Installing a Wi-Fi Band-Aid
Installing a Wi-Fi Band-Aid
I volunteer to support the network infrastructure at my church. The current wireless infrastructure is old 2.4GHz-only SOHO gear. It works acceptably, for what it is, in the office and in the classrooms. However, the signal just barely reaches into the sanctuary. Typical services have between 150 and 200 attendees, and occasional events run over 300 people. With a weak signal that wasn't be passible even in this old gear’s era of coverage-only Wi-Fi, the old gear didn't do the job at all. It was time for a band-aid.
It Starts with the Requirements
Let’s start with what all successful projects start with: business requirements. What are the actual needs of the customer? You need to determine business requirements first, whether the customer is your boss, your fellow employees, or someone who has hired your company as a VAR or consultant. If you don’t have requirements, you have no measure of project success and no sensible way to plan your deployment. In this case, there were a few immediate needs that changed the poor Wi-Fi from an inconvenience to an actual problem that needed fixed.
The primary driver for this project was the church was launching a new app that included sermon notes, church announcements and a member directory. Another driver was an iPad app that was used to remotely control the sound board. The sound team needed to have the applicatin work anywhere in the sanctuary, but particularly when on the stage when they help set the monitor levels for vocalists. Internet access for other purposes wasn’t really a requirement, but came along on the ride for free with the new app’s requirements since it was an Internet-based service. A nice-to-have feature was to allow access to the internal network for staff to print and share files.
No Time, No Budget
All projects have constraints. Usually, the biggest constraints are some combination of time and money. In this case, the timeline was short and the budget was shorter. Actually, the budget was zero.
No time, no money, no problem. Said no one ever. Except in this case it really wasn’t a problem because I happened to have a workable temporary solution in my lab at home. Enter my favorite little AP and my go-to band-aid, the Aruba 205H. Intended as a wall-mount unit for hospitality and dorms, the 205H has a stand available so it doesn’t need to be wall-mounted and can sit on a desk. It also includes a 4-port gigabit Ethernet switch.
My lab unit is an Aruba Instant AP, so I can install it and use the built-in virtual controller to manage it. If we add more Instant APs, that will make deployment even easier since the controller is already configured. In the meantime, I can use it to build a band-aid for this network until there is time and budget to build a more robust solution. You might say it’s a “dual band” aid.
The only network drops in the sanctuary are a couple ports in the sound booth. These were connected to a computer and a simple switch that connected another computer and the sound board. I pulled the switch, replaced it with the 205H and let the AP be powered by PoE. I had factory reset the AP, so I connected to the instant SSID and browsed to instant.arubanetworks.com. In a few minutes I had the guest and internal SSIDs configured with the same PSKs as the old gear, since I wanted them to coexist and just work. I added a 5GHz only SSID dedicated to the iPad to prevent it from roaming to the old APs.
It was all looking great until I discovered some clients refused to connect to the new AP. That was resolved quickly with the help of Wi-Fi Explorer and a quick comparison of the network settings, where I discovered I had configured the new network as WPA2 only, but the old network was WPA/WPA2. With that resolved, everything looked good.
A quick and simple project, but as mentioned earlier, a project needs a way to measure success. The measure of success based on business requirements was:
- Are users able to successfully use the new app?
- Does the iPad for the sound team work reliably?
- Can staff access internal resources?
The 205H typically has about 60 devices connected between the two radios and everyone who uses it has had a good experience using both the app and the Internet in general. We had an event with over 300 people and I didn't hear any complaints about the Wi-Fi, although I did forget to check the statistics. I would have liked to know how many devices had been connected, but it was a success overall.
The iPad is more of a mixed bag. It works most of the time, but the application occasionally freezes and very occasionally disconnects. I think the primary issue here is that it’s an old iPad, but I still wish it worked better. I should get some packet captures and do some frame analysis to see if the problem is the Wi-Fi, but it’s worked well enough that the freezes qualify as a minor annoyance. We’ll call this good enough.
Staff have no problems accessing the network for file sharing and printer access, so while this wasn’t a high priority, it was a bonus success.
Nothing is more permanent in IT than a temporary install, but the plan is to build out a well-designed WLAN with more traditional AP installations. Until then, this simple AP install is providing a dual band aid for this network and meeting today’s business requirements.
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