You won’t be surprised that WiFi plays an important role in our everyday life. It allows us to stay online at all hours, access information in real-time and expand the wireless network to areas where wires and cables are not available. It’s great to be able to seamlessly connect to WiFi from virtually anywhere around the world.
Outdoor WiFi and Its Problem
As more data traffic is carried over wireless networks, people will want to extend WiFi capacities outdoors, but most routers and access points installed indoors cannot provide a smooth WiFi experience for outdoor devices due to limited WiFi coverage and signal degradation over long distances. And this is why outdoor access points have been gaining popularity since the number of outdoor devices and the Internet of Things (IoT) increases over the years. But, sometimes, installing an outdoor access point won’t necessarily help you maximize WiFi reception if improperly installed. In this article, we’ll investigate the possible reasons that could cause bad WiFi signals outdoors and give you some useful advice on how to install the outdoor access points correctly.
5 Factors that Affect WiFi Signal
A weak WiFi signal is a problem commonly seen in network deployments. When your WiFi signal weakens, your connection to the Internet will also suffer, causing slow network speeds and even no connections outdoors. And there are a huge variety of reasons that could account for the weak WiFi signal:
• Too many people or devices connect to the same network
• Physical obstructions like thick walls, foliage or other solid objects
• Radio interference from neighbor’s network
• Your devices are located too far away from the access point
And the list can go on and on. WiFi, by its very virtue, can be susceptible to interference. Therefore, knowing what can cause that interference can help your network devices run at their best performance. Here, we’ve summarized five reasons that might explain why your signal suffers even when you have placed a powerful outdoor access point to help carry the signal further and reduce the interference to a minimum.
1. Physical Obstructions
Obstacles can cause a reduction in signal strength. Have you ever wondered why there is poor reception in certain rooms and why the signal continues to drop off even in an area just outside the house? So why do such places suffer from bad signals? And the most likely reason is that the material used for walls and other physical barriers blocks the transmission. The WiFi signal can be easily impeded by solid objects like metal, concrete, materials that are used in modern buildings, etc., and even plants will hinder signal transmission.
So when WiFi signals pass through these obstacles, some of them will be absorbed, and you will experience the most serious signal loss when the wireless signals pass through concrete, with or without metal enforcement, which is the worst and most severe physical barrier that could cause a severe reduction in signal strength. Even though the access points installed outdoors will not experience as much interference as indoor access point does given more complicated layouts in the indoor environments (rooms have to be separated by walls, and the office is divided by multiple cubicles), chances are still high that the wireless signals can be cut off by a nearby building, a billboard, a traffic sign, or the trees. Such interference can prevent your WiFi signal from having its optimum reach and performance, disrupt any signal passing through, and even block the signal completely.
2. Extended Distance
One of the most common causes of poor WiFi reception is distance. How far can WiFi travel has been a reoccurring question by most of our customers. For the flawless operation of your network devices outdoors, you have got to realize that the WiFi signal has its restriction. The farther the signal travels, the weaker it will be. It shares the same principle as the human voice. When you yell, your voice can be clearly heard by the people next to you, but the volume will start to fade out as the distance increases. When it comes to a home network, in general, a WiFi network that runs on 2.4Ghz frequencies can only reach up to 45 meters (150 feet) indoors and 90 meters (300 feet) outdoors. But for an outdoor access point that functions on 5Ghz bands, it’ll offer a faster data transfer rate but less coverage by reaching approximately only one-third of the distances of 2.4Ghz WiFi devices.
In addition, despite its increased frequency, the 5GHz band’s shorter waves make it less capable of going through walls and solid objects. If your house occupies a large area and holds a big garden, installing only one outdoor access point will not be able to provide full coverage for your premises. Moreover, the wireless standard you are using has a huge impact on the signal strength and transmission range. The higher the data rate, the less distance covered. The 802.11ac standard (WiFi 5) access points can offer a decent network speed but they must be kept within a relatively short distance to the router. So this might explain why you’re using the newest outdoor access points but still suffering from bad WiFi signals.
