The middle ground between Access Points and Point-to-Point

In the last two posts I have talked about high-power outdoor access points that you can connect to your router and provide WiFi connectivity across a wide area and about point-to-point links that can connect one point to another.

In many cases, however, you want some of each: an access point that can provide good wifi coverage for the buildings around the house, and something that can “pull” that signal out to another building 2 miles away.

I call that piece of equipment a “directional client” but there are really two very different devices that fit this category:

  • A high-powered directional WiFi adapter like the WiFire or the WiFiStation – these plug into the USB port of your computerWiFire adapterWiFiStation adapter
  • A directional WiFi radio that’s really the “client half” of a wireless bridge – for example, a NanoStation – that provides an Ethernet extension of your wireless network.

Here’s how it works: let’s say you have your Access point up on your house, but you need access for a computer or two out in the barn, and the signal just isn’t quite “loud” enough out there. You might just get a WiFire or WiFiStation, put it on the computer, and put the antenna in the window facing the house, so it will pick up the signal better. You might also mount a NanoStation on the outside of the barn facing the house, and then hook up the Ethernet port to your computer. If you have multiple computers, you can attach an Ethernet switch to the NanoStation and run Ethernet to each of them. You can also attach a WiFi access point (another PicoStation, or just a consumer-grade router) to the NanoStation to provide WiFi in the barn – just configure it as a “bridge.”

You may be surprised by how well this works – I have used a NanoStation to connect to a PicoStation 2 HP at well over 2 miles (hilltop to hilltop – nice, clear Fresnel zone).

It should also be mentioned that there are high-power OMNIDIRECTIONAL WiFi adapters – there is a version of the WiFiStation that is both omnidirectional and outdoor-mountable (so you can put it outside the barn or even mount it on a vehicle) and a variety of small USB adapters with big antennas on them (Alfa seems to be one popular brand, and Engenius has a nice one). You can also use a PicoStation or something similar in “client” mode just like the NanoStation. You’ll lose some “gain” because of the lack of directionality, but you won’t have to point the antenna at it – extremely desirable if you are mounting on a vehicle.

Next – on to the REALLY good stuff!

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