How to Erect a Temporary Wireless Hotspot

A simple guide to delivering wireless at special events, field workgroups or disaster response sites.

Wireless LANs are typically installed in locations where coverage is required on a continuous basis. But there are many situations where it’s desirable to provision a network for temporary duty where it will be moved or otherwise taken down after a period of time, such as for special events, field workgroups or disaster response.

The client devices and applications used are identical to those on permanent networks, which lowers cost and increases convenience. Before setting up a temporary or pop-up WLAN, however, review the following recommendations.

Perform a spectral analysis.

There’s nothing more frustrating than having “five bars” of signal and zero throughput. Often, interference is the problem. While this can be managed relatively easily within a permanent installation, temporary environments are by their nature uncontrolled. Use a spectrum analyzer to check for harmful interference and adjust channel, power and other settings as needed based on the results.

Ensure adequate power.

Field installations often involve locations lacking AC power. In this case, batteries and even solar cells, often used together, present excellent alternatives. Models supporting both AC and DC power are available, so check the specs on your access point to find the right match. Also, if using AC power, employ a power conditioner, UPS or, at the very least, a simple surge protector because AC power in remote or temporary locations is notoriously unreliable.

Use secure mounting.

Just because an installation is temporary doesn’t mean it can be sloppy. Tripping over wires can be hazardous to both equipment and people. Securely mount access points on platforms or appropriate poles, and secure all power and Ethernet cables with cable ties. Not only will these steps add to safety and reliability, but they can also guard against inadvertent damage and even theft.

Evaluate backhaul requirements.

The AP provides connectivity for client devices, but what about the other side — the backhaul to the Internet? Field installations often necessarily involve compromise in terms of achieving maximal throughput, but this is acceptable considering the nature of the mission and application requirements, and the alternative, which is no connectivity at all. Cellular routers use wireless services for backhaul, and some APs even directly support USB wireless devices for just this purpose.

Implement the 802.3ac standard.

Along with providing amazingly high throughput, the new 802.11ac standard features beamforming capability to focus radio energy in a particular direction. This technique can be invaluable in improving reliability in all settings, but especially in the field where the radio environment is uncontrolled and range may be a consideration.

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Mar 31 2014