3. Radio Interference
Another major influence that disrupts your network performance outdoors is interference. If you experience unexpected weak WiFi signals, chance has it that other networks in the local area, such as neighbors’ networks or a local hotspot, are meddling with your WiFi channel. Wireless devices can transmit and receive data on different channels, but in many cases, most of them will only operate on a default channel. So it’s possible that several wireless devices in the local network are competing for signals in the same frequency band. When the network becomes congested, your WiFi connection will be jeopardized as well. Furthermore, the radio waves generated by electronic gadgets and devices can often interfere with the frequency of your outdoor access points. You can find intermittent signal problems caused by non-WiFi products that use the same radio waves as WiFi networks, such as cordless phones, portable electronics, microwave ovens and Bluetooth devices. Interference occurs when unwanted RF signals hamper radio broadcasting. Due to RF interference, the outdoor access points and users may become unable to transmit data, reducing their throughput and causing latency and poor network performance.
4. Low or High-Voltage Power Supply
Surprisingly, the power levels of your outdoor access points will also affect Internet speeds and WiFi performance. If you are using the power supply that came with the access point, there shouldn’t be any problems. If your WiFi device doesn’t have enough power to function properly, the Internet speed will be absolutely disrupted. You could get crashes, malfunctions, or in the best case only ‘worse’ network performance. For example, if your access point is supposed to use a 12V power supply and you connect it to a 5V power source, and then absolutely it can’t run at its optimum. Low power levels will not only affect network speeds but also influence WiFi coverage. The power level your access point transmits is important, and it should be enough to provide adequate range and coverage. But, it isn’t always the case that more is better. Proximity to a high-voltage power line will definitely interfere with the reception of any type of broadcast transmission, and wireless ones in particular. More power often entails an increase in noise, which is a huge interference to radio communications and broadcasting. The power lines will generate unwanted radio signals that override or compete with desired radio signals.
5. Bad Weather
Bad weather can disrupt your Internet connections to varying degrees in a variety of ways. Often unnoticeable, humidity can somehow cause signal degradation, especially in long-range WiFi systems. Increased humidity makes it challenging for the outdoor access points to deliver decent network performance, resulting in an extremely slow network connection. Moreover, when there’s fog and it’s misty outside, the water vapor would present itself as an obstructing media to the WiFi signals. The thunderstorm is one more weather condition that can influence your WiFi performance, which can cause serious physical damage to your network infrastructure. The thunderstorm has no direct impact on the WiFi signals themselves but on the system that carries them, like the Ethernet cables. And because WiFi is an electromagnetic signal Even the temperature can wear down your connection over time. As the temperature increases, the jacket of the Ethernet cable can soften, causing your speeds to diminish, and in extremely cold temperatures, the cable could freeze or get covered in the snow, causing the cable to break and cutting off the connection between the main router and outdoor access points, especially when you’re using low-quality or outdated Ethernet cables.
Tricks to Improve Your Outdoor WiFi
Due to the harsh conditions of outdoor environments, such as lighting strikes, temperature fluctuations and constant exposure to moisture and dust, the outdoor access points are usually installed to withstand the rigors of harsh environments. Knowing how to install them properly is essential to provide maximum coverage and reduce interference. To help you learn the proper methods of access point installation, we have outlined 7 suggestions for you to follow when installing outdoor access points.
1. Precise Access Point Placement Is Key
Where you place your access point can have a significant impact on whether you see the best possible signal coverage. Outdoor access points need to be able to reach a large area in order to be effective. Having an outdoor access point properly installed is critical to providing a strong wireless connection and adequate throughput.
Things to Considering When Choosing Locations for Outdoor APs
• Install your outdoor APs high for the best signal strength reception and performance for your wireless network. Make sure the transmission path is not blocked by any obstacles.
• To make sure all the clients on your properties receive a strong wireless signal, it’s always a good idea to place the APs to their intended point of use.
• Install your APs in a central place, where WiFi will be used most, and keep them away from corners, walls, or other physical obstructions. Whenever possible, you should keep the APs as far away from devices that emit electromagnetic signals.
