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Setting up network for hostel with 100-120 users

Last response: in Wireless Networking
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December 24, 2013 2:02:08 PM

Hello all,

I am trying to set up a network for my hostel so all of my guests have access to the wireless network all the time. Currently I have set up a basic network with a username and password.

My problem right now is that everyone seems to have trouble connecting when they first arrive, or sometimes after their device has been off the network for awhile and tries to connect again.

The current setup is this:

A Cisco Wireless router/modem Model: Cisco EPC2325 with am Apple Airport extreme connected to it. Upstairs I have a TP-Link router being used as a repeater to boost the signal to the 3rd floor.

At the moment there are 2 separate wireless networks set up; 1 from the Cisco, and 1 from the Airport Extreme - For the simple reason that I could not, for some unknown reason, use the Airport as a repeater for the Cisco routers signal.

I am rather new to making networks bigger than a personal one at my house, so maybe there are some settings I am over looking somewhere?

Currently I have left everything default except the user name/password. So why then does everyone have such a hard time connecting to the network, and what can I do about it?
December 24, 2013 2:14:57 PM

For something as large as a couple hundred users, you should really be looking at a "Enterprise" class solution. Any consumer product will melt under those conditions as you have found. If you want a "old school" approach, look into Cisco or Aruba wireless. They have a controller based setup where you have a wireless controller that manages multiple access points. This will be expensive to say the least. A cisco wireless controller for 6 Access points is around $500 + each access point you want to add. However, the new "in" thing is Meraki... https://meraki.cisco.com/ All cloud based, perfect for what your looking for. All configuration happens in the "cloud" and you can even do a portal page etc... With the meraki solution, you would setup the same SSID (Wireless ID) and setup multiple access points. The clients will automatically join the best access point, and the access point will "kick" clients off and move them to another access point. That is what I would suggest.

Also, definitely get rid of the repeater, it will kill your performance.

--joe
December 24, 2013 2:45:15 PM

Hi Joe,

Thanks for the advice! Your solution seems to be a bit out of our budget for the time being, and possibly we do not need anything that "hi tech" Our guests will not be doing anything intensive on the network. Most do not even stream a movie or download anything. The main purpose of the network is to have access to email, messaging apps on phones, and booking flights / hostels to other destinations.

The Airport Extreme is supposed to have 50 seats on it is it not? At the moment the most we have ever had connected to our network at one time has been 32 different devices. People just do not seem to be able to connect immediately, but after I reset the network, there is little or no problems at all. Until another guest comes for the first time and tries to connect.

Is the problem really that there are to many people accessing the devices at one time? At the moment our guest count is only max of 44 people + 2 computers we have here, and our personal computers devices (about 5 more). Eventually we will be up to 100-120, but not for another 6 months or so.

Again though, there will not be much heavy traffic on the network other than streaming music at the bar or the occasional person watching a movie online.

Are there any easier / less expensive ways I can get this working? Or do I need a more robust system?

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December 24, 2013 3:37:32 PM

You problem with resetting may be a DHCP issue if you have the lease set too long. You could also increase the subnet to a /22 or something and then it is likely you would not run out of ip.

There is a huge difference between users connected to a AP and being idle to ones actively using it. Most designs use 10 active people per AP but what active means varies a lot. You get 3 users even running minor youtube video and you are gone in most cases. The wireless does not share bandwidth very well since there really is no control over who transmits and when.

So even if we use 10 users per AP and you have 100 users you really should have 10 AP. And optimally these AP should be of different channels. That is not possible when you use 2.4g so you have to get creative and reduce the power on the AP and space them out physically.

This is not a trivial project. It will takes a considerable amount of planning for the placement of the AP based on where the users are located. Even then if you get 1 user doing bad stuff it can cause a major impact.

December 25, 2013 2:22:59 PM

Thanks much for the reply bill001g. I changed a few settings in the router and it seems to be responding better. For now I have done this:

Changed the number of CPEs from 20 to 50
Changed the DHCP lease time from 87000 sometime to 10800. (effectively changing it from almost 24 hrs to 3 hrs. Would changing it to 3600 = 1 hr do anything helpful?)
Tried to change my laptop to a static IP using my MAC address, but it tells me the address is either out of range, or it is duplicate, or another error message. Still working this out. I want to have static IPs for my laptop, and the rest of our in house devices.

Simple changes, but they seem to be effective for now anyway. I will have to install a few more routers in the next 6 months, and that is where it will get hairy. Fortunately, our building layout is 3 buildings side by side and 3 floors up, so I can decrease the output power and space them out accordingly without to much difficulty I think if that is a viable solution.

I would like to get some bigger equipment as previously suggested by Joe, but I just do not think it will be in our budget for some time. In the future we will look at that option though.

Our biggest difficulty is having a strong enough signal on the 3rd floor since the signal has to pass through a brick floor/wall or multiple floors/walls to reach guests in their rooms. Repeating the signal using a router as repeater is the only solution I can think of... We have wired up our 2nd building 1F and 2F to hard wire in the routers so we do not need repeaters, but the cables are not yet ready to hook up. I hope this will solve any issues with a weak signal / using a repeater.

At the moment we do not mind if guests have a weak signal, and neither do they as long as they have SOME connectivity. We live in Thailand, so the internet is limited (to outside country sites to 5.4Mbps). So it does not matter that much anyway since almost all sites our guests want to access will be hosted outside of Thailand.

On that note, can I do anything with a VPN or a better DNS server to help our speed in this regard or is it still going to be limited through our ISP?

Thanks much for any help!

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December 25, 2013 3:26:19 PM
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repeaters make the user density issue even worse. You at the very minimum will lose 50% and the more traffic you run the worse it gets.

If that is your only option then I guess you just hope it is good enough.

normally I would recommend powerline ethernet devices but I have not tried those in a commercial building. they tend work the best if the path between the 2 devices is as simple as possible. You never know with these thing other than to try them. If they work they work much better than a wireless repeater.

I suspect you will end up running wires even if that means running them on the outside of the building.

You should be able to assign static DHCP address in the router. This is different than assigning them static in the PC because the PC still asks for a IP address the router just always give the same one. What you do when you actually assign addresses to a pc you put then in the exclude list on the router. Either way you are configuring the router so I tend to use static DHCP assignments so I only have to do the router and not the PC.
December 27, 2013 4:36:04 PM

Thanks again bill001g.

I will keep the repeaters to a minimum and try to do another network for the other buildings. For now, tweaking the settings such as I have has fixed most of the problem. we have had a few guests over the last few days ask why they could not connect, but most of the time they just need to restart their device and it works fine. It seems the 24h lease was part of the problem anyway.

I may still drop it down to a 1h time and see if that fixes it completely for now. Later I will have to come up with a better solution to expand ( probably separate networks to join with a proper heavy duty device instead of a bunch of routers as repeaters. We will have to see what we can do when the time comes though.

For now, I have assigned IP addresses to each device through the router and not the PCs and set the lease a bit lower. Hopefully we will have less issues with a duplicate IP address problem and the network will not kick users offline as much.

Anyway, thank you much for the advice.

Cheers!
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