I have a few questions about wifi.
Say we have a small campus with a set of wifi access points in most buildings, one each for channels 1, 6, and 11. It's not exactly that clean, but that's the general idea anyway. However, these are mainly cheap consumer wifi routers that have been re-configured to work more like access points. They are all set up with the same SSID.
For the most part, the buildings are far enough apart that APs do not overlap. Where buildings are closer together it's usually because they're smaller or less-used buildings that won't need to use all three non-overlapping channels. Where a building is much larger we'll move the access points around to try to get good coverage throughout the building.
This configuration seems to be working, but I have some questions and concerns:
- The APs don't do any kind of load balancing or sharing connections. I'm worried about students in crowded common areas being forced to choose the closest/strongest AP even though it might be overloaded when one just a little weaker on a different channel might serve them better. We have an iPod touch program on campus, where every student has one. Those devices only list each SSID once when choosing a network, so students can't adjust for this kind of thing manually.
- The older dorms, for example, are concrete block and need a lot of work to get good coverage. It's weird how sometimes you might get a strong signal from an AP and at others almost none at all. What will happen if I start adding additional APs to provide stronger coverage in some of these sometime-covered areas where all three non-overlapping channels are in use? Should I look into getting stronger radios/antennas on existing APs near those locations instead? How would a stronger radio at the AP help if the signal sent from the laptop or iPod is too weak to reach it? And if it won't help, why do they sell them?
- There are other places where signals on the same channel (and, as mentioned earlier, the same SSID) will overlap somewhat. I'm unsure about what happens when you connect in one of these places where the signals overlap. I know from experience that I am able to use a wireless device there, but could I be creating duplicate traffic on the network if both APs that are in range pick up on the transmissions from my device? Even if it's not duplicate traffic, could my wireless device be generating interference (and collisions) on the AP that I'm not using, causing slow-downs at that location? What can I do to minimize these?
- Would changing the SSIDs to be unique everywhere even help with overlapping channels, since it's still noise on the channel?
- I'm especially worried about common areas, where students sometimes gather in numbers and there may be a lot of devices active at once. Is there anything I can do to help coverage in these spaces, especially since they tend to already be a little crowded from a channel-perspective?
Is there anything else obvious I'm overlooking that might improve things? It was a real mess when I started here and I've already done a lot of work getting things working better:
- The initial reconfiguration from router to access point so that things like dhcp and dns requests go on to our main server.
- Set up power timers so the APs restart every night (routing tables on the cheap APs fill up over time in a larger network)
- Use a wifi-analyzer app on my iPod ($2, but highly recommended) to tweak channels for less overlap and help work out new placements.
- Added a few additional APs (still cheap consumer routers) to some of the least covered locations in the dorms.
What else could I do to make these work better?
Finally, I'm unlikely to be able to get buy-in from higher up in updating these access points to nicer managed models. The college had a bad experience going that route, and they are convinced that the consumer class devices are as good or even better. Even if that weren't the case, I have more pressing needs in my budget. But we are looking at replacing a number of the existing access points with ones that are 802.11n capable in anticipation of Apple eventually releasing an 802.11n iPod, so I'd appreciate suggestions for good consumer level 802.11n routers.