When it comes to creating a reliable and secure WiFi network, using multiple access points (APs) is considered the best approach. By using numerous APs, you can spread the WiFi signal over a larger area and reduce congestion, which is particularly important for organizations with a larger space to cover.
However, setting up multiple APs can be complicated if you don't know what you're doing. It is not just installed and turned on! The following guide includes seven of the best practices to help you create a single WiFi network using multiple APs.
When Should You Build A Wireless Network With Multiple Access Points?
When deciding whether you should use multiple APs to build a wireless network, it helps to understand the benefits of doing so. The following are a few scenarios when using multiple APs is the best choice:
- For coverage of large areas: If you need to provide WiFi coverage for a large space, such as an office building or warehouse, then using multiple APs is the best way to do it. If you don't use several APs in a larger space, you will experience dropouts in coverage and a decrease in signal strength.
- Buildings with over one story: When you have a larger building with multiple stories, it's essential to use several APs. Otherwise, your WiFi signal won't be able to reach all the levels in the building since the ceilings and walls between each level will obstruct it.
- Workspaces that require stronger signals: Some workspaces may require longer signals because of the equipment being used. For example, a warehouse that needs to track inventory or office space with surveillance cameras will require a stronger signal and longer range.
- To relieve congestion in local networks: Multiple APs will spread out the signal and reduce the number of people connected to one particular AP. Reducing congestion will help maintain a reliable and fast connection.
- To prevent downtime when one AP fails: By having multiple APs, you can create a failover system so that if one AP fails, the other APs will still keep your network running. This is important for larger organizations that need continuous internet access and can't afford any downtime.
- To ensure "dead zones" are minimized: Dead zones occur when there are areas in your building with weak or no WiFi signal. Using multiple APs helps minimize or eliminate dead zones by providing better coverage throughout the building. It's worth noting that you could also implement a mesh network that extends the signal range.
However, using APs is more effective because they don't result in slight delays or speed degradation as the signal travels from one node to another.
The Risks Of Building A Network With Multiple Access Points
There are many benefits to building up a network using multiple APs. However, if you don't set your network up correctly, it can cause many issues – you can't go about it haphazardly.
Instead, you should carefully plan your network design using a wireless site survey, which will help you map out the placement of your APs by identifying potential obstacles, areas of interference, and other issues that could affect your wireless network.
With that in mind, the following are a few of the risks of building a wireless network without planning your network design and doing a wireless site survey first:
Overlapping Access Points
If you have multiple APs placed too close to each other on the same channel, they will overlap and cause radio interference. This can lead to slower speeds, connection drops, and unreliable coverage. As such, it's vital to ensure that each AP has enough space between them so their signals don't interfere, but more importantly, they go on different channels.
In addition, different APs have different ranges, so it's essential to consider the range of your APs and the size of your space when planning out the placement.
Radio Frequency Interference
Another risk that comes with using multiple APs is radio frequency interference. This can come from outside sources such as other WiFi networks, medical equipment, water pipes, glass, microwaves, cordless devices, and other electronic devices that emit radio signals. This type of interference can cause your signal to degrade, leading to slower speeds, connection drops, and unreliable coverage.
To prevent this from happening, make sure your APs are not placed in areas where there is a lot of interference. Again, a thorough wireless site survey can help you identify areas of interference so that you can avoid them when placing your APs.
If you have multiple APs that are placed too close together, they can cause competing signals. This is when two or more APs are trying to broadcast the same signal simultaneously, resulting in interference and slower speeds.
To avoid this issue, make sure that you place your APs far enough away from each other to avoid overlapping signals. A wireless site survey can help you determine the ideal placement of your APs and radio channel selection and transmit/receive power so they don't interfere with one another.
