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Wireless Network for Very Large House

A co-worker of mine has a fairly large home (5,000+ sq ft) with 3 floors. He has asked for some help with his wireless network, but the most I've ever really played with is DD-WRT on my own Linksys router. Its range is fine for my smaller home, but in his case I'm really not sure what to recommend. I've researched a few different options like an extenders, but those seem like a fairly poor solution since they create an entirely different SSID. As you move from room to room on different devices, the devices will want to stay connected to a single network, rather than moving from one to the other based on your proximity to the extender or wireless router. It just doesn't make much sense to me if the area you are attempting to cover is larger than a single extender can help with.

Ideally, this is sort of what I thought might help, but I'm not even sure if a product like this exists. The ethernet over powerline options seem great and I don't see why someone couldn't use this to push your network to other areas of the house. However, here is where I get stuck, because you would then want to take that signal and send it out wirelessly where the powerline terminates. Additionally, my hope is that this resulting new wireless network would look identical to the wireless network from the router. You could set up a few of these around the house and essentially have one very large wireless network and it would not require you to manually move from wireless network to wireless network.

Does this make any sense? I've seen enterprise solutions that appear to do this very thing, but I'm not sure I've seen any consumer products like this. If someone could offer me a recommendation I would appreciate it.
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  1. Best answer
    What you want exists but will likely cost more that the house you want to put it in.

    The word extender is so misused, they would likely call a 100ft ethernet cable extender and charge $29.99 and hope someone stupid enough would buy it.

    So first you do not want to use any form of wireless repeater....at least the cheap ones that only use a single radio. True repeaters with 2 independent radios are almost impossible to find because of the people who buy base on price only.

    Using powerline extenders with wireless AP on the end is close to the solution used in corporate offices. If you can use ethernet cable it is much better but the powerline units do work most the time. You have to be somewhat careful though like wireless there is only a fixed amount of bandwidth that you can use on home electrical wires. It varies greatly from house to house but you can not put a unlimited number of power line devices in. Some systems claim to support up to 10 but how many you can actually make work would have to be tested in that house.

    So lets assume you could use ethernet cable and put in AP and they all have the same SSID. Sounds like you have your magic system but you do not. This is where the system that costs more than your house comes into play. The key requirement that you can not do cheaply is the ability to move from room to room and move between the AP so you always have the strongest signal. The reason you cannot do this is not the SSID it is the encryption keys. If you move from AP to AP you must re authenticate and regenerate all the keys. This is fundamental to how the security works. The way they get around this is to use a controller that in effect lets that AP communicate securely to allow this. The cisco system that does this has a general name called ipmobility. It actually does much more than just let you roam AP it will let you roam AP where you IP addresses changes (like between floors in a large building) and it even will roam to other platforms such as cellular broadband if you move outside the coverage area of corporate wireless network. Maybe one day the open source guys will develop one of these controllers for AP but as of now it is a outrageously expensive appliance device that only large corporation can afford.

    Best you can hope for is using a number of AP connected by powerline and ethernet cables sharing a SSID. But sharing the SSID means you have no control over which AP the PC uses it will lock onto one and never change until it completely loses the signal. You have to manually drop and reestablish the session to have it use the strongest signal.
  2. Thank you Bill. what you provided really explains a lot. One more question if you don't mind, around the encryption keys. The house in question actually sits on a large piece of land. Also, what they have connected to the network is really nothing that requires much security. What if the network was simply wide open with different access points and they all reflected the same SSID? Would this allow the system to jump from channel to channel without any issues?
  3. They can already jump from AP to AP even with the encryption. It is just the delay that causes the issues. It causes the largest issues when you are not using pre shared keys (ie enterprise mode) since it must contact a external server every time. In any case the disruption is only a couple of seconds but that is long enough to drop or cause major disruption for things like VoIP calls.

    It will reduce the delay it takes to move from AP to AP if you run a open system since it now only has to move the mac address and the tiny delay to do the actual connection.

    I suspect though that is not your question. The major problem is that the PC will continue to use a AP that has very poor signal even though you are sitting right on top of a better signal. Because of the issues with the security and other delays the default is to not switch until the signal is pretty much unusable. You can adjust this in the client settings...I forget exactly where so that it changes quicker. Of course the risk you now take is that it jumps back and forth more than you want. This is very tricky thing to set but with a open system it would switch back and forth faster.

    This whole issue is where the big companies like cisco load special application that talk to the controller and let the controller cause the jump. This works very similar to how cell towers control which phones talk to which towers.
  4. They can already jump from AP to AP even with the encryption...quotemsg]

    Thanks a ton Bill. This has all helped me a great deal. I appreciate it.
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