Outdoor Access Points and Antennas

The requirement of placing equipment outdoors imposes some important restrictions on the kinds of devices you can use. First and foremost, any access point, repeater, or antenna meant for outside use needs to be enclosed or made durable in some way.

There are many antennas on the market today that fit this category because it is important that antennas be located in prominent locations. Directional antennas tend to do best in line-of-site situations, while an omnidirectional antenna will get better coverage if it doesn’t have to travel through a wall to get to your neighbors’ laptops.

Many antennas therefore are set up for either roof mounting or mounting from a pole or high up on a wall. Yagi directional antennas are often pole mounted and use for outdoor links.

One consideration when you buy an antenna is to make sure that the antenna is properly grounded and isolated. Any metallic object high up can attract lightening, and attracting electrical signals is just what an antenna is designed to do.

You may find that to properly locate a wireless signal you need to mount your devices on a tower, and that that tower doesn’t exist. Therefore, you may also find yourself in the market for a radio tower, strange as that might seem to you.

When locating your antenna, pay particular attention to that antenna’s profile. Many antennas do better with either a horizontal or a vertical placement and that will affect how you mount them. Many antennas connect to access points or repeaters using coaxial cable.

The signal loss in coaxial cabling is high, and depending upon the wiring used the signal can degrade substantially over even as short a distance as three or four feet (a meter).

That being the case, access points and repeaters may need to be placed in close proximity to the antenna that serves them. If that location is outside, then you also need to make sure that those transmitters are properly weatherproofed.

An inconvenient location may not give you access to power lines, and therefore you might want to consider a device that has a Power over Ethernet or PoE connection, where your Ethernet cable provides the power.

In instances where there is available power but to which you can’t run a network line, your device should be able to work in a standalone mode that doesn’t require a network connection.

Nearly all vendors that supply antennas, access points, and repeaters sell outdoor versions of these products. You also find that some manufacturers offer enclosures for their equipment that will make them weatherproof while not degrading the signal too much.

Equipment made for outdoor use is often made differently from devices designed for indoor use. Many outdoor Wi-Fi devices offer special internal firmware, different error checking, better client polling mechanisms, and other packet collision avoidance features.

You may find that outdoor equipment comes with Orthogonal Frequency Division Modulation (OFDM) protocols to improve connections that don’t have a true line-of-sight.

So don’t be surprised if outdoor equipment that you buy for establishing a network neighborhood costs significantly more than your indoor components. There is more going on under the hood than simply the hood itself.