The 7 Best Practices For Installing A Wireless Network With Multiple Access Points
Now that you have a better idea of whether multiple APs will benefit your wireless network and how important it is to plan your wireless network design beforehand to prevent any issues, the following are some tips to help you set up a wireless network with multiple APs:
1. Conduct A Wireless Site Survey
Conducting a wireless site survey is the first and most important step when setting up a network with multiple APs. This will allow you to map out the placement of your APs, identify potential obstacles and interference, and make sure that each AP has enough space between them. Using the right tools when conducting a wireless site survey is essential.
The following are a couple of essential things that a wireless site survey can show:
A Site Survey Can Show How Building Materials Affect Signal Strength
One of the crucial factors that influences WiFi signal strength is the materials used to construct your building. Figuring out if the materials used might obstruct your signal will help you determine how many APs are needed and where they should be placed. The following are some of the common building materials that a site survey tool can help you identify:
- Glass: Glass, especially tinted glass, can block WiFi signals because it lacks permeance. While you may not have to worry about exterior windows, interior windows and walls covered in mirrors or glass can affect your signal strength.
- Wood: Wood, especially solid wood such as oak, can interfere with your signal due to its density. Wood flooring, wood framing, solid doors, and even wooden desks can all obstruct your signal.
- Brick: Bricks, just like wood, are very dense and thus can obstruct your WiFi signal. This can be especially problematic if you're trying to reach the other side of a brick wall.
- Sheetrock and insulation: Unlike wood or brick, sheetrock and insulation are usually much less dense and won't interfere with your signal quite as much. However, that doesn’t mean there won’t be any interference, so testing the signal in these areas is crucial.
- Metal: Metal is one of the most common obstructions to WiFi signals and should be considered when planning your network. Whether it's steel beams or aluminum siding, metal can quickly block your signal.
A Site Survey Can Show How Nearby WiFi Networks Cause Interference
If you're sharing a space with another organization using its own WiFi network – or you're in a building with other wireless networks present nearby – interference can be a significant issue. This is why it's important to thoroughly survey your environment before setting up a multi-AP network so you can identify any potential interference sources.
There are two main types of WiFi interference: co-channel and adjacent channel interference. Co-channel interference occurs when two or more networks are using the same channel. Adjacent channel interference occurs when two or more networks use channels that are next to each other on the spectrum. The spectrum refers to the range of radio frequencies used by your WiFi network, such as 2.4GHz and 5GHz and 6GHz, each of which has its own set of channels.
To avoid interference from other networks, use a site survey tool to identify potential sources of interference and plan your network accordingly. By avoiding channels used by other networks, you can minimize interference and ensure that your network operates as effectively as possible.
2. Determine If You Need A Controller Or Cloud-Managed System
Once you've performed a wireless site survey, you'll need to decide whether or not you need a controller or a cloud-managed system. Controllers are devices that allow an administrator to centrally manage multiple APs on the network.
Cloud-managed systems are similar to controllers, but instead of running the application on-site, you access it through a web browser. This means that you can manage your APs from anywhere with an internet connection.
Using a controller or cloud-managed system allows you to manage multiple APs without having to individually configure each one. This can save you time and ensure that your APs are set up correctly. It also provides a single point of administration, which makes troubleshooting network issues much easier. Some AP manufacturers/models also allow up to a certain limited amount of AP’s to be controlled by a primary AP that talks to the others.,
Using a cloud-managed system is more beneficial than using a controller because it allows for remote management and provides scalability. So, if you have multiple APs that need to be managed, a cloud-managed system is likely the best option for you.
3. Choose The Appropriate Access Point Placement
Deciding where to place your APs is crucial to ensuring your space gets full WiFi coverage without any dead zones or dips in signal strength. If APs are too close together, they can cause interference and weaken the signal.
On the other hand, if they're placed too far apart, the signal will be weak in certain areas. You'll need to consider the range of the APs you're using and the information you've collected from your site survey to determine the best placement.
Finally, mount your APs near the ceiling, away from obstructions such as walls and furniture, to maximize signal strength. They should also be placed in a centralized location to ensure that the signal reaches all corners of your space.
