Thursday, March 20, 2008

Wireless infrastructure isn't easy

I am not sure if this has any real relevance to the issues that Earthlink ran into trying to put up a city wide wireless network, but below is an account of my small scale implementation of blanket wifi that infrastructure building is not easy.

Last year the decision was made to put in a whole facility wireless network. Seeing as this was the most technology forward project this organization has undertaken probably ever, I was very excited about the prospects of getting to work on my first 100k+ project. Let me warn you now, 300,000 SqFt is way more that it seems to be when you are pulling the cable and installing access points. We determined to install approximately 33 Access Points(AP's) to cover 6 floors and thousands of Square feet of real estate. From the first ceiling tile I popped this project turned more and more suck. I found that no cable infrastructure existed, there where no raceways, cable trays or even J-hooks. In short I found a 20 year old building that had undergone 2 expansions, and had professional in house Telecom service providers that had failed to invest in future infrastructure. The original building had 1/4 inch conduit into each room, but no accommodation for the public spaces, everything run after the initial constructions (basically everything run)was laying on the ceiling tiles. My initial projection of 8-16k for running cable quickly looked started to feel like a sick joke. In the end I finished pulling the cable with the help of 2 different contractors for about 28k, not all the work was perfect but every cable that was pulled would meet code.

During the planning stage of the project we decided to go with the wireless offerings of Cisco Systems for the scalability and security that they offered us. With clients like a software maker from the Northwest you may have heard of and our facility being in a very public space it would appear a gaff to allow unfettered access to our private information to attendees.

The Cisco requires several components the AP's are Power over Ethernet, so either you buy PoE switches or you buy PoE injectors. The injectors make sense in limited applications but for wide distribution, especially if you have to buy switches to build out infrastructure the cost difference for a PoE switch vs the Clutter of dozens of Injectors is a simple decision to make for almost any Network Tech. The other requirements are a Wireless controller (1 controls up to 50 AP's) and a server based controller that gives very high level control of groups and individual AP's. The bulk of the cost was spent on switching infrastructure, so if you already have PoE switches in place the cost would have been significantly reduced.

The end of the ordeal, and the pay off for me is that I have the ability to walk the majority of the facility (front and back of house) and be in wireless coverage, and I have enough additional ap's to fill in holes as they come up. It took 31 Ap's and almost 20 switches to cover my facility, so scale that to an entire city and I can just imagine the work to get service to hundreds or thousands of Ap's. I only had to get 2 other parties to cooperate in a facility that I ultimately had right of way in, I fear the level of push back you would receive from the hundreds of Hot-spot operators that charge for the service, and municipal wifi supported by city government would amount to Government taking so the push back from concerned business owners I imagine would be high.

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