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Our organization has begun to seriously consider replacing many of our interconnects with wireless backhauls, meshes or generic point-to-point links as the situation warrants.

Our current method of determining feasibility (Line of Sight, obstructions, etc) of a potential link is to climb up on a building roof and look through a pair of binoculars. We then buy equipment, set it up and then tune it using the vendor provided alignment software.There has to be a better way to do this - I'm thinking of something like a surveyor’s transit except for wireless.

I want to confirm things like a true Line of Sight between antenna locations, Fresnel zone obstruction, distance, potential signal loss (given a frequency and gain), potential network speed. We have potential links that could only be a few hundred yards and some that easily over five miles. The budget is pretty flexible depending on the features we could get - I would be amenable to spending a few thousand dollars.

Is there a tool to help us determine this information (and thus the feasibility of some of these links)?

Alternatively, how else would get this information?

How do you test the feasibility of potential wireless point to point links?

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Hire a company to do the wireless survey for you. – Tom O'Connor Jul 6 '12 at 17:36
Funny you should say that. The only companies in our area that specialize in that are ISPs and they would rather sell us time on their infrastructure. This comment should be an answer though - because it's likely the only way we're going to be able to go. – kce Jul 6 '12 at 17:43
Be sure you test delay, bit error rate and line-rate TCP transfers across each one of these proposed links; wireless as a transport tends to have more delay and higher BER than wired transport. Bottom line, over time TCP tends to be less happy... how much less happy depends on the circumstances (which may change with seasons, atmospheric conditions, solar activity, etc) – Mike Pennington Jul 6 '12 at 18:12
up vote 2 down vote accepted

Hire a company to do a wireless survey for you.

The main reason I say this is because the specialist hardware and specialist software are likely to be unaffordable for you, unless you're making this your main business. Whilst the calculations are relatively straight-forward, a realistic answer can only really be achieved by setting up test hardware, and seeing how well it works (with quantitative measurement throughout).

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All these calculations are relatively simple, you just have to know the formulas. Consequently, they're pretty easy to pop into a spreadsheet and reuse. Also, these days you'll want to over-provision for everything, so you don't have to be as accurate.

Fresnel zone

Behind and directly around antennas: λ / 2. At 2.4GHz that's about 2.5 inches. Higher frequencies are even less.

In the center of the propagation path: 8.65 * (km / GHz) ^ 0.5. So a 20km link at 2.4GHz would be 8.65 * (20 / 2.4) ^ 0.5 = 24m. That's ideal, but half of that would be acceptable.

Propagation Loss (free space)

Loss (in dB) = 20( log(km) + log(GHz)) + 92.5. So our 20km, 2.4GHz link is 20( log(20) + log(2.4)) + 92.5 = 126dB

Potential Speed

This one is really impossible to answer. The modulation technique, frequency, and bandwidth determine how many symbols can be carried by the radio wave. But, various radios work better or worse depending on what combination of the above you feed into them. Good manufacturers publish numbers for common combinations, so you'll want to look those up and work from there.

Link budget

The link budget is pretty easy to calculate, the radios will output as a certain level, you add for antennas, subtract for propagation loss, and you'll want 10-20 dB leftover for a safety margin.

For the longer links you'll probably need to look at topographical maps, or survey them yourself (a GPS that shows elevation helps here, "hikers" GPS generally show this info). You can farm it out to services that will evaluate existing topo data for you, but they're far from cheap. MicroDEM is a program that can aid in making radio maps of sites, but it probably much more complicated that you'll want (it is free if you have plenty of free time to play with it). Combining that with Google Earth and USGS Seamless Data and you'll get just about everything you need (binoculars are still a good way to verify, no matter how much tech you throw at the problem).

I tried to say away from product recommendations, but I've seen more than a few successful Ubiquity links put up, and their software is squarely aimed at people operating a dozen or five radios, which it sounds like the direction you're headed.

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