So, recently the House asked us, the IT guys, to set up a standalone wireless network in a new building. The catch was this building is solid brick all the way though, and is quite long and narrow. This meant that the wireless needed to be quite powerful, with a good range to work across the whole building so people could roam with their devices without losing their connection. Not so easy.
Mr Chief decided the best way to cover it was with a router combined with a number of access points. Luckily, the building had Ethernet cables wired into the walls, so we could plug the access points into them to connect back to the router.
Mr Chief also decided this would work best if all the access points & router were the same brand. NETGEAR was chosen as that brand, whom I think are quite good. However, when I was tasked with finding out from them their professional opinion on the best setup of the devices for our situation, I spent over an hour on the phone to various support staff, in various countries and received no really useful advice. They were only really willing to help me if I was setting up the devices on the spot, and that had to be done in the next 90 days because they only offer 90 days of free technical support. The one thing they did tell me was that the access points need to be in the same subnet range as the router would assign to devices.
So you can benefit from our bafflement, here’s what we did to get it working:
- Configure the router & access points by plugging them directly into your computer and directing your browser to their default IP address. Once they’re all configured, set them up in place and plug them together (see the last step).
- The router is set up as you would usually set up a router, so it should assign IPs to devices that connect to it. You want the router to be device that’s in charge still. The router should also be transmitting a WiFi network.
- Each access point should have a static IP address, which is within the subnet range that the Router will assign devices. For example if the router gives out IPs from 192.168.1.x to 192.168.1.z, then the access points should have a static IP of 192.168.1.v, because v isn’t between x & z. Each access point should have a different static IP address. The subnet mask should be whatever the router is using, and the default gateway should be the router’s IP address, as should be the DNS server.
- Each access point, along with the router, should be transmitting a virtually identical Wi-Fi network. This means they each have the same:
- SSID (WiFi network name)
- Security type – WEP/WPA/WPA2 are all ok, as long as each access point uses the same one. Some devices support extra levels of security on top of WPA or WPA2 (e.g. TKIP,EAP,LEAP,PEAP) , so make sure if you choose one of them, you choose the same for all your access points.
- Encryption Type & Wireless Key/Passphrase – wireless key and passphrase are more or less the same thing. Just make sure you choose the same thing on each of your access points, and set them all the same.
- Any other wireless options. Anything you can set about the wireless, such as the network mode or radio band should be made consistent across all the devices. There is only one exception; see the next step.
- The only thing you want each device that is transmitting the wireless to have different is the channel it is working on. This refers to the frequency that the WiFi is transmitted at, and using different channels avoids the access points & router from interfering with each other. If you set the channel to AUTO, the device should work it out for itself.
- The access points need to be plugged into the router, either directly, through a switch or a hub. It doesn’t matter too much how, but the method described here is specifically for setting up the access points wired. If you don’t want the access points to have any Ethernet connection at all, this isn’t the method to use.
With everything set up like this, a wireless device can roam from one wireless hotspot to another without it even being fully aware that anything’s changed. As far as the device is concerned, it’s just one big, continuous hotspot. When we tested it out using an iPad and a netbook, it worked great. The only issue we had was getting the placement of the access points around the building right to cover it completely.
Drop me a line if you have any problems, or share your successes in the comments.
Until next time,