This week I'll try to shed some light on another user-submitted question: What's the easiest (maybe cheapest) way to get wi-fi into the further parts of our building? With concrete walls and steel infrastructure, the LinkSys wireless-G 2.4 GHz system never worked even between our offices which are all in a row on one side of a hallway. So we went to hard-wiring. I'd love it if I could use my laptop in the youth room which is in the basement of another wing of the building -- but even better would be if anyone could use their laptops in whatever part of the building we were in.
Wireless networking is one of my favorite additions to the world of technology. We all are happy to have fewer cords, cables, and wires in our lives. We're even happier when they really do what we want them to, which can be a challenge!
I want to start with a couple of assumptions. I write these posts assuming that you don't have an Information Technology department at your beck and call. I also write from the standpoint of someone who wants to get a good value solution, maybe not the cheapest, but certainly frugal. Finally, there is an art to getting these things to work and there probably isn't one right answer, but I'll take a stab at passing along some information that I hope is helpful. If you want to have an excellent wireless network and money is no object, consult a company which installs networks and will use commercial enterprise-grade equipment. They will set something up that will work extremely well. It will also probably be extremely expensive.
At the same time, you do get what you pay for. Buying the cheapest available wireless router will get you a piece of equipment that does not perform as well as something that was not $9.95 after rebate. I have bought lots of these cheap blue boxes and they generally work alright, for awhile, but then they fail. This give me an excuse to go out and buy newer technology, but it can also be inconvenient. As with just about all technology, price continues to drop while features increase.
In researching some options, I came across this page (http://wirelessinfo-r-us.blogspot.com/2007/11/basic-service-set-bss-vs-extended.html) which provides a good overview of how to use multiple wireless Access Points (APs) in order to provide broad coverage. The assumption is, however, that these APs will be connected via a wire to the network. By using the same ESSID, you will be able to roam throughout the building and maintain coverage because you are always in the reach of a radio signal. Each AP needs to be set on a different channels, but use the same SSID. The wireless security needs to be the same on each AP as well.
This is the solution recommended by my friend at Pacific Lutheran University, David Allen: do wired whenever you have a fixed office (Pastor, Secretary, etc.) and supplement that connection with wireless for mobility in meeting rooms, visitor areas (even visitors in the fixed offices), but unless you're willing to invest time and money it's generally cheaper to use the cables than the wireless for your average building/installation area.
It is also possible to add stronger antennas to a wireless router or AP so that the signal reaches farther. I have experimented with this myself, however, and I was not particularly impressed with the results, especially considering that the antennas were quite expensive. Compared to pulling network cables through the wall, it might be worth a try.
I spent much of the week scratching my head as to how to get the signal down to that youth room in the basement of another wing of the building without drilling holes in the wall to run new wires. Then it finally hit me, don't run new wires, use ones that are already there. It may not work in some church buildings because of the way churches tend to be built in phases, but it may also be worth a try. Use your existing power lines to carry the signal from one area to another. It's called powerline networking and all the networking gear manufacturers carry some equipment that will help you to do it. C|Net.com has an article in their Do-It-Yourself section entitled Set Up a power-line network. You can go to cnet.com and enter powerline into the Search Box to find more information. They will also give you a list of current products from a variety of vendors. Another option, which I'm not going to go into in depth, would be to use the existing phone lines (www.homepna.org) to carry the data.
God's blessings on the ministry you do each day,
Pastor Andy Arnold
ELCA Youth Ministry Network's Tech Geek
P.S. - I hope to see you at the Extravaganza!