Sunday, April 14, 2013

WiFi Boosters - A Case Study

We're staying at the Florida Grande Motor Coach Resort just outside Webster Florida. It's a very nice class-A only resort, but it doesn't have any in-park WiFi. It does have WiFi in its recreation room, but that's about 250 yards from where we're parked. I tried looking for it on my laptop and nothing. Not a peep. What's a TechnoGeek to do? Consider it a challenge of course!

The first thing to try was my range of external boosters. These are mounted on the back of my rig and I've been experimenting with different brands and configurations so this was ideal timing. Interestingly, none of them was able to see the rec-room signal which surprised me as their theoretical range is 0.5 to 1 mile. After investigation, the problem was two-fold.

First, I took a look from the roof of my RV. Instead of a clear line of sight over to the rec-room, there was a metal roofed building in the way. This is one of the biggest problems with WiFi - you need as clear a line-of-sight as possible. RV's and especially metal buildings kill the signal.

To solve that problem I decided to try our Desktop booster from the front of the RV as this had a clear line-of-sight to the rec-room. The good news is that I could now see the signal, but the signal strength is -60dBm (70%) with a link quality of 50 - 60%. The connection was intermittent at best and rated at only 1 Mb/s. It certainly wasn't usable. I knew that the Alpha could easily reach that distance, so what could the problem be? It turns out that the problem is not on the transmit side, but on the receive side. The rec-room only has a small home-style WiFi router. These are designed to cover a room or floor of a small house, but definitely not 250 yards of campground. What I needed was a way of boosting the receive side. I needed a bigger pair of ears!

Enter the new Yagi antenna that we've just finished testing. It's 16dBm which means that it is more than 10x more sensitive than the 5 dBm antenna that is standard on the desktop booster. After connecting the Yagi to the booster and lining it up with the rec-room I went back to my laptop. The connection was solid, the signal strength improved by 7 dBm (4x), the link quality by 20 - 30% and the speed increased to 6 - 9 Mb/s. That's nothing to write home about BUT, compared to not seeing a signal at all on my laptop, I was pretty jazzed. 

Now remember, the 6 - 9 Mb/s is the theoretical maximum speed that a WiFi link of this quality will support. WiFi 802.11g under "perfect circumstances" is 54 Mb/s. What you actually get depends not only on the link quality, but also on the load from other users as campground WiFi is a shared resource. It's like your water pressure dropping on a hot day if everyone starts watering their lawns. I ran a Speakeasy speed test and got 0.49 down and 0.24 up which while not great, was useable, and best of all, FREE!

The Yagi antenna can be mounted inside your rig like I did, or mounted on a pole outside (I actually mounted mine on an extendable RV wash/wax pole that Josh bought me). Of course, since by its very nature it is highly directional and needs to be pointed at the WiFi source, but it is a great "tool" to pull out when you need it. Best of all, it connects directly to the desktop booster so makes a great add-on. Visit the Yagi Antenna on our website for more details or give us a call / comment on the blog if you'd like to ask questions or get advice. Happy connecting!

Testing our WiFi Solutions - Case Study