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One of my clients is the local branch of an international airline. They have a small office in the secured area behind the ticket counters, and timeshare space at the ticket counter. I need to add a ticket printer out front, which I cannot (for contract/liability reasons) attach to the shared computer at the counter; the only workable solution seems to be to put the printer and its attached computer on a cart and connect to the office's network via WiFi. So far, no problem - right?

Well, the terminal has been getting a facelift, which - among other things - includes decorative stainless-steel panels along the wall behind the ticket counters. This paneling acts as a seriously effective barrier to WiFi! enter image description here

The office's WiFi router - a brand-new D-Link DIR-815, dual-band 802.11n - is just on the other side of the pictured wall, and twenty feet or so to the right. And yet the only way I can connect AT ALL on this side of the wall is to stick the USB adapter (on the end of an extension cable) right into the crack between panels... and even then I can only see the 5GHz network, and that very weakly.

Has anyone else had experience with this sort of misguided interior decoration? Any ideas on how I can improve reception on the other side of the barrier? (Needless to say, physical modifications of the environment - tempting though they might be - are strictly no-go.)

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3 Answers 3

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I only can think of 2 dirty fixes. One might be even impossible depending on your printer.

  • Use a 3G modem and VPN into the LAN (dirty)
  • Use ethernet over power using AES encryption to prevent sniffers (very dirty)

I wouldn't use this unless your client really really really wants to have a fix and they have no chance in just getting an ethernet cable through the wall.

These fixes are extremely dirty (as I mentioned a few times). Just wanted to share it if no one comes up with anything else. Only use this as a last resort.

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Believe it or not, one of these might be the way forward. Cell phone coverage in the international terminal (especially inside the ticketing area/airport offices) is AWFUL... but it might be the best I can do. I've had mixed results with powerline adapters - they don't work inside my own house, but I have had good luck in some clients' houses and office buildings. It's certainly worth a try... –  MT_Head Sep 22 '12 at 17:42
    
By the way, regarding the dirtiness of a VPN solution... the fact is that every single workstation is on a VPN anyway, connecting to HQ and an international travel network. (Each station connects independently rather than site-to-site, which may be more secure but is badly inefficient. I don't design 'em, I just implement 'em.) Nobody would actually care if this printer were unavailable on the local network, as long as it was reachable via the VPN. So your solution is not as dirty as you thought. –  MT_Head Sep 22 '12 at 18:03

This paneling acts as a seriously effective barrier to WiFi!

So, there's no direct solution. Let's look what indirect solutions are available:

  1. Network cable all the way to the ticket printer.

    Unless you can cleanly hide the cable, this has multiple disadvantages:

    1. The cable can be disconnected by an individual, making printing the next ticket a problem.

    2. The cable is visible to anyone, doesn't look good and could be tampered with.

    3. The cable could lie in the way for certain things, especially at an airport I would expect a lot of things to roll over it, unless you were to guide the network cable past the walls / roof.

  2. Relocating and/or extending the WiFi zone.

    You might not be able to move the ticket printer, or reach it all the way with a cable. But you might perhaps be able to either extend the WiFi signal or getting the WiFi zone closer (or rather more reachable) by the ticket printer. Moving the router so it can reach through a door opening is one way of doing it, but it's still tricky and you'll have to monitor to see if it's an option.

  3. Other ways for the signal to travel could be considered.

    As mentioned by the others, you might be able to get something done through the power outlets or by having the signal communicate with a device located at a place such that there are no steel panels in the way of the signal.

    It sounds crazy, but placing the router at another floor than the one you are on would have the signal travel through the ceiling or floor instead of through the panels. Or perhaps you can put it somewhere such that it travels through walls where there are no panels, if there are any such walls.

  4. Is it perhaps easier to relocate the panels?

    Who knows it might be much more worth it to fix the actual problem instead of working around it.

    As mentioned by others, most solutions are somewhat dirty and/or could be insecure / overkill.

    You don't have to break the whole wall, you could perhaps get it done by removing a single panel and placing the WiFi route at the other side at the exact same spot, of course in such way that the ticket printer in the visible range...

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These would be great if I had more control over my situation. Unfortunately there's a combination of a bizarre physical environment, ownership/management, and the political realities of this being the international terminal of a busy airport, post-9/11. 1) The counters that my client shares are unfortunately NOT directly outside of the office they lease - so a long E'net cable would have to run approximately 100 feet down a corridor, through a busy swinging door, over two baggage conveyors and across another busy door. I don't think that's gonna fly. (pun intended) –  MT_Head Sep 22 '12 at 17:48
    
2) I can reposition the access point inside of their leased office (on the other side of those panels), and I've tried that without much success; I haven't, however, tried replacing the AP's antennae with a dish/cantenna/similar. 3) The offices/ticket counters are basically a one-story building inside of a four or five-story building; I've tried going above the suspended ceiling but there's no actual room there. If I could get my antenna just a couple inches above the top edge of the paneling, it would make all the difference in the world... –  MT_Head Sep 22 '12 at 17:53
    
4) Relocating those panels - or even just loosening/lifting one - is a big no-no, unfortunately. As sloppy as the workmanship is, those are property of the airport and they are VERY protective. –  MT_Head Sep 22 '12 at 17:57

Replacing the wifi adapter with a card with a good directional antenna may help.

Relocate the router if possible, or install a second access point. If there is ethernet you have access to at the desk, put an access point there. You say you can't touch the computer, but what about it's network connection? Pop in a small switch and ap and you're done.

Make sure the router has good antennas and that they are properly aimed.

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I should have mentioned - I asked about adding on to the network right after I got shot down on connecting the printer directly to the shared computer. DENIED! And, unfortunately, the airport's IT department is apparently located in one of the offices overlooking this ticket counter - which is how they saw me connecting the printer in the first place. –  MT_Head Sep 22 '12 at 17:36
    
I've only tried re-orienting the router's built-in antennae; I'll try replacing one or both with dishes or cantennas, and pointing those. –  MT_Head Sep 22 '12 at 17:38

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