By Bob Catanzarite
Wireless Chapter 2
Placement of the AP (Access Point)
All wireless Network components utilize radio frequency transmitters and receivers. RF (Radio Frequency) signals are what link wireless components. RF can penetrate wall and floors but in doing so will loose some of its signal strength. With today's wireless systems you'll get the highest connect speeds ONLY with high signal levels. When the signal levels drop lower so do the connect speeds. Because of this it is to your advantage to locate the AP in a place that optimizes exposure to the WNA's. Ideally the best exposure is Line Of Sight. In reality most practical indoor networks will have some obstructions between wireless components. The fewer walls and floors in the wireless signal path the better. The point here is to MINIMIZE these obstructions.
Here is where having a well planned Structured Wiring system will enhance the performance of a Wireless network. An AP is the link or bridge between your wireless and wired network. So when you chose a location for your AP based on the best exposure to the WNA's you'll need to have a wired ethernet port available at this AP location that you chose. Here is another HUGE advantage of a well planned structured Wiring system. You are more likely to have a wired ethernet port already available at this location that you just selected for your AP. For this discussion I'll assume you already have a good Structured Wiring system in place or better yet, you are in the planning stages of creating one.
Look for example at my homes floorplan shown below.
As a general rule I have as many of my network components located at the CWP as possible. But the CWP is NOT the optimal location for an AP in term of exposure to the possible WNA location that I'll want to use. At least in my particular home layout. You can see this in the drawing above. I have drawn in some green lines from the CWP to some of the locations where I am likely to want to use my laptop with a WNA. I did this to see what kind of obstructions the wireless signal would encounter going to/from the WNA and AP. For example the wireless signal has to pass through FIVE walls on the way to the Master Bedroom. So, my CWP is NOT a very good location for the AP. It is for this reason that I stated earlier that the most ideal configuration for a combination of wired and wireless network is to use a simple AP and not to use an AP combined with a router/switch combination. In order to take advantage of the router and switch features available in a lot of AP the AP NEEDS to be located at the CWP.
Instead, I want to put the AP where I'll get the best exposure to the WNA's.
As shown in the figure directly above a more optimal location for the AP would be near the wired ethernet port named LVR2 in the Living Room. (You see I'm single so I can put my AP in the Living room.) You can see how from this location that the wireless signal has to pass through FEWER walls. With a well planned Structured Wiring system you are more likely to have a wired ethernet outlet near the place where you decide is an optimal location for the AP !!!
How To Integrate Wireless Into a Wired Network - The Hardware Side
A simple AP can simply be connected to any open ethernet port in your network. That is all there is to it from a hardware standpoint. See the figure below.
If you have an AP with a router and want to make use of the router then things are just a bit more involved. Here is how a wireless AP with a router needs to connect to your wired network.
So, if your going to place this type of AP with Router in location away from your CWP you'll need to have not ONE but TWO ethernet cables running from the CWP to the AP. With my Structured Wiring system all of my outlet plates already have two ethernet ports. So the people who have called my Structured Wiring system 'overkill' can go jump off a tall bridge because this system has once again saved my %#$. All I have to do at the CWP to make this work is unplug the ethernet cable that is now designated as the WAN cable from the 8-port switch it was going to and move it to the WAN port on the broadband modem. The versatility and reconfigurability of this kind of Structured Wiring system is JUST GREAT!!!
Now, for some reason, AP with routers and switches seem to be cheaper then Simple AP's. If you really wanted JUST a simple AP but ended up buying an AP with a router, you CAN disable the router portion and still use it as a simple AP. This way you won't need the extra ethernet WAN cable. This is exactly what I did when I added the wireless network to my Structured Wiring system. I bought an AP with router and 4 port switch ( D-Link DI-614+ ), disabled the router portion and wired it in as a simple AP. More on how to do this in the following section.
I plan to draw more examples showing how to connect different types of wired and wireless networks configurations. This will be coming soon.
How To Integrate Wireless Into a Wired Network - The Software Side
If your just using a plain old AP there is no configuration required for most AP's. They generally work right out of the box. You will need to configure the AP when you enable the security features though. More on that in a minute. On the WNA side there will be configuration that needs to be done. Follow the directions from the supplier of your WNA because they (hopefully) know better than I . Basically the WNA installation involves loading and configuring some sort of wireless signal monitoring software and installing your protocols and services and shares, etc...
Of COURSE the standard installed configuration of MOST wireless systems has ALL the security featured disabled!!!
If you have an AP with a router and want to use it as a simple AP then all you have to do is disable DHCP on the AP. Simple, but the manufacturer of the AP may not make this obvious to you.
If you have an AP with a router and do want to make use of the router then your best to follow the manufactures direction on how to configure the router.
How To Enable The Wireless Networks Feeble Security Features.
As feeble as they are you REALLY SHOULD enable these security features. They will make your network MORE secure. I'll hit the highlight on how to do this but your installation manual should give you more details.
- First, go to the manufacturers website an make sure that you have the latest drivers and software updates. Update ALL your software and firmware but you're better off to do this updating AFTER you get things installed and working.
- Change the default SSID (Service Set IDentifier) to something different. The SSID can be assigned by you using guidelines similar to what you would use for assigning a password. You have to configure the SAME SSID into BOTH the AP and the WNA. This presents a bit of a dilemma for you because as soon as you change the SSID on one of the two devices the wireless part of the network will cease to connect because the SSID's on both sides will be different!!! To avoid this being a big problem, change the SSID on the AP FIRST. Then chance the SSID on the WNA to match the AP. Better yet is to have an ethernet link to the AP which can be used on another PC to configure the AP. PLEASE READ YOUR MANUAL FOR DETAILS!!! IM JUST PRESENTING AN OVERVIEW HERE!
- Enable WEP (Wired Equivalency Privacy algorithm). Along with enabling WEP you'll need to chose between 64 bit, 128 bit or 256 bit WEP encryption and you'll need to specify some sort of 'paraphrase' for the encryption key or keys. The number of encryption bit available may vary from one model to the next. The larger the number of encryption bits the higher the security. A higher number of encryption bits theoretically will lower your connect speeds but most test reviews that I have read seem to disagree on weather this is really noticeable. So, you'd be wise to select a higher number of WEP encryption bits. You'll have the same dilemma as you had changing SSID - the wireless network will not connect when the settings on both sides don't match. So change the WEP settings on the AP FIRST. Then change the WNA to the SAME settings as the AP. PLEASE READ YOUR MANUAL FOR DETAILS!!!
- Disable the broadcasting of the SSID. PLEASE READ YOUR MANUAL FOR DETAILS!!!
- Disable the Remote Administrator option. PLEASE READ YOUR MANUAL FOR DETAILS!!!
These are the low hanging apples of wireless security. There are more apples to be had but you'll have to read your installation manual and/or refer so some of the websites in my Links section for more details.