High-volume wireless internet.
November 11, 2007 10:34 PM   Subscribe

What's the best hardware for a wireless internet system for 20-30 people?

I'm currently running a small business out of an old house — there are about 24 employees, with an additional 5 or 6 people who come in during the day with laptops and use the existing wireless internet.

So, I'm investigating easy-to-implement high-volume wireless internet products. I have a feeling I'll need a T1 line, with a corporate router connected to a high-capacity wireless access point, with some high-powered repeaters or antennas to spread the internet throughout the building. Creating a hard-wired network is not an option.

Does anyone have any recommendations for hardware or a complete setup for this task? Anything I'm missing?
posted by mikespez to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Netgear should be fine, Cisco if you want that kind of thing. The T1 is for sure, since ~30 people splits evenly to ~50K/s and you don't want to oversell yourself too much. For things like this I'm a big fan of calling company sales lines or a place like CDW with your plans and what they suggest. You don't have to buy the stuff they recommend, but you'll get an idea of what "the company way" is.
posted by rhizome at 11:15 PM on November 11, 2007

Interesting question. You've got a number of problems to solve, wireless aside: WAN and (W)LAN.

T1s suck anymore. They're still tops in reliability but as for price-per-megabit they're terrible. Look at business class connectivity services from the local telecomms (cable companies included). I see your in jersey - cablevision offers some decent service up to 20mbps that can include static IPs if you ever need to set up a low-volume server. Other providers offer metro ethernet solutions that are very stable but a bit more expensive.

A router MAY be provided by whatever WAN provider you go with. Pray that that's the case. If not things will get expensive fast. Since your provider is most likely only going yo give you one (or at best a few) routable IPs you'll have to NAT them. 20-30 people is knocking on the ceiling of 'SOHO' router sweetpoints. At this number of active clients being NATed throughput will not be a problem, # of active TCP connections/translations will be. If you go with a consumer-class device it's going to reboot frequently or simply drop connections, especially if you get a host or two infected. If you've got to buy your own router I'd go with a second-hand last generation cisco or juniper. Make sure you buy from someplace that offers replacement service, or buy two and have one standing by in case you need to replace it quickly.

The wireless mandate will makes things more difficult. You say you're in an old house - multiple APs (don't use repeaters) in close proximity means you should really do a wireless survey first. If your area requires multiple APs you'll want to confederate them with WDS so that they can automagically tune their radios to independent channels and sympathetic power levels (overlap is your enemy).

Good luck to you, and think about hiring a consultant :).
posted by datacenter refugee at 11:28 PM on November 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

You didn't specify how big the building is, but you called it a house, so I think it's not that big. I would personally get a Linksys WRT54GL, one of the more easily modified wireless routers out there. Install DD-WRT on it, which is fairly easy to install as these things go. Then, you can tweak a few things:

1. Set the transmitter power to somewhere around 84mW (up from 28). According to some random people online, this is the point at which you're getting the best signal out of the router. Any higher will start adding distortion.

2. Set the maximum number of connections to 4096 (up from 512), to address a concern datacenter refugee brings up.

3. If necessary, hook up a couple cheap (but bigger) antennas, like this one, to the router.

I'd be very surprised if you struggled to cover a fairly large old house with this setup. Conveniently, this setup is cheap and doesn't introduce any latencies or extra wifi traffic due to repeaters. The one thing I am not experienced with is a high number of devices (30 clients, as you mentioned). The most I've done is 4 or 5, so I don't know how this solution scales. I have a feeling 30 might be pretty much the max before performance starts degrading.

I'm with datacenter refugee that cable internet is a much better deal than a T1. Hell, even my home ISP gives me 10Mbps downstream and 2Mbps upstream, for like $50/mo. Good luck!
posted by knave at 3:32 AM on November 12, 2007

Datapoint: Consumer routers suck. SoHo routers suck only a teeny bit less. They're built to a price and that's abundently obvious. We've got a rather expensive Linksys "pro" router and the nicest thing I can say about it is that it does, in fact, route. I wouldn't buy another one though.

LinuxEvangelist: Any old PC with two network cards will happily outpace anything but the most powerful pro routers. And you can replace bits instead of the whole thing. Of course if you're not a guru you'll have to either pay one or tolerate some downtime while you fiddle.

Wifi Advice: You want more than one access point, ideally as far away from each other as posisble. Access points are usually the biggest bottleneck in situations like this as they act like hubs. Ten people on one collision domain is a good place to be, twenty is starting to push it. I'd try to set up two APs on either end of the office and do some testing on which combination of frequency bands gives the best performance. Some real-world experience is at NANOG's lighning talks (Mr. Kapela's talk). Obviously a different scale but real-world data is better than speculation.

Spring for good APs. They're expensive but far more reliable. Power over Ethernet makes placing the APs far easier and if you're handy you can build the injector yourself.
posted by Skorgu at 6:13 AM on November 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

www.routerboard.com, made by Mikrotik (out of Latvia), and their custom Linux-based OS, RouterOS. Fully configurable, and a very supportive user community. The documentation lacks in some respects, but there are useful scenario-based examples. They support WPA2 if you need it.

The newer rb300 series boards are much more powerful than their other boards. They take up to three mini-PCI wireless cards (although only two high-powered cards fit well). One of these with a set of Ubiquiti (ubnt.com) XR2 (600mw) 802.11b/g cards will give you an excellent access router and WiFi AP and aggregation point.

For the other side of your facility, use an rb532 with one or two Ubiquit SR2 (400mw) cards. You can then set up a WDS bridge between them through one card, which can also accept client associations. The second card on each board, the ones not used for WDS, are dedicated to client access.

These boards fit will in PacWireless RooTennas, which is basically a water-tight enclose with built-in 19dB antenna. It has a 30 degree beam, perfect for the WDS between the two sides of your building. For the client-only access, you want panel or directed antennas; omni's (the sticks) are crap. Look for ones with 60 degree beams for wide coverage.

This setup will penetrate walls very well, and for hole fillers, netgear APs can extend the links via WDS.

Should be around $1500, available at sites like wlanparts.com and wisp-router.com.
posted by jma at 7:14 AM on November 12, 2007

I think youre right at the point where consumer equipment will crap out on you. You can do this with a linksys but it might be a gamble especially if you're expecting growth. On the WAN side of things I'd buy a real router and go cheap on the wireless stuff. I think this can be done on the cheap like so:

1. Buy three linksys wireless APs. WAP54Gs are good enough.

2. Buy three 7-10 db gain omnidirectional antennas.

3. Put each linksys on one of the three non-overlapping channels 1, 6, and 11. Give them all the same SSID. Make them use WPA. pick a decent passphrase.

4. Mount them in three strategic locations. Connect the high-gains to the linksys. Connect power and ethernet to the linksys.

5. Test locations. See how well you have connectivity.

Like someone suggested above you can try ddwrt and try to up the power, but be mindful that this is most likely illegal and may overheat the unit. Just installing ddwrt might brick the unit too. User beware.

Depending on your location you might not need the high-gain antenna. You can save that purchase after deploying the linksys if connectivity isnt good.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:22 AM on November 12, 2007

Good luck to you, and think about hiring a consultant :)


If I were doing it, I'd use a soekris net4801 as the router and put m0n0wall or pfsense on it. But then again, I enjoy that sort of thing. :)
posted by tarheelcoxn at 7:57 AM on November 12, 2007

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