Everyone loves the convenience and accessibility Wi-Fi has brought us. As is often the case with technology, it’s great—when it works. When a building owner or tenant discovers “dead spots” that are difficult or impossible to reach with a Wi-Fi signal, the challenge is not. “Can we provide service there?” More often it is, “How do we aesthetically and cost-effectively provide service there?” Depending on the location, there may be good options for bringing a reliable Wi-Fi signal to those difficult areas.
Wireless wall outlets
If an area is accessible with Ethernet cables, then wall-mount wireless access points can provide an aesthetically agreeable Wi-Fi solution. However, be sure to choose wireless devices that are manufactured consistently with the already operating wireless network at that site.
For example, if the facility already is using an Aruba wireless network (www.arubanetworks.com), then the wall-mount Wi-Jack Duo wireless wall outlets by Ortronics/Legrand (www.ortronics.com) are the smallest and least obtrusive wireless access points on the market. They come in molded enclosures that mount in a standard single-gang wall outlet with a standard 110 termination. They use Power over Ethernet (PoE) technology, so the network will require PoE injectors in the telecommunications room to function. The wireless wall outlets are available in two versions: one with just a wireless access point and the other with an embedded 10/100 Ethernet port.
If the dead zone is in a place that cannot be cabled with a standard Ethernet cable, then under-carpet cable, available from several manufacturers, may be the solution. For example, Hitachi Cable Manchester Inc. (www.hcm.hitachi.com) makes a thin Category 5e that is similar in size to a flexible plastic ruler (1⁄8-in. × 13⁄8-in.). It is designed to function effectively and unnoticed under carpet squares or rolled carpet. The “wings” of the cable can be peeled off if it needs to pass through conduit or fish down a hollow wall for part of its run. Similarly, Video Products Inc. (www.vpi.us) makes a super flat cable (1⁄16-in. x 1⁄3-in.), available on spools or in premolded patchcords. These Cat 5e cables are ideal for hiding under carpets or installing in areas where unsightly exposed cables or patch cords just won’t do.
Finally, another potential lifesaver for a network-unfriendly building may be Cat 5e cable from FlatWire Technologies (www.flatwireready.com), which can be invisibly wall-mounted to previously unreachable locations. The FlatWire cable is eight-thousandths of an inch wide—thinner than a business card. Once attached to the wall, it is covered with a mesh tape and then a concealing compound; when that dries and is sanded, it can be painted or wallpapered to become virtually invisible.
“If you can repaint, then you can FlatWire,” said Robb Sexton, the product inventor and president of Southwire’s FlatWire Technologies Division.
The current product line includes a two-pair Cat 5e Ethernet (10/100 Mbps) cabling kit that includes field-installed termination devices for each end, each with a female RJ45 port. This may or may not support a PoE wireless access point; FlatWire reports that it has not yet tested the cable for PoE (but plans are in the works). But the cable will support a Cat 5e signal for an externally powered wireless access point or Ethernet network jack and may be the only option that will aesthetically work in some building locations.
These are four products that certainly need to be in your arsenal of solutions as you try to get computer network functionality into your Wi-Fi-challenged space.
MUNYAN is a freelance writer in the Kansas City, Kan. area, specializing in business writing and telecommunications. He can be reached at www.russwrites.com.