An Outdoor Networking Challenge

I'm trying to help my aunt set up a wireless network on her ranch in a remote corner of New Mexico, and have run into a number of questions about outdoor and long-range WiFi that I hope people can help me answer.

The central office building has Internet access via DSL, to which we would like to provide access from other locations around the ranch. Digging two thousand feet of trenches and laying shielded fiber would be prohibitively labor intensive and expensive, so wireless seems like the logical answer.


Many of the buildings and outdoor spaces where we'd like to have access are clustered within 150 feet of the main office. However, a few key buildings are spaced further away, up to approximately 600 feet, and one has quite a few trees between it and the main building.

In the map below, the main office is marked with a red border, while the primary other buildings we'd like to provide access to are shown with a blue border. The blue-marked building in the upper-right is completely blocked off from the main office by an area of many trees, but has near line-of-sight to the workshop, which is marked with a green border.

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Other Constraints

There will only be a few simultaneous users, so I don't expect that bandwidth contention will be an issue.

There are a fair number of trees on the property, which will attenuate the signal.

On the upside, the nearest neighbors are quite distant, so there shouldn't be any interference with other wireless devices.

All of the computers being used are Macs of various vintages, and there's no on-site tech guru, so I'd prefer to use Apple's AirPort base stations for simplicity, but we could live with third-party access points if needed.

We don't have a fixed budget, but if it looks like the price is going to be much over $1,000 they're likely to just settle for getting another DSL line or satellite-based Internet access at one or two additional locations.

Ideas and Questions

The first step would seem to be placing a WiFi access point in the main office, connected to the DSL router, with an outdoor omni-directional antenna on the roof to provide access to the main cluster of buildings.

- Which model of outdoor omni-directional antenna should we use on the roof of the main office?

- Does it make sense to get an amplifier to increase the signal strength?

For the building shown on the left side of the map, which is about 250 feet from the main office and has some intervening trees, I think we may need a directional antenna pointed towards the main building.

- Instead of getting an outdoor antenna, can we just use an indoor directional antenna and point it through a window, or does that significantly attenuate the signal?

The building in the bottom-right corner of the map, is even further away: about 6-700 feet.

- Is a directional antenna likely to be sufficient over this kind of distance?

For the building on the upper-right corner of the map, I'm concerned that even a directional antenna may not be able to punch through all of trees that lie between it and the main building, so I've been thinking of placing another access point at the workshop, which has line-of-sight to both the main office and the remote building, and using that to propagate the signal.

- Is a directional antenna on the remote building likely to be sufficient, or do we need a directional antenna on each end of the link?

- Is there a decent wireless-to-wireless bridge with two antenna ports, so we can connect an omni-directional antenna to one to pick up the local signal, and a directional antenna to the other to connect to the far side of the property?

Suggestions Welcome!

I've spent a while Googling, which reinforced my initial impression that it's difficult to predict the real-world performance of wireless networks.

It may be that our only choice is to engage in a bit of trial-and-error, starting by placing the initial base station and omni antenna, then wondering around the property to see what level of signal strength we get, and figuring out how to expand from there.

However, any suggestions or feedback people might have would be much appreciated. Have you dealt with these kinds of issues in the past? Any recommendations for specific equipment, general approaches, or avenues of further research?


-- Simon

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Just out of curiosity, how do you get electrical power to all those areas? Are there already powerlines run to them? If so, consider using powerline networking as a bridge between multiple wap's on the same ssid..

Dealt with it in the past? yes, I have 15 acres in idaho with the buildings very spread out and lots of vegetation, but there was already ac power to the out buildings... While most older powerline networking was only 14-15 Mbps, the netgear ones below are up to 85 and 200 Mbps (way faster than wireless)

The netgear XE103 (at ) runs at 85 Mbps, and the HDBX101 at

does up to 200 Mbps (powerline networking)... If you absolutely have to have wireless, use the high speed powerline stuff as a bridge and throw a wap on each end and bingo, instant high speed wireless.

FWIW I have and use the XE103's and they work great with a wap/router on each end (same ssid so I have a large hotspot at my house/garage/cabin out back/etc), the 101's have only been out for a few months and I haven't used the newer models so can't say if there will be any probs with them (none so far with the 103's)

Reply to
Peter Pan

On 23 Aug 2006 13:31:40 -0700, wrote in :

600 feet is doable (given enough height from the ground at both ends). Quite a few trees probably not. Perhaps you can relay around the trees.

Near? You need actual line of sight.

Seriously. May not work.

Airport is good. The real issue is needing good antennas, either indoor with window view (and no window film), or external. I'm guessing you'll need external, mounted high, with PoE (power over Ethernet). Which would rule out Airport.

That's a tight budget -- you may need as many as 8 end point devices plus antennas.

An omni might not do the job even with good antennas on the other buildings. The lower left blue building looks to be over 200' away. You might have to go with multiple access points, each with a directional antenna.

There are a number of good ones. Be warned that you may lose a lot of your antenna gain in the cable from the access point to the antenna if you don't keep it very short.


The trees may be a killer.

Plain glass is fine. Window film is a killer.

Yes *if* there are no obstructions and sufficient height at both ends.

Relay. Yes.

I think you're going to need directional antennas at both ends.

Not that I know of (in your price range at least) -- use separate devices.

Sacrifice small animals to the wireless gods. Seriously.

Especially with trees. :)

Yep. Called a Site Survey.

Unfortunately, the gear I'd normally recommend is out of your price range.

The most affordable outdoor gear I know of is Senao.

Reply to
John Navas

look an

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