People no longer want to ‘get-away-from-it-all’ these days, they want to stay connected, whether this is to social media, the office or just to check local attractions online and with this in mind one of the key requirements, when away from home, is how good the WiFi is at the campsite or holiday park.
Here at Solwise we offer a number of solutions for delivering broadcast WiFi for public. We can also help you with user management. The purposes of this management could be so you can offer a chargeable service and/or so you can control and have traceability for site visits and usage: This final point might well be something that you need if Ofcom come knocking on your door accusing you of downloading a rip off DVD through your internet connection!
The WiFi broadcast methods discussed here centre around scattering WiFi nodes around the site to give complete WiFi coverage. However, before going through the various methods to achieve this, first of all we need to discuss the issues of where a signal will reach and where it will not. They key point is wireless doesn’t go through walls or buildings or caravans! So you need to mount your outdoor wireless devices so that users can get clear line of sight to where the WiFi is being sent from. If the user is in a caravan that means the window of the caravan needs to be aimed at where the WiFi is coming from. This means, when covering a park that you need to scatter WiFi transmitter nodes around the site to give all users clear connectivity. Of course you also want to keep the number of nodes down to reduce interference, boost throughput and to reduce costs. Deciding how many WiFi nodes to install and where to mount them for optimum coverage is, in our opinion, the hard part!
Methodology of Distribution
It would be great if the site could be covered by just a single outdoor Access Point (AP) on the outside of the site club house. Unfortunately, unless the site is very small indeed, this is never the case. Most sites will therefore require multiple access point nodes, carefully sited to give seamless coverage. Once you've picked the best location for the access point nodes the next problem is how do you get the Internet to each node. There are a number of ways you can do this; each of them has its good and bad points:
- Hardwired Access Points. This uses separate access points which are connected back to source via networking cable.
- Access Points with a wireless backbone. This is NOT the same as using WiFi repeaters or mesh nodes. What this means is using discrete APs at each node location but then, connected to each AP, using another WiFi unit to bridge back to the network source.
- Basic 'repeater' access points where the WiFi on the access point used for the local coverage and also the linking back to the source.
- The other type of repeating topology is using Mesh repeaters. This is really just a more efficient form of the repeating methodology described above. So although a mesh network still has potential throughput and coverage issues they do have several very important advantages as well.
Weighing up the various options our advice is go for APs using a hardwired backbone. Failing that consider discrete APs with a WiFi backbone. If the number of nodes is small and outright performance can be compromised then you could, perhaps, consider a repeater type configuration.
One very important issue is it doesn't matter if you use discrete Access Points (APs) on the end of some cable or a repeater setup, a traditional collection of Access Points still appears as separate WiFi sources as far as your client is concerned. This means that the client still sees them as different WiFi’s (though you could use the same SSID/security so at least the clients don't have to redo the security password as they move around). However even using the same network setup for each AP it still won’t necessarily seamlessly hop from one AP to the other as you move around. That's called roaming and this behaviour is not intrinsic in WiFi clients.
There are protocols like 802.11k/r which help client migration (not 100% true roaming but pretty good), but the access point/nodes and also the client devices have to support this. Most cheaper APs DON'T!
What's the range of the access point? Well the first thing is if there's something in the way then the 'range' is as far as the obstruction. WiFi doesn't like going through things and the more substantial the obstruction the worse it gets. For example a typical 2 skin brick wall knocks the signal down maybe 75%. Even a person’s hand will knock 50% off a signal, so if you're holding the phone and covering the built in antenna then that will have a serious effect on the signal. It's best to assume that if there's anything in the path of the signal, even if it's quite close, then the range is as far as that object. With decent kit at BOTH ends you can do a WiFi link of 10-20Km!! That's with line of sight and still being legal.
A site implementing a WiFi system should consider how to charge and administer the access. One option is to just put it on as a levy on the normal fees (or even give it away free as a site perk) but then you have to worry about locking the wireless network down so that only proper site users that have paid can use the link. There are also EU rulings that need to be thought about with respect to secure WiFi and also keeping records of users. You will probably need to consider some form of hotspot gateway to collect these user details.
Download our White paper in full which includes details about the legal implications of supplying a public WiFi to your guests. We also include suggestions for hardware for your WiFi solution and give you further information on performance & WiFi range. We also discuss doing a ‘site survey’ to ensure you get maximum coverage for your guests.
Steve Mace, Solwise Ltd.