Wi-Fi access points are everywhere. Proper cabling is essential to the AP’s performance.
You have been working for months on a new wireless roll-out in a new building, renovation, or just a wireless upgrade. You are planning to install the newest WiFi access points from leading vendors and you have done extensive predictive modeling and on site measurements to ensure a high-density, highly-available wireless network. In your new network, "plugging in" is not an option for your highly mobile customers, so your wireless network is mission-critical.
Your wireless design is particularly challenging, due to the target building's construction styles and materials. You have to work with suspended ceilings, hard ceilings, high ceilings, high-density auditoriums, outdoor settings, and other difficult environments. Raising the bar on your design demands is the building architectural committee's desire to preserve historical or aesthetic values of the building. They would prefer the wireless access points just "disappear."
Adding to the challenge is the cabling supporting the wireless network should last for 15 years or more, requiring you to think about the emergence of new, faster wireless technologies, and how to leverage the installed cabling for new wireless technologies.
Improperly mounting, or connecting to, the wireless AP will degrade wireless performance, serviceability, and scalability. For example, it may be desirable aesthetically to hide the AP above a suspended ceiling or behind a wall, but the wireless designer knows there are drawbacks in performance and serviceability in doing so.
This article offers some solutions for properly installing and mounting WiFi access points for optimum performance, featuring solutions which are aesthetically acceptable in most environments without trading off performance. The article also discusses TIA compliant cabling solutions to wireless APs and emerging trends in high speed copper cabling.
Throughput is increasing
802.11ac Wave 1,Wave 2, 802.11ad, 802.11ax
802.11ac accounted for 39% of AP sales in 2015, and is forecasted to be 65% of 19.3 million enterprise APs sold in 2016 (ABI forecast). 802.11ac Wave 2 will be significant component of enterprise APs and new client devices in 2016. The trend is very clear; you will need to be able to support 802.11ac Wave 2 maximum throughputs immediately. But what is the “maximum throughput?” AP Manufacturers spec sheets claim “over the air” PHY data rates in excess of 1 Gbps. But take a closer look at the manufacturer’s application notes and technical articles and you will see that, in practice, TCP throughput (at the cable connector) will not be pressed beyond 1 Gbps (in the near term) even with 802.11ac Wave 2. So, while some cabling manufacturers suggest that you must have Category 6A cabling to support Wave 2 access points, that’s not presently true. (It is recommended that new cable installs should be Category 6A; more on that later).
Without going into details about the differences in 802.11ac Wave 1 (Single User MIMO) and Wave 2 (Multi-User MIMO), Multi-user (MU) MIMO can help to reduce contention and increase throughput, particularly in high density environments, and can double AP throughput in high density areas. MU-MIMO does require client support, as it requires feedback from the client device, but in 2016 Wave 2 client devices will become common. With the ability to engage multiple clients simultaneously, Wave 2 will provide the biggest benefit in high-density classroom and auditorium environments, but, in practice, will not immediately require a cable infrastructure that exceeds 1 Gb/s to each AP. At least, not until more Wave 2 client devices are connected to the network, and access points are set to their highest bandwidth capability.
The recently released IEEE 802.11ad amdendment uses wide bandwidth channels in the 60 GHz band to provide for unprecedented data rates. Products using 802.11ad, sometimes called WiGig, do provide for TCP throughput rates beyond 1 Gig at the connector, so you should consider that in the near future you may very well be using “tri-band” (2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, 60 GHz) access points that will require a cabling infrastructure beyond 1 Gig. 60 GHz waveforms will not penetrate walls, so “tri-band” access points will have to be located in every room, with direct line-of-sight connections to client devices.
Likewise, the evolving IEEE802.11ax standard uses advanced coding and modulation to extract TCP throughputs in excess of 1 Gbps. Considering that APs are refreshed every 3 to 7 years, and the cabling is designed to last 15 years, any new cable plant should certainly provide for TCP throughputs greater than 1 Gig.
The NBase-T alliance is a consortium of companies created to carry out the stated mission “to promote the development of 2.5 and 5 Gigabit Ethernet technology for enterprise infrastructure.” Its efforts aim to enable the transmission of data rates at 2.5 and 5 Gb/s over existing, installed Category 5e and 6 cabling. This would allow technology upgrades and refreshes to wireless infrastructure (switches and access points) to the new standards-compliant models, without changing out the installed cabling plant.
The vast majority of installed cable plant is Category 5e and Category 6, which is only rated to 1 Gb/s over 100m. Since most cable infrastructure is intended to last for 15 or more years, NBase-T allows users to extend the lifespan of the installed cable by refreshing the electronics at each end of the cable. The IEEE has a task force (P802.3bz 2.5/5Gig taskforce) to create an amendment to standardize 2.5/5 Gig products.
TIA Standards for Wireless
For cabling professionals, what is the position of the TIA regarding installation of new access points? The TIA has updated the Telecommunications Systems Bulletin TSB-162 “Telecommunications Cabling Guidelines for Wireless Access Points” with new recommendations. TSB162-A was developed by the TIA TR-42.1 Commercial Building Cabling Subcommittee and published in November, 2013. Significant changes from the previous edition include:
- Category 6A balanced twisted-pair cabling or OM3 optical fiber cabling is recommended for support of WLANs
- Information on using link aggregation (the use of multiple equipment outlets (EOs) for a single access point) to support greater than 1 Gbps WiFi transmission rates and/or increased power requirements was added
- Maximum link length calculations were modified to account for different equipment cord types
- Information on wireless access point mounting options was added
- Information on physical security for wireless access points was added, including use of a locking enclosure
So, clearly, any new cabling installations and plans should take into consideration recommendations from TIA 162-A, including the use of Category 6A cabling.
