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Test Environment

Beamforming: The Best WiFi You’ve Never Seen

Knowing that beamforming should give 2x to 4x the signal distance of conventional 802.11n, I knew we needed a test environment bigger than a regular house could provide. Since I don’t have access to any mansions, I went with the next-best thing: the 7,000-square foot headquarters office of Structured Communications in Clackamas, Oregon. This office takes up most of the 11,000-square foot top floor of its building. Special thanks go out to Structured for letting Tom’s Hardware invade their space for two days of setup and testing.

I tested in five locations, seeking to get a decent mix of scenarios. For reference, here’s the office floor plan with each of the five locations marked. The numbers noted next to locations 2, 3, 4, and 5 are the approximate distances in feet from these test sites back to location 1, where the access point sat.


Test Location 1. This is home base, where we set up our small mountain of equipment. No, not everything got used—we had some backup gear, just in case. In some of the pictures shown previously, I stacked the access point on top of the controller for convenience. During actual testing, these were kept separate to reduce interference, as you can see in this image of our Cisco setup. When testing in this location, the client was about two to three feet from the AP—essentially point-blank range.

Test Location 2. This is pretty much a straight shot down an aisle and across the office floor from location 1. You can see the meeting chairs in location one way off in the distance.

In retrospect, I should have maintained line of sight between the client and access point for this test. Instead, the access point is tucked just around the right corner of the doorway. So rather than line of sight, I instead have the straight path moving through a long wall line. Who ever gets straight line of sight on indoors wireless, anyway? And if you’re curious, yes, that’s me looking so out of place doing Zap testing that two people had to stop and stare.

Test Location 3. This spot made sense, as it was located straight across the building and entailed pushing the signal straight through several walls—no way to bounce your way out of this one. As you can see, the ThinkPad is only detecting four nearby access points in this fairly quiet location. On other areas around the floor, I picked up over a dozen.

Test Location 4. Laterally, this was our longest and most isolated location, sealed off within another meeting room at the far end of the office. In the world of indoor WiFi, reaching through 100 feet of crowded, highly-sectioned space is insane. You’d normally want at least one more access point in operation here. In fact, Ruckus told us that four of the 7962s would be advisable...compared to 10 or more conventional access points. So, if we could get decent performance at this range, it would be a near-miracle.

Test Location 5. As you walk out the door of Structured’s office, there’s an open area largely filled by a glass-walled chasm that runs the height of the building. In order to test signal reach in three dimensions instead of the usual two, I set up shop on a table at ground level, down two floors. To determine the 95-foot signal distance, I had to use the Pythagorean Theorem, something I vowed in eighth grade Geometry class would never happen during my post-school lifetime. Never say never.

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