In another article we describe how a HomePlug (or PowerLan) connection is a convenient and cost-effective way of extending WiFi coverage and therefore improving internet access. However, there are some situations in which HomePlug is not always the most appropriate solution.
This may be the case if the only possible location for the HomePlug adaptor is a public area where it can easily be unplugged and stolen.
There may also be an issue if the Homeplug adaptor can only be connected to a mains socket that is at risk of damage by passers-by (eg cleaners with their vacuum cleaners).
In some cases it may not be possible to establish a reliable connection between the HomePlug master and the slave unit. This could be because they are on a different electrical circuit or there is some other interference that causes connection problems.
There may also be situations where alternative WiFi based solutions have to be considered to give the required speed and performance or because there is no mains electricity.
In this article we look at other ways of extending internet access using alternative WiFi solutions such as High Gain Adaptor, additional Access Points, Repeaters and Bridges.
High Gain WiFi Adaptor
If your laptop is having trouble connecting to your favourite wireless access points at home, in the office or on the move then the simplest solution is to use a High Gain WiFi Adaptor. This would bypass the WiFi antenna and associated radio equipment in your laptop with a high performance alternative.
Typically a High Gain WiFi Adaptor would plug in to a USB port on your laptop and when it is connected would disable your laptop’s internal WiFi equipment.
A High Gain WiFi Adaptor would not, of course, improve the performance of other WiFi devices such as smartphones, wireless printers and games consoles.
Additional WiFi Access Points
A typical home or business would have just a single WiFi Access Point and this would usually be integrated into the broadband router.
If this single Access Point does not give coverage over the required area then one possible solution is to deploy additional WiFi Access Pointsthat are situated to give the required coverage.
The main problem with this solution is not the cost of the Access Point itself, but the fact that each additional Access Point needs to be cabled back to the router and also needs to be powered.
Although it is possible with some Access Points to avoid the need for separate mains power by using Power Over Ethernet technology, the need to install a network cable to each Access Point can make the cost of deploying additional Access Points prohibitive.
Despite these disadvantages, this solution is often used in business premises and in commercial WiFi Hotspots because it is possible to implement sophisticated security controls and billing systems by connecting each Access Point to a central controller via the network cabling.
One way of avoiding the need to have additional WiFi Access Points that require individual cable connections to the main router is to use WiFi Repeaters to extend the coverage area.
A WiFi Repeaterwould receive the WiFi signal from the main WiFi Access Point and then retransmit the signal to extend WiFi coverage to the required area.
The best location for a WiFi Repeater would be at the edge of an existing area of WiFi coverage and at the centre of the required area of coverage.
Care must be taken to ensure that the Repeater is not be located in an area where the signal that it receives from the main Access Point is weak, variable or generally unreliable due to external factors.
As with the multiple WiFi Access Point solution described above, a WiFi Repeater requires power. This is a major practical issue since it affects the location chosen for a Repeater and raises issues such as ensuring that the mains power is not disconnected or switched off.
Another issue is that a “network” of WiFi Repeaters is not as easy to manage as a network of WiFi Access Points since more care has to be taken about the radio frequencies used. For example, to avoid interference the extended coverage area of a WiFi Repeater would have to operate on a frequency that is different from that used by the main Access Point.
There are also performance issues since multiple WiFi “hops” do not perform as well as single WiFi “hops”.
Despite the disadvantages associated with WiFi Repeater there will be situations in which they offer the best and most cost-effective solution for extending internet access.
WiFi Bridge (internal connection)
When a WiFi Bridgeis used internally (ie within a home or business premises) it does not extend internet access in terms of range, instead it extends internet access by enabling the connection of devices that would otherwise require an ethernet cable connection.
An example of this would be the connection to a WiFi router of a television that has an ethernet socket.
The WiFi router would typically be in a different room from the television and installing a direct cable connection to the television room would not be an attractive proposition.
T0 avoid the need to run a cable between the television and the router a WiFi Bridge can be installed adjacent to the television.
The WiFi Bridge would be configured to connect to the router’s WiFi Access Point and a “patch” cable would connect the television’s ethernet socket to the ethernet socket of the WiFi Bridge.
This would enable the connection of the television to the router and therefore to the internet.
A WiFi Bridge would typically have 4 x ethernet ports making it possible to connect to the internet other devices that would typically be adjacent to the television, for example, a games console, a media streamer or a Sky HD box.
WiFi Bridge (external connection)
When a WiFi Bridge is used externally its purpose is to provide internet connectivity to remote premises. As with the internally connected WiFi Bridge it is an alternative to running a cable.
The premises can be between 10 meters and 10 kilometres apart.
Ranges greater than 100 metres can be achieved outdoor using directional high gain antenna and higher sensitivity radio receivers.
The antennas would have to be mounted externally and would need to be aligned precisely so that a successful connection can be achieved. Usually a line of sight connection is required between the premises, but the latest generation of WiFi Bridges are more tolerant to obstacles such as trees.
External WiFi Bridges can be configured in Point-to-Point mode or Point-to-Multipoint mode.
In Point-to-Multipoint mode WiFi Bridges can be used to extend internet access to communities that are beyond the reach of traditional broadband coverage because they are too far from the telephone exchange.
External WiFi Bridges are based on the frequencies and technology used by standard WiFi and can therefore be used with minimal regulation.
The use of WiFi technology also means that the equipment is relatively inexpensive with a WiFi Bridge kit that contains everything to connect premises that are up to 15 kilometres apart costing less than £300.
Get in touch using our contact form if you would like advice on using WiFi or other wireless solutions to extend internet access within your premises and to other locations.