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So for a reasonably large office building across 4 floors, which needs WiFi in every room.

Additional Details:

  • The building is about 20 years old, and has pretty thick walls, so I guess it'll need many access points.
  • The existing network is just one WiFi router in a single room, which everyone has to go to to get wireless, there is Ethernet sockets in most the rooms.

I don't know much about networking, so it'd be helpful if someone could point me in the right direction to get started.

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    I'm wondering if this is less of a what to buy question than a "how best do I set this up?" question. By ethernet sockets in most of the rooms, do you mean that they're all linked up by a wired network, but you need wifi? – Journeyman Geek Feb 27 '14 at 15:18
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I think what you are looking for is a WiFi router that supports a technology called WDS, or Wireless Distribution System.

Here is a bit of background on WDS

A wireless distribution system (WDS) is a system enabling the wireless interconnection of access points in an IEEE 802.11 network. It allows a wireless network to be expanded using multiple access points without the traditional requirement for a wired backbone to link them. The notable advantage of WDS over other solutions is it preserves the MAC addresses of client frames across links between access points.

  • An access point can be either a main, relay, or remote base station.
  • A main base station is typically connected to the (wired) Ethernet.
  • A relay base station relays data between remote base stations, wireless clients, or other relay stations; to either a main, or another relay base station.

A remote base station accepts connections from wireless clients and passes them on to relay stations or to main stations. Connections between "clients" are made using MAC addresses. All base stations in a wireless distribution system must be configured to use the same radio channel, method of encryption (none, WEP, or WPA) and the same encryption keys. They may be configured to different service set identifiers. WDS also requires every base station to be configured to forward to others in the system. WDS may also be considered a repeater mode because it appears to bridge and accept wireless clients at the same time (unlike traditional bridging). However, with the repeater method, throughput is halved for all clients connected wirelessly.

WDS may be incompatible between different products (even occasionally from the same vendor) since the IEEE 802.11-1999 standard does not define how to construct any such implementations or how stations interact to arrange for exchanging frames of this format. The IEEE 802.11-1999 standard merely defines the 4-address frame format that makes it possible.

Here is a list from CNET of commerically available wireless routers that support WDS. I am partial to TRENDNet routers, but that is just my personal preference

CNET Reivew of Wifi Routers that support WDS

Also, if you do decide to implement WDS be sure to buy several of the same model of router. Like the above description says, WDS compatibility is spotty between devices from different vendors, and sometimes even different devices from the same company.

How many routers you will need to purchase all depends on how big each floor is. With your current setup, does a single router cover all points on that floor without issue, or is connectivity spotty in certain areas? If connectivity is spotty, I would recommend either trying to place each router somewhere close to the middle of each floor so the radius of connectivity is much higher per floor, or buying 2 or more routers per floor and placing both routers in the middle facing away from each other so each covers 180 degrees in one direction and the other covers the other 180 degrees.

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It largely depends by the size age and existing networking installation of the building.

  • Older buildings, with thicker walls, tend to require more and/or better Access points.

  • Size and shape of the building influences greatly the choices you can make.

  • Existing cabling or switches on site can simplify the installation and reduce the costs.

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While I didn't have as much room to cover, I ended up solving this with multiple routers with different SSIDs. If you already have ethernet around the building, you really just need a main router with enough grunt to handle all the connections you're getting and a handful of lower cost routers. I'd have at least one a level (Ideally with different SSIDs) - I'd go with and adjust the channels for as low overlap as possible (inssider on a mobile phone or tablet is perfect for this). Physically, I'd try for central locations if possible, but with multiple APs, to keep them as far away as possible.

Test for signal strength on a walkabout, and add more routers to cover weak spots. Make sure folk know what's the best router to use, and what the wireless key is (unsecured wireless is a bad idea, even if you're having a 'public' network).

You don't need expensive routers - those tiny USB powered ones may work, but without testing and walking about, you may not be able to find the best locations for them

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  • While I do agree that this is a possible solution, having to configure mutliple SSIDs on every device that will be connecting via WiFi is far from optimal. Several low cost routers support WDS (see my post above) which allows you to have a single contiguous network that spans across a large area such as a 4 story building. – Richie086 Feb 28 '14 at 17:01
  • There's a few advantages to this - WDS will share bandwidth between them so every router slows down the system. You'll know which router you're connected to, so you can pick the ideal one for the area. Since she has a wired network, she can take advantage of this, so the routers need not necessarily be in range of each other like WDS. Its a good alternative in many ways, and in my own case, WDS wasn't possible since I was trying to cover a dead zone in my coverage. – Journeyman Geek Feb 28 '14 at 23:44

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