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a colleague at work asked this question:

My local church want to get WiFi enabled in the whole of their offices and main church building. The offices and main building are in the same overall structure and so the signal does not need to travel outside to any other buildings outside this main structure.

Where would I start on such a project and what kind of repeaters are needed (and how are they set up) given that some of the walls are pretty thick. Do you still have one ADSL line coming in to router or are there some options of having two lines coming in so that they isn't a single point of failure. Am looking at fibre for the broadband for increased speed.

Any starting pointers appreciated.

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Do you know the distances between the Church and offices? A rough idea of the distances will influence what you need for the range and whether you'll need repeaters. –  StuperUser Jan 5 '11 at 10:58
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I thought the Church didn't allow more than one omnipresent force at a time. –  Tom O'Connor Jan 5 '11 at 13:58
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@Tom O'Connor: I always wondered if church insurance policies cover "Acts of God"... >smile< –  Evan Anderson Jan 5 '11 at 15:34

2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Your question is actually very general. The Right AnswerTM involves the number and location in the building of expected users (lots in a sanctuary or classroom, few in the office area, etc), the logical separation between different types of users (public Internet users versus office users who might be accessing LAN resources), the physical layout of the structure (for AP placement and cabling concerns), and knowing how to perform wireless site surveys with whatever APs you select (depending on your budget and necessary features) and test client devices (because the antenna characteristics of a laptop are very different than an iPod Touch, etc).

It sounds like you're coming at this from a level of understanding that will cause you to have a very, very steep learning-curve. You may want to get a professional with experience in these kinds of deployments to come in and give you some pointers. If you're looking at supporting more than 20 - 30 active clients in a large open room then you probably need professional assistance. There's a pretty vibrant "church IT community" out on the 'net, and you may be able to enlist some support there.

I'd be wary of using wireless "repeaters" if you want any significant number of users active at any given time. Wired back-haul from multiple access points will give you the best aggregate bandwidth in the air. That means running cables, so you'll want to be certain you've tested your planned placement for APs to be sure they give you the coverage you need before you start running cables.

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+1. The Right Answer™ involves a ton of details that haven't been provided. Best to get someone who knows what they're doing involved, especially before spending money on something that might not work at all. –  Chris S Jan 5 '11 at 14:06
    
I've seen some wireless repeaters that don't like WPA, the only way to make them work is to use WEP (evil) or no encryption (Terrible idea.) –  Tom O'Connor Jan 5 '11 at 14:26

I think your starting point would be somewhere with the router/internet access. Fail over is great but, first would be getting access to all the correct locations. My rough outline would be:

  1. Setup Wireless routing using a dd-wrt capable device (linksys wrt-54, buffalo, etc.)
  2. Test the signal all over with a notebook, simple signal test of some sort is fine.
  3. If needed add in repeaters, BUT don't spend the extra on the access points use the same type of routers with ddwrt as repeaters it saves money :)
  4. If needed setup WDS with the purchased routers, only one acts as a router. instructions at DD-wrt.org are great
  5. If you need failover you are going want to look into a load balancer, Ecessa's products are easy and affordable

Notes: If the ADSL line can handle the load and they are good with it I say leave it, but if it is expensive I can see the justification.

HTH

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Hacking SOHO hardware with firmware that isn't supported by the hardware vendor into working might be an option, but it's a pretty lousy one. Good hardware isn't that expensive and considering the time/effort/cost saved hacking it together and supporting "issues" when things don't work right, I would never recommend a home-brew solution to a random church. –  Chris S Jan 5 '11 at 14:11
    
If they do not have the technical expertise to identify a solution like this on their own, it's probably not a suitable recommendation to make. –  Warner Jan 5 '11 at 14:28
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@Warner: Heh heh... "So, the first thing you do is rebuild your engine..." >smile< –  Evan Anderson Jan 5 '11 at 15:34
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Operating on a non profit budget is hard enough, but now they need to buy vendor supplied hardware that is more than likely cost prohibitive? Brilliant! He asked for starting pointers, there is the cheapest most cost effective. –  Dan M. Jan 6 '11 at 13:46

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