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I have been asked by my wife's cousin to suggest a WiFi access point for her house.

Her house is huge, it's probably over 500m2 over two levels with lots of rooms.

Is there any way to tell which WiFi routers are going to be strong enough to cover a large area? Any particular antenna type I should be looking for? I'm willing to buy her a router and change the antenna if need be.

She will be using 802.11g if that's relevant.

Note: I am not asking for specific product recommendations, but I do want to know how I should decide which product to buy.

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It would be a lot easier to set up multiple access points within the home network. 500 sq. meters is a large house. – iglvzx Jan 29 '12 at 22:23
up vote 3 down vote accepted

Looking for a single router in this case, would be rather difficult. Even if you did mount a high powered router about mid-line to the main level of the house, WITHIN the house, you would usually only cover about 400 feet (not square feet), INDOORS. This is because how the signal bounces around, and hits, goes through walls, etc.

For those of us not using the metric system, the house in question is about 5300 square feet in size. Normally, a networking solution would require an externally placed router, either on a support structure (another building), or a pole outside of the house.

For a multilevel house, that is about 5300 square feet, I would recommend an externally placed Cisco type router (E4200 or newer), that is mounted about 75 to 80 feet parallel to the mid-line of the main housing unit.

This would provide ample coverage to the entire structure, and only require the use of one router.

As to the antenna, a directed antenna (not omnidirectional) is probably best in this type of situation. Directed antenna's for externally mounted routers, will ensure that the signal is only directed at the location in question (the house), and not waste energy in directing it in all directions. The cisco routers can use high gain unidirectional antenna's without much issue.

If coverage is needed, required, without signal degredation and loss, you could also consider a second unit equidistant to the first, transecting the path of the signal. Note these units would act as Access Points, not as independent units. Both can be tied back to the central internet access WITHIN the house, and even in the case that I have done, to a third indoor router. The point is, they would all be acting as one, providing the roaming coverage you need.

Forgive the crude drawing lol:

Typical Large home setup: Typical External Setup

Mission Critical (building, hotel, hospital, etc): Mission Critical

INTERNAL ONLY: Let us assume that we wish to do only an internal network, and nothing external. A single, high gain, omnidirectional antenna on a high powered router, would not cover the entire range of a 5,000 + square foot house (these plans are for a 5300 square foot home):
enter image description here

To do an indoor option, you would need to consider your layout; the router should not be placed on an external wall, nor should it be placed under stairs, or by a metal barrier. On each floor, the router should be equidistant from each other router in the home, meaning you should design in a diagnal, if possible, or in a zig-zag fashion; where the primary router is on the second floor, and secondary and third routers are on the first and top floor as diagnals from the first:

Indoor arrangement

However, the best arrangement for a large house, is still the external CPE:

The bar there, is the signal strength.

External placement signal strength

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Ingenious! This seems kind of an overkill, though ;) I would not want to have to build or maintain this contraption. – user 99572 is fine Jan 29 '12 at 22:50
It is a bit of overkill; but I have setup units like this before. In a situation where a house is that big (4000 + square feet), a single or even multi repeater AP setup inside the house is a headache to maintain. Even ONE unit outside would suffice, as long as it's posted midline to the main house. I just put two there for a mission critical type of thing. – zackrspv Jan 29 '12 at 22:52
they uuhh, are not crude drawings, that's excellent. She's very smart (neurosurgon) so I'm going to point her to your answer, because the houseplan you chose is actually freaklishly accurate to her place (only hers is two story, so the scale is probably halved) – Mark Henderson Jan 29 '12 at 23:51

For an area that large, I'd suggest not going in for a single router. A combination of 1 Router and two access points in repeater mode would suit better.

If you "must" go for a single device solution, then look beyond the home networking solutions. You can also look at various antennae to boost the signal strength, in specific areas.

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For starters, one Router is unlikely to suffice for a house this big. You will need Powerline extenders or WiFi repeaters to cover the whole house with one Access Point. The Powerline extenders would send exactly the same network name (SSID) and key. The devices in your network should not notice the difference. You could attach several cheaper WiFi access points to the powerline adapters and configure them identically.

I am not sure about antennas, but there are a few DIY projects and tips on other sites like Lifehacker:

Secondly, why would you limit yourself to the g Standard? Is there any objective reason why you should choose g over n? Look here to see a discussion of ranges and wifi standards: WiFi range: How far do the different standards go?. The n standard seems like the clear winner.

Most routers run in mixed mode, so there should be no conflict about the standard. And if you have the choice: go for the most recent standard, which is n. It is also future proof and the fastest thing on the market.

If you need a router with a big range, you will probaly need a powerful one. Don't go cheap (50-60$), go for the top of the line products (120 and more $).

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The only reason I mentioned G is because she does not have any N devices. I'm happy to buy an N router, but I don't know how that affects the range (if at all) of the device. Budget thankfully for once isn't an issue, just as long as it's not absurd. – Mark Henderson Jan 29 '12 at 23:44
P.S. thanks for that link about standards – Mark Henderson Jan 29 '12 at 23:46

I do believe that there are stronger and weaker devices out there. as I walk past the houses here, one persons signal will go for a block, and one doesn't make it very far from thier house. in a 330sq yard house I can position a bluetooth to get throughout the house , but there are not very many other interferances, and no internal steel structures. The outside is stucco, there is a chicken wire (in stucco), that would create its own sort of faraday cage. In this situation it would be worst to stuff a wi-fi outside.

I think zackrspv pics are great , and a great way to visualise the situations, but on the other hand, if you need 3 wireless devices to work in a area of that size, you might as well run a wire to the last 2 rooms :-)

Other things to concider. Insulation battings with metalic sheets holding them together, foam insulations with metal sheets, any metalic vapor barriors (all used during certian time periods, and dependant on locations). Generally the inside of most houses does not use insulations and thicknesses of brick and concrete to get a signal through.

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