Wet and Windy Outdoor WiFi

Date September 1, 2014 Author Comments Leave your thoughts

Outdoor Marina WiFi

Wireless is just for indoor environments, right? 

Not a bit of it – wireless has massive benefits in a whole range of outdoor environments and can be installed in the harshest of conditions.

Take a look at the marina and waterborne leisure industry; experienced sailors and amateur boaters who are used to 24/7 data communications at home still want a great WiFi experience when they’re berthed for six-o-clock drinks and through the night.  And if parents are glad to be away from TV, computers, Facebook, etc., don’t for one moment think that the children are going to share that perspective…

Wireless mesh configurations

The thing about wireless is that it doesn’t necessarily need wires!   Isn’t that the whole point of wireless you retort?  Of course but, sooner or later, you need to get the data from the wireless into the global internet – the point is that it can stay in the wireless space a whole lot longer than you might think.

Wireless access points (APs) can be set up to talk to each other over the air in a mesh configuration – they don’t need wires to interconnect – so the AP on the furthest pontoon can talk to its neighbour over the wireless and so on until an AP with a wired connection is reached and the data is put on to the internet.  Even better, with the right AP layout each AP will have two or more reachable neighbours and so resilience comes for free – if one AP fails, a different route is selected; the network is self-healing.

So, a good AP layout design with two wired internet connections and you have a resilient network serving all the moored vessels (watch out, the Marina owners will no doubt see this as a revenue earning opportunity and might just think about charging for the connectivity!).  Dealing with the environment is straightforward – either mount the APs in weatherproof enclosures or deploy outdoor hardened APs directly; the outcome is the same – an all year round resilient wireless network.

Industrial outdoor wireless

What about the other end of the spectrum (no pun intended); sea ports on the wild and windy coasts of Northern England which can cover vast areas?  The principle is exactly the same – deploy hardened or protected APs to provide service in key areas and link them together with high throughput point-to-point wireless links to get the data back to points of entry to corporate networks or the wider internet.

Battling the elements

At Ensign, we’ve designed, engineered and deployed wireless networks in both these scenarios (and a few scenarios in between).  We’ve come across the interesting little problems of ‘if the boats are rising and falling with the tides but the APs are fixed, what does that do to the coverage’ or ‘can you really keep a point to point link up and running in lashing rain and a force 6 gale (or worse)’ and figured out how to deal with them.

One to think about…

I have to admit though that we haven’t yet figured out how to deploy a wireless network over the open sea; maybe we could start to put APs on offshore wind farms…what do you reckon?

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Author Ian Price

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