Mesh WiFi for Construction

Mesh WiFi for Construction

It used to be mark of a forward-looking company to have Wi-Fi in the job trailer. Now with the proliferation of online meetings and the connected nature of modern business, it has become a necessity. And just because most smartphones have built-in connections, does not mean that the jobsite will have adequate network coverage, or that the data plan allows unlimited usage. To conduct business in this digital age, you’ll need Wi-Fi attached to a high speed, unmetered internet connection on your jobsite and a solid Wi-Fi network in your main office.

While it used to be sufficient to have Wi-Fi in the job trailer only, ideally, you’ll have wireless internet anywhere on the jobsite. Your Superintendents should spend their day walking the jobsite with smartphone and tablet in hand, only returning to the job trailer for specialized tasks requiring a laptop or desktop. Most official visitors, inspectors, owners…etc. are also much more inclined to conduct business while touring the jobsite with their mobile devices.

If all the major cellular networks have great coverage, count yourself lucky. But if not, you’ll likely be wishing that the Wi-Fi in your trailer covered the rest of the jobsite. But the farther away you are from your router, the slower your connection becomes until it dies altogether. The good news is that a new breed of Wi-Fi router has emerged that allows easy deployment of Wi-Fi across your jobsite or main office. It’s called wireless mesh routing and along with several advances in the Wi-Fi standards, it will drastically extend the reach and speeds of your Wi-Fi network.

How it Works

Instead of having one giant router with giant antennae, mesh routers use multiple routers that link together seamlessly and intelligently to form a much larger network. Several manufacturers make them and their implementations vary a bit, but all use the same overall strategy:

  • Link multiple routers together wirelessly

  • Use multiple radio frequency bands to optimize speed

  • Intelligently connect each device to the router and band that will optimize speeds

  • Only one router requires a persistent internet connection

  • All other routers only require a power source

  • Daisy chain as many routers together to extend the network or fill in weak spots

  • Easy Setup: Plug in an additional router and add it to the network

Wi-Fi for the Office

Many construction companies are large enough that a single router just won’t provide the coverage they need in their main office. In the past, you either buy multiple routers and bridge them together (Wi-Fi Extenders), set up multiple networks in different parts of the office, or buy an expensive commercial system. The disadvantage of using network extenders is that devices often get pushed back and forth at inopportune times and causes stuttering and packet loss. The disadvantage of commercial systems is that they are expensive and must be hard wired together. Mesh routers are far superior because they are very affordable and cooperate together to maximize the connection quality and speed for each device that connects. They hand a device off seamlessly and even changing the radio frequency band (5GHz or 2.4GHz) that the device connects with to optimize speed (5GHz is faster, but 2.4GHz reaches farther). 

If your office suffers from Wi-Fi dead or slow spots, there is a good chance that mesh routers can help you out.

Wi-Fi for the Jobsite

Usually a single router will be sufficient for a job trailer, but if you want to extend your coverage into the building, you need only plug additional devices into power. You’ll just need to place it within range of another one.  If your trailer is far away from the building, you can optionally run an Ethernet cable from your router to the building then link the rest together wirelessly by plugging them into power within range of each other.  The range will vary depending on obstructions, but they normally need to be within 25-40 feet of each other.  Since you can link numerous devices together you can provide a very large Wi-Fi network, buy just plugging these into power.

This would be great for larger commercial buildings after you have temporary power.

Mesh Router Costs

There are several major manufacturers.  The most highly reviewed ones are Google Wifi, Eero, Orbi by Netgear, and Linksys Velop. Below are the costs for each on Amazon.com.  The Orbi is the only unit of the bunch where the primary router differs from the satellite.  The others use the same device as the primary router.

  • Google Wifi (Single $129, 3-Pack $299)

  • Eero (Single $179, 3-Pack $454)

  • Orbi by Netgear (Router and Satellite $399, Additional Satellite $249)

  • Linksys Velop (Single $199, 3-Pack $499)

These costs are much less that commercial hard wired systems, and all these support the latest standards in high speed Wi-Fi.

Technical Information

If you love learning the how and why of things then read on, otherwise skip to the summary. There are many terms that you’ll see when researching mesh routers.  Below I’ve tried to demystify some of them.

802.11ac Wave 2

Wi-Fi has many standards.  802.11ac is the latest and it came in two waves.  The second wave supports faster speeds and advanced technology like MU-MIMO, support for 160MHz, and up to 4 spatial streams.  All the routers I listed support 802.11ac Wave 2.

MU-MIMO

This stands for multi-user multiple input multiple output.  Basically, it allows devices to simultaneously transmit multiple streams of data to each other. A router that doesn’t support this has to alternate sending data to each device, one at a time.  Even if you have strong enough internet speeds, this can lead to stuttering video and delayed packets.  With MU-MIMO, the router can communicate simultaneously with multiple devices and that reduces latency and improves speeds and performance. Only very new equipment like mesh routers support this.

Spatial Streams

Using 802.11ac Wave 2, a router that supports MU-MIMO can send multiple streams of data simultaneously using multiple antennae. If it says the device is 2x2, it means it can send and receive 2 streams simultaneously.  If it says the device is 4x4, it means it can send and receive 4 streams simultaneously.  Most devices such as smartphones only have one antennae, so having your router support 4x4 MU-MIMO means it can more effectively and efficiently communicate with multiple devices, but won’t improve the speed to your phone by itself.  Some laptops have multiple antennae and are capable of sending and receiving multiple spatial streams.  All the routers listed above are 2x2.

Dual-Band vs. Tri-Band

With Wi-Fi routers, dual-band refers to the radio frequency bands 5GHz and 2.4GHz.  The 5GHz is much faster (1300Mbps) than 2.4GHz (450Mbps) but doesn’t reach as far.  2.4GHz is used by a lot of other devices like microwaves and garage door openers and is prone to interference.  Tri-band routers have one 2.4GHz band and two 5GHz bands.  For the router, having multiple bands is like having more lanes on a freeway. It doesn’t necessary make a single car go faster, but it allows more traffic to flow without causing congestion.  So having a tri-band router allows you to connect more devices with fewer issues.  Some mesh routers dedicate one band to inter-router communication, and they claim that improves performance.  Other mesh routers just alternate users between all two or three bands intelligently to maximize performance.

Summary

Mesh routers are a great choice for construction companies who need to fix trouble spots in their main office Wi-Fi network, and for extending their Wi-Fi network onto their jobsite.  Their low cost and easy setup make them ideal for most companies, regardless of their level of IT sophistication. Current mesh routers come with the latest technology to maximize your connectivity speeds, and advanced management features to make managing and securing your network easier than ever.

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