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Published 20 July 2016

Adrian Fowler

Adrian Fowler
Managing Director

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Wi-Fi in a large house – SOLVED!

Larger and older houses were built with much heavier materials than today. As a result, Wi-Fi devices can struggle to communicate where there are thick walls to penetrate.

The problem increases further if the property has had extensive renovation as usually the walls are lined with insulated foam-backed plasterboard, and often this plasterboard has a layer of metallic foil acting as an additional barrier for Wi-Fi signals.

Getting Wi-Fi to work through stone walls

In a modern house, most internal walls are either timber stud or single block, so not that much of a problem for Wi-Fi devices. Older and larger houses tend to be solid walls either made of brick or worse, stone.

We recently completed a project in a large Georgian, Victorian and Elizabethan property of around 12,000sq ft. of living space. The old original hall was built during the Georgian era and was constructed mainly of stone some 2ft thick. A latter extension was added during the early Victorian period, and more recently, a time I can recall just a few years back, a further extension was constructed the balance the house aesthetically.

Spread over three floors, the Hall proved to be a challenge to deliver full Wi-Fi coverage across the entire building and nearby outdoor space.

And no matter how big the client, or how deep the pockets, there is always the budget to consider.

Engineering and the facts of life

The art of good engineering I always believe is to deliver precisely what is needed for the least amount of cost. It is known as the Project Management Triangle. The overall quality of the job is measured by the cost, scope and schedule. Or in other words, trying to get a good job done, quickly and for the least amount of money. In essence – good, quick and cheap.

We all know that going too cheap can affect how good the overall job is. It certainly will probably increase the time taken to complete the work, so it won’t be quick, and conversely, spending more money may not always guarantee to increase the quality of the finished job, but the job might get done quickly, or if it does increase the final quality of the job, the job will probably take some time to complete.

When it comes to the job either being good, being quick or being cheap, you can usually have 2 out of three, but you rarely can achieve all three. Good and quick is rarely cheap, quick and cheap is rarely good and good and cheap is rarely quick.

Wi-Fi Solutions

So with the above in mind, we could tackle this several ways. Three to be precise. We could go all out and buy a managed solution with a clever controller and several access points all talking together, but that would seem a bit over the top.

In reality, with this being a private residence, there simply isn’t going to be enough Wi-Fi traffic or devices connecting to warrant such an investment, as good as it may be.

The other extreme could involve purchasing a few budget Wi-Fi access points, whatever is on special offer, linking them up somehow either by cable or by configuring them as repeating devices. This may work fine initially when tested with say, one or two devices, but as soon as time moves on, as it does, and another device is added of more recent design or technology, there could be problems.

This kind of low budget approach simply isn’t good enough and certainly won’t stand the test of time.

How to do a proper Wi-Fi installation

The Hall, like most, has a cellar. Upon giving the entire place a good Wi-Fi survey, it was clear to see that the Cellar gave access to most areas of the ground floor space. So utilising the Cellar was essential in doing a clean, and pain-free job.

With the location of each Access Point identified, and the number required – three, in this case, we could begin installing the equipment necessary.

We opted for Access Points that can be powered by the same cable that connects them to the internet as we didn’t want messy cables or the possibility of a loss of power to any access point. This just results in an installation which over time deteriorates and becomes a white elephant.

We also opted for Access Points which are aware of themselves and any others of the same type around them. This means we can install multiple Access Points and have them communicate with each other without the need for a controller unit costing thousands of pounds.

One essential upgrade we made was to the Internet Router. The one they had was faulty so needed to be replaced, but even if it was working, we would have recommended replacing it as it was a BT supplied Router not designed for a house of any great proportions.

Also, the management of these devices can be less than satisfactory.

Furthermore, large properties like The Hall are often located in the remotest part of a remote village, and consequently, further away from the BT exchange. This results in a poor internet service, so an inferior Router is not going to be a good choice for any installation.

We do have a modification which we carry out to all our internet installs which enables us to squeeze an extra MB or two out of a badly performing internet connection. This was carried out as a value-adding exercise.

Once configured the access points seamlessly switched over when roaming around the house streaming video to our testing device, with no significant loss in signal.

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