DIY: Outdoor Wireless Access Point/Signal Repeater
In my previous post, I went over how I created a weatherproof Wi-Fi camera rig. I decided to write a separate entry about how I got Wi-Fi signal to the camera during the construction process of my new home.
This project was installed about a year and a half ago and has been functioning since. There have been times I needed to reboot the repeater throughout the year, so it’s not like you can install it forget about it (unless you buy commercial products, not a Linksys). You also have to keep an eye out for growing shrubs and trees, since that will limit your signal over time.
First up, you’re going to have to have access to an internet connection (DSL/Cable). I had the luxury of having my parents near by, so I didn’t have to deal with any neighbors trying to secure an internet connection during construction (check your area and see if anyone has their wireless wide open… you might just want to repeat that signal).
I hope this post gives you some ideas as how to easily setup an access point outside your home. Maybe you have a park across the way that you’d love to work at, but can’t because you need to be connected… this project can surely make it possible.
The Parts List:
- A HyperLink 8db Compact Omnidirectional 2.4ghz Antenna or a HyperLink 8db Patch Antenna
- 2 Linksys WAP11‘s 802.11b Access Points (or any newer models that support repeater mode)
- 1- 10″x10″x4″ PVC enclosure from Home Depot
- Misc PVC parts for Antenna Mast attachment, PVC Glues, Silicon, etc
- Double-sided foam tape
- A few power tools… drill, screw, etc.
If doing Power-Over-Ethernet (not repeater mode), you’ll also need:
- Cat5e Connection Box
- Volt Meter (to check cable resistance)
- Cat5e cable (outdoor direct burial type)
- New power supply to accommodate length of cat5e cable
You’ll need to find an enclosure that will fit your access point. Most of the time, the case is bigger than the actual electronics inside… so if you are having trouble finding a case, you can always dismantle the access point/repeater, however, this will void your warranty. For my WAP11, I took some measurements and headed to my local Home Depot. I found they had a 10″x10″x4″ PVC box that looked perfect for this project.
I wanted the status LEDs to show thru the bottom of the enclosure so I had to remove the front of the WAP11. The photos above show how I did this. I took the front part and stacked it on the back of the WAP11. This gave me some support and the height was perfectly in the middle. I marked and drilled the 3 LED holes. I filled them up with clear silicon so the LED lights could still shine thru. I also attached some double-sided foam tape so I could secure it in the enclosure.
In the photo on the right, you can see the complete naked enclosure. My first attempt was to have a full outdoor Access Point. To do this, you need a wired ethernet connection and power. So I took the PoE (Power over Ethernet) route. That worked for about a year, but, because I didn’t used outdoor grade cat5e cable when I buried it, one day it suddenly stopped working. I think a rat ate it or it just corroded. If you are planning on doing PoE, then you’ll want to follow the detailed how-to instructions provided on the NTCwireless site and BE SURE TO USE outdoor rated Cat5e cable!! If you don’t want to deal with volt meters and ohm’s law, the check out Hyperlink’s PoE solution.
The 8db compact Hyperlink omnidirectional antenna I used has a mast attachment, so I bought a 2″ PVC pipe and cap and attached the antenna to that. I only attached one external antenna, so I’m not doing a true diversity system like the Linksys originally had. You can turn off the other antenna or keep it on… your tests may yield different results. Omnidirectional is great if you want to spread the 8db signal over 360 degrees. Sometimes you want to use a directional antenna. Let’s say the park you want to check email at is right across the street, and the the picnic table 30 degrees to the right. You could use a patch antenna and blanket just that area with a full 8db. So instead of an 8db (or whatever) omnidirectional antenna, which spreads that 8db over 360 degrees, you can give a 30 degree spread more of the 8db signal.
Next, I attached all the cables to the WAP11 and powered it up. Again, if you are setting your system up as just a repeater, then all you need is power. If you are setting it up as an outdoor access point, then you’ll need to provide power and ethernet. Having done both, I like the repeater method. It’s easier than running a cable… but you spend more because you need another WAP11 to act as the main access point.
After I mounted everything inside, I found an area I thought would work the best and did all the network setups. Then I ran some tests. Depending on tree coverage and any structures, there is pretty good coverage… it can only get better with more access points and/or bigger antennas. Flat, clear areas do better than hilly, treed areas (trees suck up the signal and metal structures reflect) For now, the coverage is pretty much want I need… but I’m thinking about putting a Wi-Fi Amplifier on the repeaters. That should really light up the block… and maybe even a visit from the FCC!
Below is an “artists rendering” of my signal spread. My terrain is a bit hilly, so I don’t get the same coverage as if I were on flat lands.
Total cost? Under $500.