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When your Wi doesn't Fi: office connectivity challenges can be re-routed.

It's pretty likely that at some point your network is going to have to be expanded to an area that isn't wired for Ethernet. The problem becomes even more pressing when you consider that most of today's devices, such as smartphones and tablets, often rely on a Wi-Fi connection to communicate with the Internet. Even though most smartphones can access the Internet over a cellular connection, it's usually more cost-effective to use Wi-Fi.

While wired Ethernet is faster than WiFi, pulling cable through walls and ceilings is expensive. A Wi-Fi router or access point can provide broadband connectivity to your organization for about the same cost as one wired Ethernet drop.

Perhaps you have found that Wi-Fi has its limitations. You might be running Wi-Fi and find it doesn't reach into some areas of your offices that need a network connection. It might be because they are too far, or because there are just too many walls in the way, the walls are very thick, or there's considerable metal, such as framing, in the walls that block the Wi-Fi signal.

In this case, you could pull cable and add a wall jack. The standard for wired gigabit Ethernet cable runs is 100 meters, or about 320 feet. If your cable run is going to be longer than that, you'll need a device called an Ethernet Repeater, which takes the signal on the cable and boosts it in both directions so you can have cable runs longer than 100 meters.

Between the cost of labor for pulling a long cable run and the price of an Ethernet repeater (usually $150 or more), you're looking at hundreds of dollars for adding a single wired Ethernet connection, especially if it's needed at some distance from your Ethernet router or switch.

There are a number of relatively inexpensive approaches to extending your network. You can try extending the network with a Powerline network adapter if you are going to need to use a wired Ethernet device at the network-less end. This approach requires at least two of these adapters. Powerline adapters encode the data and transmit it over the AC power lines you have in your offices. You need to plug one into a wall outlet near a switch or network wall drop, and the other into an AC wall outlet where you need the new Ethernet access.

Some of these adapters have more than one RJ-45 plug so that you can plug in multiple Ethernet devices. If the Powerline adapter that you select has only a single EJ45 (Ethernet) plug and you need more, you can always run a patch cable from the Powerline adapter into an inexpensive Ethernet switch that has multiple ports.

An example of a Powerline kit is the Linksys PLSK400 Powerline AV network kit. It has a single port adapter for the switch where the network ends and a four-port adapter to use where you need the new Ethernet access. It costs about $60, which is far less expensive than pulling cable. The problem is that Powerline adapters don't always work if the wiring in your office uses multiple breaker boxes, or is just not wired correctly. So, make sure the kit is returnable if it fails to work.

Another answer that often works well is a Wi-Fi Range Extender. This is a device that's placed at the edge of the range of your Wi-Fi signal. It picks up the signal, boosts the power considerably, and retransmits it in both directions. There's no guarantee, but in many cases a Range Extender can increase your Wi-Fi network's reach by several hundred feet when placed between your router or access point and the place you need Wi-Fi. An example of this kind of device is Amped Wireless' TAP-EX2. It costs about $140, has a touch screen for easy setup, and high-powered radio amplifiers that can significantly boost your Wi-Fi network's range. It also offers three Ethernet ports so you can use devices that need wired Ethernet at the remote location.

Netgear is another vendor with a similar device, the EX7000 Nighthawk. At $ 170, it's a bit more expensive than the Amped Wireless device, but the Netgear offers four Ethernet ports in addition to its Wi-Fi range extending capability.

Both of these devices (and others from additional vendors such as D-Link) act as a Network Bridge, providing both Wi-Fi and wired Ethernet connectivity to a location 100 or more feet from the Wi-Fi reach you have now. And, if all you need is to extend your Wi-Fi range, or if, like many nonprofits there's simply not any money in the budget, you can purchase just a Range Extender without Ethernet Ports such as D-Link's DAP-1320. It won't give you the range or wired Ethernet ports of the more expensive models mentioned here, but it costs less than $40.

Ted Needleman is a technologist and longtime contributor to The Nonprofit Times. His email is
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Author:Needleman, Ted
Publication:The Non-profit Times
Date:Oct 1, 2015
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