Access Points – like light fittings

A common problem when deploying wireless networks is the challenge of where to physically place the Access Points. APs are often not the most attractive devices – they’re also getting larger in the age of 802.11ax with eight antennas, or more!

Personally I don’t mind the look of most APs but when aesthetic concerns raise their head, it’s hard to help people understand that where the AP goes really does matter.

I’m currently working on a project that involves replacing APs nobody liked the look of so they were stuck above the ceiling tiles. The metal ceiling tiles. Basically hiding them behind a microwave door. Things work surprisingly well, considering.

The wireless nature of Wi-Fi leads people to believe it’s fine to hide APs out of sight, or place them in the most convenient location rather than the most effective.

There are ways of dealing with aesthetic concerns. Oberon is one company offering a wide variety of mounting options including ceiling tiles that recess the AP to make things more visually pleasing.

External antennas also offer the option of hiding that terribly ugly AP whilst ensuring the antenna is in the best location to serve clients.

The problem many wireless network engineers face is how to challenge the status quo. If currently the AP is shoved on top of a metal ceiling tile, facing the wrong way, and things sort of work, it can be hard to argue the case for doing it properly.

My approach, and one that I’ve found to be reasonably well received and understood, is to base my argument on manufacturer recommendations. It isn’t me saying this, it’s the hardware maker. I have pointed out in meetings that if the aircon is supposed to be installed horizontally on the ceiling, in the centre of the room, you’re unlikely to decide to put it vertically on one wall.

I also tend to compare APs with another device that emits radiation in the electromagnetic spectrum – lights.

Light fittings radiate with a specific pattern. The office I’m sitting in right now has LED ceiling tile panels. These throw light down over a large area with, probably, a 120 degree beam pattern so crucially not much light goes out the other side into the ceiling void. You wouldn’t put these upside down and expect to have a well lit office.

APs should be viewed the same way. The antenna pattern of any access point is part of the network design. To compromise this is to compromise the design. Exactly how you get this message across is one of the soft skills required by the wireless network engineer.