area is important.
- This may not be needed for any of you, but I did add a Mikrotik (RB260GS) switch to the business just to give me more network ports. Remember that a switch is basically just giving you network ports, but without the ability to transport packets across network boundaries and can't issue an IP address via DHCP. You may not need an extra switch, but you'll definitely need the router for these things.
Step 2: First Attempt of a Wireless Antenna
My first idea to get good signal around the property was to mount a high-powered outside (i.e. weather resistant) wifi antenna on the roof. This did not provide the coverage I needed inside of the house, but the device still came in handy as we shall see.
I picked the Ubiquity Unify AP Outdoor access point. It had excellent reviews and is considered on-par with many of the much more expensive professional pieces that are available from other vendors.
The other problem with the approach I took was that I would have to route network cables up to the roof and that would have turned into a major project as I didn't want to have cables dangling on the outside of the house.
So, I needed to take another approach, which we'll discuss in the next steps.
Step 3: Indoor Wireless
I started focusing on the indoor wireless portion and selected the Ubiquiti UniFi Long Range Access Point, which is kind of cool looking and has good signal strength.
Note that these Ubiquiti wirless access points don't do anything but provide a wifi signal. That's why you still need a separate router to do the IP address generation and essential network functions.
So, with this device, I had about 3/4 of the house covered at good signal strength, but I didn't have coverage in the bedroom or in the backyard. Since I had already purchased the outdoor wifi antenna, I wanted to resuse it and put it maybe on the flagpole in the back yard.
Step 4: Bridging the Gap
Mounting the outdoor wifi access point in the yard would not be a problem. However, I also did not want to run network cabling out to the yard.
I tried to have the two wifi access points act as a network repeater, but the wifi throughput and network latency decreases noticeable with this option and I tried to avoid that.
Ubiquity has this mode called "zero handoff" where two or more access points basically communicate with each other about each connected device and hand off the wifi signal to the access point that can provide the best signal strength. This is exactly what I wanted to go for, but - you guessed it - this functionality is predicated on having each wifi access point physically wired to the network. No option of wirelessly communicating all of this information. Zero Handoff requires hard wired connections between the access points and the network.
So, I needed an additional piece of equipment to connect the two access points with a physical network connection over a distance of about 100 ft. A quick Internet search and trip to the local computer shop yielded a pair of Netgear Powerline 500 devices. These wonderful little buggers use your power lines to communicate from A to B and have remarkably strong throughput. By using these devices, I could trick the two wifi access points into thinking that they are physically connected and got them to support the zero handoff technology after all.
A word of caution here: The data throughput that you can expect from these powerline devices depends very much on the quality of your electrical wires (I have an old house, so I had to try a few outlets and things connected to different breaker panels.)
Again, the only motivation for the powerline devices was the ability to enable the zero handoff feature on the ubiquity devices rather than using the inferior wireless repeater functionality.
Step 5: Weather Proofing the Outdoor Portion
Well, by now I knew I needed to have the outdoor access point, but also a power strip and the Netgear power line plus a bunch of cables permanently outside. Some weather proofing was badly needed.
I was able to solve the problem with a quick trip to the hardware store and bought a length of 6 inch PVC pipe. I glued a PVC Cap to the bottom end of it, stuck all my moisture sensitive equipment into it, and glued a PVC threading to the top portion (not sure if that's the right term, but it allows you to actually screw on a water tight cap).
Now all I had to do was to drill a hole for the network cable into the PVC pipe as well as a larger one for the power plug, put everything together and seal up the holes with marine grade silicon (I chose 3M 4200).
I used large cable straps to affix this "thing" to the flag pole and plug the power cable into the outlet at the dock. Done.
Step 6: Final Thoughts
I am signed up for the 60 Mbps plan from my network provider and a speedtest shows about 55 Mbps when plugged directly into the router without wifi.
Through the wireless network I am getting a good 40-45 Mbps throughout when connected to the wireless access point on the inside and about 15-20 Mbps when connected to the one on the outside. The degradation is mainly due to the transmission quality through my power lines. That's more than enough, though, and I can roam around the property even while having voice over IP calls without ever losing the call or noticing any interruption.
This was all well worth the effort.
As for cost, I think I spent about $400ish:
- Outdoor access point: $180
- Indoor access point: $90
- Router: $60
- Netgear Powerline: $50
- PVC pipe and misc. supplies: $30
Best wifi network I've ever had :)