4. Keep The Ethernet Cable Connection Under 328 Feet
Using the right length and type of Ethernet cable is essential when connecting APs. APs need to be connected to the network backbone to share traffic, which requires a high-speed connection. The maximum length for an Ethernet cable connection should be 328 feet (100 meters). If the cable is any longer, it will cause signal degradation and can result in a poor connection.
When it comes to the type of cable, Category 6 (Cat6) or higher is recommended for optimal performance. Cat6 cables are more reliable and provide better performance than lower-grade cables. If you are considering recabling, you may want to review Cat6a, Cat7, Cat8 cables for futureproofing.
5. Use The Correct Access Points For Indoor And Outdoor Use
When choosing what APs to use, consider whether you plan to place them indoors or outside. If you need to provide WiFi coverage to an outdoor space, you'll need outdoor APs. Indoor and outdoor APs are different from one another because they serve different purposes. Indoor APs are designed for simple installation and are optimized to provide coverage in smaller, enclosed areas.
Outdoor APs, on the other hand, are built to withstand the elements and provide coverage in larger, open spaces. They also come with additional features such as waterproofing and antennas designed to broadcast the signal farther away. Therefore, when considering an AP for outdoor use, make sure you use the correct one.
6. Select The Correct Channels For Access Points
Selecting the right channels for each AP is crucial when configuring your WiFi network. First of all, there are three primary frequency bands to choose from: 2.4GHz, 5GHz, and 6GHz. The 2.4GHz band uses longer transmission waves, meaning the signal will travel through walls more easily. Therefore, if your space has a lot of obstructions, such as walls, consider a channel on the 2.4GHz band.
When selecting a channel on these bands, you'll want to make sure they're not overlapping channels. For example, on the 2.4GHz band, 1, 6, and 11 are the only non-overlapping channels.
Additionally, your wireless site survey is crucial to determining which band and channel to use in each location. The survey will provide detailed information about any other local WiFi networks or devices that use the same channels. As a result, you'll know exactly which channel to use to avoid interference and optimize signal strength.
7. Select The Ideal Power Settings For Access Points
Selecting the ideal power settings for each AP when configuring your WiFi network is essential. Power settings refer to how much energy each AP is broadcasting, which plays a major role in the performance of your WiFi network.
When it comes to the 2.4GHz band, the signal is already strong since it uses longer transmission waves. As such, you don't need to pump the transmission power up. However, if you're using the 5GHz band, you will want to use a higher transmission power setting because of its lower range.
Additionally, when using outdoor APs, you should select a slightly higher power setting for optimal coverage. This will ensure the signal is strong enough to reach farther distances, thus providing better coverage for your outdoor space.
Other Considerations For Creating A Network With Multiple APs
When designing a network that uses multiple APs, there are several other considerations to keep in mind. These include
Keep The SSID Constant and Consistent
When setting up a network with multiple APs, you should use the same service set identifier (SSID) across all of them. The SSID is the name of your WiFi network, and it's what users will see when searching for a connection.
Using the same SSID will make it easier for users to connect to the right network. Furthermore, all APs should use the same security settings, such as encryption type and password.
Enable Seamless Roaming Throughout The Network
Seamless roaming is an essential feature for large WiFi networks. It allows users to move freely throughout the network without having to manually connect to a new AP. All your APs must be configured with the same SSID and security settings to enable seamless roaming.
Additionally, all the APs should be connected to the same router and use the same channel.
Take The Guesswork Out Of Installing Multiple Access Points
Installing a WiFi network with multiple access points can be daunting, especially for non-technical users. Fortunately, professional help is available to make the process easier and simpler.
Hummingbird Networks offers products and services that make it easy for you to set up a reliable, seamless wireless network that will ensure your organization stays connected. With our experience and expertise, you can rest assured that your WiFi network will be up and running quickly and efficiently.
We help demystify the process of creating wifi networks. Contact us to conduct a wireless site survey for your business today!