By: Andrew Shoffner
Designing, deploying, and maintaining a WiFi network takes a lot of specialized knowledge and skill. You need to consider the size and shape of the area you are covering, the building materials or other obstacles that might affect signal strength, and any other factors that could impact network performance.
All of these factors and more need to be considered when designing outdoor WiFi networks, which bring with them a host of unique design and deployment challenges.
Outdoor WiFi Challenges & Their Solutions
Increased Wear & Tear on Equipment
One of the biggest challenges with outdoor WiFi networks is the increased wear and tear on APs and other equipment. Unlike indoor networks, outdoor equipment needs to withstand extreme temperatures, so specialized hardware is required.
You need to ensure that all materials used during construction are weatherproofed accordingly so they can stand up to rain, snow, heat, wind, and other environmental conditions indoor APs don’t need to contend with.
Capacity & Coverage
Outdoor environments also pose a unique challenge from a capacity and coverage perspective. Large outdoor areas such as campgrounds and parks may need to comfortably support thousands of devices spread out over a wide area. As such, outdoor WiFi networks typically require more APs than their indoor counterparts to ensure every device can enjoy a fast, reliable connection within the network coverage area.
Addressing These Challenges
The best way to address these challenges is to plan accordingly. Every outdoor WiFi network plan needs to consider and address the unique challenges posed by that particular deployment environment and be designed to support the maximum number of simultaneous users that network is likely to encounter.
You also need to have a clear, concise installation plan that includes information on how you are going to run electricity to each AP and any signal penetration challenges posed by trees, bushes, metal RV walls, or other potential signal blockers.
Design with the Weather in Mind
Most of the outdoor networks WiFi Integrators have designed and deployed are located in the Northeastern United States, where there are four distinct seasons. As such, these networks need to be able to handle freezing cold winter temperatures as well as hot, humid summer days.
The APs used need to be rated for the correct temperature ranges and other equipment such as switches or POE injectors need to be placed inside climate-controlled enclosures.
In order to ensure the network is operating safely, all equipment must be installed correctly and follow strict grounding guidelines laid out in the manufacturer’s specifications.
Installing outdoor WiFi networks is more difficult than installing indoor WiFi networks, so you need to ensure your team has the necessary skills. Since this work is done outdoors, you should also make sure your team is comfortable and dressed appropriately for outdoor work and are comfortable working high up and during extreme weather. Many network deployments are on strict timeframes, so skipping a day because of rain, snow, extreme heat, or other less-than-ideal weather isn’t usually an option.
Outdoor installations often require specialized equipment such as a lift or bucket truck to reach the AP installation sites, which means you need workers who are trained on how to use this equipment safely. All materials used need to be correctly rated for the environment. As such, outdoor cabling is more difficult to work with because it has extra shielding and insulation compared to indoor cabling.
All of these extra precautions and specialized equipment add up, increasing the cost of the project and the amount of time each deployment takes.
Common Mistakes & How to Avoid Them
In addition to installing entirely new outdoor WiFi networks, our team also has extensive experience upgrading existing networks. One of the biggest mistakes we encounter when working with existing equipment is indoor wiring used in outdoor environments. Using indoor wiring not only compromises the integrity of the network but can pose a safety hazard should the wires fray or become otherwise damaged.
We have also encountered units that are improperly grounded or not grounded at all, posing a significant safety hazard. All equipment must be grounded and must be grounded correctly to prevent injuries.
The Value of Mesh Networks
Mesh networks can be incredibly useful for large, outdoor areas that need to support a large number of users. Unlike a standard indoor WiFi network where every AP is wired back to a switch, mesh networking is a key feature for covering outdoor areas where no wired network connections exist by allowing one of the radios in an outdoor access point to act as a link to the other nearest access point(s). A properly configured mesh network is able to maximize the number of connections between APs to ensure there are multiple routes between each device. This can improve and increase coverage and ensures that if one AP or rout goes offline, most of the network remains intact by rerouting that APs’ traffic to nearby APs.
Whether a mesh network is right for your project depends on a variety of factors. For sites with high tree density, running fiber, or relying on a combination of mesh and fiber, may be the best solution.
Ocean View Resort
The Ocean View Resort Campground posed a wide variety of outdoor networking challenges our team needed to overcome. To help overcome these challenges, we opted for antennas with 120-degree coverage instead of 260-degree omnidirectional coverage, allowing us to extend signal rage by 60% to 70%. To compensate for the narrower coverage area, we mounted 3 antennas on each pole to ensure full 260-degree coverage.
We go into more detail about the unique challenges this environment posed and the innovative solutions our team came up with to overcome these challenges in our Ocean View Resort case study.
Large Philadelphia Parking Lot
One of the trickiest outdoor networks our team has designed and deployed was in an 11,000 car parking lot in Philadelphia, where new cars coming from Korea are processed before they are shipped out to car dealerships. The parking lot actually contained two separate lots (each containing 14 wireless APs) connected by a point-to-point wireless bridge to support client connections. The network needed to be able to support the variety of handled scanners and other devices employees used to process cars for shipping, so spotty coverage or limited bandwidth was not acceptable.
Suburban Philadelphia Park
Another unique outdoor WiFi network the WiFi Integrators team designed and installed was in a public park in a Philadelphia suburb. The township that owned the park was having problems with after-hours trespassers, who would drive motorcycles, ATVs, and cars across the park’s grassy areas, including the sports field. This misuse damaged the grass, reducing the park’s enjoyment for residents and increasing maintenance costs. Policing the park for trespassers also required a large number of police hours, pulling officers away from other crimes.
The township addressed this problem by installing several APs and security cameras throughout the park, allowing them to better monitor and respond to misuse and
By installing APs and surveillance cameras throughout the park, the township was better able to monitor and respond to misuse, allowing them to better preserve the park’s grassy areas.
Designing, deploying, and maintaining an outdoor WiFi network is no easy task. You need a team that works with your best interests at heart and is always there to offer sound, unbiased advice, and ongoing support. Our team of experts can help you design a network perfectly suited to your needs, help ensure your deployment goes smoothly, and troubleshoot any issues that arise. To help keep things humming along smoothly, we also offer managed IT services, so you and your team can focus on your core business and leave the IT up to the experts.
For more information about outdoor WiFi networks, or to start designing your solution, please contact our team today.