WIFI Solution - building with very thick walls

Posted on 2006-11-16
Last Modified: 2012-05-05

Anyone any experience in delivering wifi solutions into challenging buildings?  Type of buildings I refer to are old mansions, stately homes, buildings with very thick walls.  I realise that permanent cabling is the best option however given the environment this is also extremely difficult and keeping cables and devices out of sight is a priority.  I'm thinking that I may need to use the more expensive AP's such as the Cisco 1200 series and possibly need to use a couple of units to cover the space, perhaps using a range extender?  I'm also thinking that the way forward is to try a number of units on site to assess.

Anyone got any pointers for 500 points?

Question by:wayneinuk
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Accepted Solution

Rob Williams earned 200 total points
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>>"old mansions, stately homes, buildings with very thick walls. "
I have never had any problems other than distance. The thick walls are usually little different from todays construction other than plaster versus drywall. Now if the walls are concrete that is a different story. I had one house, with every partition wall made of 8" poured concrete. I could actually cover 1/2 floor with standard Linksys/D-Link/Netgear type wireless. I ran CAT5 to strategic locations and then placed wireless at those points.
Keep in mind too, some homes the floors are not as dense as the walls. Placing wireless in the basement and or attic may be a better option.
Not much help to you, but perhaps a little feedback.

Assisted Solution

saw830 earned 200 total points
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Hi wayneinuk,

thickness of the walls aren't exactly the issue.  composition combined with thickness is.  WiFi uses RF energy as the tranmission medium.  RF isn't substantially effected by huge amounts of some things, such as clear glass or most plastics, regardless of it's thickness.  A thin sheet of tin foil, on the other hand will stop pretty much all of the RF energy.  So back to the old mansion, what are those thick walls made of?  If made of timber and paper, you shouldn't have much problem.  If timber covered plaster, you'll probably have lots of problems.  From the plaster?  not really, but from the expanded metal lath that is nailed to the timber that the plaster hangs on.

Best practice is to take a (some) wireless access point there and a laptop with wireless card in it and do a site survey.

Hope this helps,

Expert Comment

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There are some residential construction things that will interfere with wireless signals:
1.  Metal HVAC ductwork behind / inside walls.
2.  Wire lath behind plaster (1940'5 and 1950's)
3.  Pre-balloon construction techniques (interior walls are solid, not frame)

Rob's idea about floors is a good one.  Residential floors are usually just wood over framing.  If you can strategically locate AP's in the basement (near the floor above), you can get good coverage for the first floor.  If the building is 2-story, the attic might be workable for second floor coverage, but watch out for the temperature and humidity ratings on the AP's, it gets hot and humid in attics in the summer.  Failing that, you can get corner-mountable directional antenna that might help you cover your area (if you can find a place your client will let you put one).  Or maybe a repeater on the second floor that can repeat your basement signals.

You will need to activate an AP, or a few AP's, then do a survey to see just what you are up against.


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While they are becoming a bit harder to find these days (but still fairly easy) Belkin pre-N ( *** NOT DRAFT N, PRE-N!!! *** ) equipment does a better job than anything else I've personally used.  5,000-6,000 sq ft house with a large foyer finished with metallic paint and a massive leaded crystal chandelier prevented me from getting good signal to/from just about anywhere.  Belkin pre-N gear allowed me to place the wireless router in the basement and reach the third floor with ease - adjustment of the antennae increased the signal even further.

I was able to finish the job there, but still had several tricks up my sleeve:

1. Amplifier for the router - some routers have an additional piece that will boost the power of your signal.

2. Strategically placed repeaters.  These can be hidden behind draperies and inside closets and can work wonders for boosting the signal and increasing range.

3. Ethernet over power.  If you aren't worries about RFI then this may very well suit your needs perfectly - if you get decent equipment you will find that it simply works.
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by:Rob Williams
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I like saw830's idea of setting up a test network in the house/building. If you do much of this, I have a little device called a Kensington WiFi Finder that I carry around to locate dead spots and get an idea of coverage. It was only about $30, not terribly accurate, but good enough to give you a rough idea as to the signal strength in a given area of a building. If you want to get serious Fluke and some others have some incredible test gear for this. If interested, the current model of the Kensington can be found at:
Might be a good way to test a new site for problems quickly and easily.

Assisted Solution

kcg-witchdoctor earned 100 total points
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Just a couple thoughts for standard equipment:

Place the wireless devices high in house so the radiate down.
Lower frequencies penetrate denser materials.

Maybe get the Version1  WRT45G and apply the linux firmware update. Its sopposed to increase the power dramtically
Check it out.

Hope this helps.

Author Comment

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All comments gratefully received.  The job was not as bad as I anticipated, I used Netgear Rangemax equipment including Netgear MIMO AP'a which are incredible when placed in the loft space, very good signal all over.  I fed the units using CAT5 cabling to strategic locations.

Thanks to all.
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by:Rob Williams
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Thanks wayneinuk. Glad to hear you are up and running.
Always seems to be the ones where don't anticipate any problems that are difficult :-)  Glad this one went smoothly.
Cheers !

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