In addition, you should test signal strength before finalizing the placement. This can be accomplished simply with your smartphone to check the Internet speeds at given distances. Or you download an app such as WiFi Analyzer where the signal strength will be shown precisely in dBm to help you pick up the ideal installation site. Anything between -67 and -30 dBm will be enough, but once it goes lower than -70 dBm, the signal strength will degrade, and then you’ll know you need to move your AP to a place where it can operate an efficient network. By doing so, you can determine the actual efficiency of your access points, and even better, you won’t have to waste time with ineffective placement or drilling unnecessary holes.
Avoid Coverage Overlap
When designing your wireless network structure, you need to choose the best location for placing your access points to provide adequate coverage. Basically, you can install the AP wherever you can but it will not only introduce unnecessary costs but also generate a lot of coverage overlap, especially in high-traffic areas. But coverage overlap can be reduced and even avoided if carefully designed. When you install more than one access point, try to leave enough space between them to provide maximum coverage.
2. Choose the Right Mounting Option Can Make a Difference
Believe it or not, your mounting options have a great impact on what the final design will be and determine whether it could meet the required coverage areas. There are basically four options in outdoor access point installation: wall mounting, pole mounting, corner mounting and roof mounting.
Wall Mounting: It is one of the most common and fastest methods to install the access points to the outside wall, but holes need to be drilled to let the Ethernet cables pass through and to secure the mounting brackets. But there is one more thing to cover when considering wall mounting. Since most APs with internal antennas are optimized for ceiling mounting, installing these devices vertically may not be the best way to achieve maximum antenna coverage. Therefore, if you need to mount the outdoor access point on a vertical surface, you should use one that supports external antennas and make the AP emulate a 180° antenna pattern in a vertical orientation. Avoid mounting the antenna in a horizontal position as this usually reduces coverage.
Pole Mounting: It is a good option when installing the outdoor access points away from the buildings, which is commonly used in a wireless mesh system where no cables need to be pulled to each location, providing comprehensive coverage for your properties. It ensures that the outdoor access point stays in the correct position and helps protect it from potential hazards on the ground. Pole mounting is simple but requires the right equipment to be effective. And it should be noted that if the access point is mounted too close to the metal pole, the wireless signals will be degraded as they don’t easily pass through dense materials.
Corner Mounting: If you have an omnidirectional outdoor access point, mounting it at a corner effectively allows for a 270° coverage to cover both sides of the wall. To mount the AP on an outside corner, you’ll need a galvanized corner bracket to direct the signal to the intended target area. A corner-mounted access point can project the signals in more directions, cover more space but also pick up more interference, so you will probably need to make up a plate that extends slightly from the wall. As previously mentioned, WiFi signals cannot penetrate metal objects easily, if the corner-mounted AP requires protection, then it’s best to use a plastic enclosure.
Roof Mounting: It is a viable option if you want to project the WiFi signals to another building, but a clear line of sight must be obtained between two constructions. In most cases, non-penetrating roof mounts are used to install the outdoor access points on the roof surface without damaging the roof structure. Therefore, depending on what type of APs you choose and how much coverage you want, you can should the best possible mounting options accordingly.
3. Using PoE Injectors for Outdoor Access Point Installation
Since you’ll be mounting the access points in locations that are likely far from an immediate power outlet, the best way to power your devices outdoors is to deploy PoE, which enables your AP to draw electrical power through the network cable to ensure a safe power connection in an outdoor environment.
The PoE injector offers an economical solution to transfer both power and data to the PDs via a single Ethernet cable at a maximum distance of 100 meters, eliminating additional power cabling. Once connected to a power source, the PoE injector will simultaneously convert the received power to DC power and send it to the terminal device. And it shares the same working principle as the PoE switch by initiating a handshake procedure to identify whether the connected device is PoE-compatible or not and decide how much power is required. And if the handshake procedure fails for any reason, the power will be immediately cut off.
