Now that we actually had some revenue coming in the focus returned to understanding what was going on with the wireless equipment. As with almost any failure, when we examined the situation we found a number of small problems were contributing to the wireless link not working.
In order to diagnose the problem I first made sure the wireless link was connecting at close range. With my notebook set up outside the house I verified I was connected and that could pass traffic reliably. Of course, I am standing 40 feet from antenna to antenna and I can see the access point’s antenna in the attic window from the ground.
Even at this range the wireless software was showing pretty good signal strength but not the 100% I expected. I shut down the notebook, removed the flat panel antenna with the 10 foot extension cable and screwed on the little rubber ducky antenna. When I powered up the notebook I was surprised to see the signal strength has actually increased!
Well, if that’s the case, I wondered what would happen if I were to replace the flat panel antenna in the attic with the little rubber ducky. When I got to the attic it occurred to me that perhaps the problem was with the 10 foot extension cable. I had previously verified it was a high loss cable (RG-58) and decided to see what would happen if I plugged the flat panel antenna’s pigtail directly into the PCMCIA card in the access point.
As I reached for the antenna, I realized that in my rush to set everything up for the initial test I had (without thinking) turned the antenna 90* sideways when I had placed it on the windowsill. This was done because the pigtail from the antenna came out from the bottom of the antenna and the antenna wouldn’t sit on the windowsill.
Since I was there I decided to remove the extension cable anyway. This meant the antenna would lose three feet of elevation but what’s three feet among friends, right?
With everything set back in place, the access point turned on and fully booted up I went back outside. When I checked for signal strength I saw that even with the rubber ducky antenna I was seeing a signal strength of 100%!
As it was almost time to pick my son up from school my wife and I jumped into the car (I had previously learned that hunting for signal by car wasn’t a very safe thing to do on one’s own) and off we went. At the house we had great signal strength and as we started heading down the hill things started to decay quickly. When we got to the bottom of the hill (roughly 1,500 feet away) we lost connection. This was right where I had lost the connection the first time I looked.
However, since the rubber ducky antenna was still attached to the PCMICA card I was sure if I used the 10db flat panel antenna things were bound to improve. So we shut down the notebook and exchanged antennas this time eliminating the extension cable. When the notebook powered back up we were somewhat surprised to find there was still no connection.
At this point we had collected more than a few strange looks. Picture this, we are stopped at an intersection on Main Street, pulled over to the side of the road with our notebook and flat panel antenna sticking out of the passenger side window of the car. (Keep in mind the pigtail on the antenna was only 6” long not leaving any slack for us to maneuver.)
Now, we were getting late and in a rather discouraged mood we pulled the equipment back into the car and set off for the elementary school. When we got there we pulled up in front of the school and waited for our son. Just for laughs, my wife decided to stick the antenna (notebook attached) out the window and check for signal. The school is a little over 1/2 mile from our home and after we couldn’t connect at 1,500 feet I wasn’t feeling very confident.
Surprisingly, when the notebook booted up, we have a solid connection. Signal strength was good and we could transfer data reliably! What a feeling.
But what was different? Why could we connect here and not at the bottom of the hill? The answer was simple once we understood. (Isn’t that always the case?) At the bottom of the hill from our house the signal was blocked by a few trees and additionally, the antenna was actually shooting over us. However, when we got father away and had clear LOS back to our house everything worked just like it was supposed to.
Some days things go a little better than others.