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Fixing a wireless network link

17 May 2016  | Michael Dunn

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Since moving to our new home, I've been trying to mend a 200m wireless network link (it brings Internet connectivity to a second building). It has been working, but because there isn't a clear line-of-sight, and because it uses the easily absorbed 2.4GHz band, performance inversely correlates to dampness. Wet snow or heavy rain will wipe out the link.

Before trying anything too fancy – like external antennas or Fresnel RF lenses – I took the low-tech approach and experimented again with the link locations. Moving the "base station" link 10m northwest made a significant improvement: 12dB or more in bad weather, somewhat less is good. This brought bad-weather performance to better than what good-weather performance used to be. Yay.

Note that though the links are made for outdoor use, I preferred to keep them inside, where I'm sure they'll last longer. I don't know how much signal strength I would gain without walls in the way.

Now that I had a more acceptable signal (the range is about -79 to -74dBm), the links' built-in speed test returned from 7-18 Mbit/s. "Excellent", I thought. But then I visited Speedtest.net via the remote network, and performance...sucked, to use the technical term. Ping time was good, and upload speed was perhaps being limited by my actual Internet connection, but download speed was around 700 kbit/s. What?

This made no sense to me. I might not have the fastest connection around, but I usually get 2-3.5 Mbit/s. What was going wrong?

As I've written previously, these EnGenius ENH202 links are pretty good quality, but suffer from utterly worthless manuals. So...it was just me and the 202's configuration screens. Who would emerge victorious?

My first thought was WiFi interference. I explicitly set all the WiFi channels: routers at both ends to 1, links to 11. No help.

There's a link distance setting (1-30km). I have no idea what it does, but did have it set to ~15km, thinking that might up the Rx sensitivity (it hadn't). Imagining the setting might impose some sort of turnaround delay (unlikely, but one's imagination can get carried away), I reset the distance to 1km. No help.

What else could I try? Well...the links support all the fashionable 802.11 modes (B, G, & N), and were set to Mixed. Given the relatively unstable signal strength (moving foliage or raindrops), I next reasoned (in total ignorance of course) that perhaps the mode kept switching, causing repeated connection pauses. I set the mode to "N Only". No help.




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