The PoE injector offers a highly reliable power solution for outdoor access point installation. It integrates power conversion (AC-DC power), power management (available only in standard PoE injectors) and power connection all in one small unit. Constant power delivery is guaranteed with an uninterruptible power supply from a centralized point rather than distributed wall outlets. Power conversion from AC to DC lowers the risks of power outages and overloads, and the point-to-point PoE connection reduces the chances of power failures. You can monitor the power consumption status in real-time. Moreover, compared with other power solutions, it takes fewer devices to get your PoE system running, reducing job stress. It is a great alternative to the PoE switch when fewer devices are installed.
30W Outdoor Industrial Waterproof PoE Injector
This PoE injector is compliant with the IEEE802.3at, featuring a maximum power supply of up to 30W to help you set up the outdoor access point in hard-to-reach areas. It supports a wide input voltage range of DC24~56V, and the inner regulator will boost up the power to the regulated DC54V, which reduces the occurrences of voltage drop in long-distance applications. This PoE injector comes with a rugged metal enclosure (IP67-rated waterproof) to protect the device from breakdown and malfunctioning on rainy or snowy days. It also features a vast operating temperature range from –40°C to 75°C to survive the extreme temperatures in a changeable outdoor environment.
4. Deploy PoE Extender for Long-Distance Deployments
One of the common reasons for poor WiFi performance is that your access point is too far away from its clients. So the best way is to place the AP to its intended point of use. But the biggest disadvantage is that PoE only supports a maximum transmission distance of 100 meters. Beyond this range, you will experience severe signal degradation and voltage drop. To solve this problem, you’ll need a PoE extender. The PoE extender is a cost-effective way to extend Ethernet beyond 100 meters to power the remote APs. It leverages existing twisted-pair cabling to deliver the electrical power over the same Ethernet data stream to the next connected device. The direct burial PoE extender from Fastcabling is exclusively designed for long-distance power and data connection in outdoor applications, featuring a simple plug-and-play installation. By daisy-chaining two PoE extenders, the maximum distance can be extended to 300-500 meters. And it should be aware that for outdoor applications, you have to fasten the glands on each side tightly with a 27mm wrench, or water may ingress into the PoE extender and damage the PCB board.
5. Choose the Right Cabling for Outdoor Deployments
To boost your connectivity, we always suggest trying high-quality Ethernet cables because they’re the best way to get fast speeds and a reliable connection. The CMX cable is a type of Ethernet cable that has an outdoor-rated Polyethylene jacket. The double layers of jackets help strengthen the tensile of the outdoor cable and give it the ability to be buried or trenched directly under the ground. The CMX cable shows great tolerance for extreme temperatures, water ingress, etc., and it can also prevent degradation due to UV light. Even though the double-layered CMX cable doesn’t have water blocking tape and gel filling, it can deliver optimal signal transmission performance in outdoor deployments.
6. Protect the Outdoor Access Points with Surge Protectors
The best way to protect your outdoor access points from power surges is to use a surge protector to regulate abnormal electrical currents and mitigate over-voltages. It can promptly recognize abnormal rises in surges and redirect the extra currents to the grounding wire to protect your outdoor devices. To set up a hazard-free communication and power line, you’re supposed to install the surge protectors on both ends of one complete cable run. Fastcabling has launched a Waterproof Outdoor PoE Surge Protector (IP68) to secure a safe and reliable network set up outside. This PoE surge protector is direct-burial, featuring 16kV high surge protection and a wide working temperature of -40℃to 85℃.
7. Reduce Radio Interference
RF interference is a serious problem that prevents wireless devices from delivering their full capabilities. The easiest way is to switch to a different WiFi channel, one that isn’t too busy. But this approach only addresses continuous RF interference from other WiFi networks, such as the one from your neighbor’s home. If there are no alternative channels in the 2.4 GHz band, it will fail to deliver the desired results. To deliver flawless network performance, it’s necessary to deal with intermittent RF interference by improving the Signal-to-Noise ratio (SNR). There are two ways to improve the SNR: reduce interference or increase signal gain. When using a dual-band access point, you can eliminate as many sources of RF interference as possible by switching to the 5Ghz bands. To increase the signal gain, you can increase the power or density of outdoor access points.