When mounting wireless access points, one should consider that TIA 568-C does not permit “direct attach” to the access point. The horizontal cable should be terminated in an equipment outlet (EO) such that the cabling infrastructure can be tested and certified independent of the access point installation. A short, flexible equipment cord is plugged into the access point from the EO. Many manufacturers will not warrant a direct attach cabling plant.
In an access point enclosure, a surface mount jack can be used to terminate the horizontal cable, and a (non-plenum-rated) equipment cord is then plugged into the AP.
Oberon’s plenum-rated ceiling enclosures include a firestop grommet (top) which is large enough for 2 Category 6A cables. When installed in Oberon enclosure, the back-box is effectively sealed from fire, smoke, and dust.
Wireless networks are particularly mission-critical in hospital environments and so both the TIA and BICSI have published documents regarding cabling and wireless in healthcare environments. The TIA 117 ANSI/TIA-1179 Healthcare Infrastructure Standard addresses the special requirements for cabling, pathways, and wireless in hospitals. Of special concern is the critical nature of the data network in hospitals and observation of infection control requirements (ICR) in hospitals, restricting access to air-handling spaces. Typically, in a hospital, even lifting ceiling tiles is an action which requires a “permit” and submittal of infection control risk assessment (ICRA) documentation.
BICSI 004-2012, Information Technology Systems Design and Implementation Best Practices for Healthcare Institutions and Facilities, has been released to provide guidance on the issues specific to the healthcare environment. This documentation includes an annex on Infection Control Risk Assessment (ICRA) procedures. BICSI’s Medical Grade Wireless Utility provides recommendations for designing multiple wireless networks in a hospital, with recommendations for installing WiFi access points in enclosures to simplify maintenance and access.
BICSI’s Medical Grade Wireless Utility recommends installing WiFi access points in an enclosure to simplify maintenance and access. Oberon’s ceiling enclosures feature a quick-release interchangeable door. The enclosure door can be removed and replaced to permit migration to new access points without lifting ceiling tiles or removing any hardware.
Mounting APs on Walls with Right-Angle Brackets
Leading AP vendors have designed their enterprise access points such that the antenna provides a pattern of coverage optimized by the AP being mounted in a “horizontal” orientation in the ceiling. The antennas integrated within the access point are designed to approximate the pattern of a vertically-oriented dipole antenna, creating a donut-shaped wireless coverage pattern around the access point. When mounted “horizontally” in the ceiling, the AP antenna pattern has the most gain through the room space the AP is in, and less gain above and below the AP, say, to adjacent floors of the building. This antenna pattern can help wireless designers provide effective coverage within the room and minimize interference on adjacent floors.
Model 1006-CCOAP (left) right-angle brackets are designed to mount leading vendors’ APs in the preferred orientation.
Model 1011 (Right) right-angle bracket can be placed directly over wall outlet, and conceals wall outlet and equipment cord.
ARTICULATING WALL MOUNTS FOR ANTENNAS AND APs
Oberon offers articulating wall mounts for antennas and APs so that zones of coverage can be created with directional patch antennas. High-density WiFi designs in auditoriums and classrooms will challenge any wireless designer. Concealing the antenna and AP, or at least minimizing the appearance, is important. Oberon offers solutions to simplify the wireless designer’s task, while offering options to paint or otherwise conceal the antenna and AP assembly.
Model 1013 (left) two axis articulating wall mount for antennas and APs, permits the antenna to be pointed in the desired direction. Model 1013-COVER (Right) has a paintable vanity cover.
Wireless designers need solutions for mounting Antennas and APs in high density environments such as auditoriums. The mounting solution should allow the antenna to be pointed as required, and should be aesthetic so as to blend in with the environment.
Mounting AP in Hard Ceiling Areas
Oberon offers multiple solutions for mounting access points in hard ceiling areas, including recessed wall mounts for old and new construction, surface mount boxes, and surface mount enclosures. All of these products are intended to simplify the installation process and provide for an aesthetic installation.
Model 1042 Recessed AP Installation Kit for Hard Ceiling Area.s Model 1042 is for old construction or remodeling environments. The Model 1043 includes installation hardware for new construction environments. Both have a solid, firestopped back-box for ceilings with a fire rating. Trim pieces are available for leading enterprise AP vendors. Access-point-specific trim is included with the product. For different vendors' access points, specify the trim required. Note: the trim is interchangeable after installation.
Oberon’s Model 900 is a surface mount box for most vendors' access points. The 900 can be attached directly to the wall over the outlet, or attached to the outlet. A surface mount jack and equipment cord can be conveniently concealed inside the surface mount box.
Oberon’s Model 1016 non-metallic surface mount locking enclosure is large enough for Cisco’s AP and external MIMO antenna.
Mounting in Open Ceilings
Oberon offers solutions for conveniently mounting wireless access points in open ceilings commonly found in retail and restaurant environments.
Oberon’s Model 1008-AP-COVER can be mounted directly to “red-iron” open ceiling structures. It places the AP in the desired horizontal orientation and includes a black plastic cover to conceal the AP in open ceiling environment.
Oberon’s Model 900-HC is a hanging conduit or pendant mount for wireless access points. Attach the 900-HC to conduit, and most vendors' APs attach to the 900-HC. Mount a surface mount jack and equipment cord inside the 900-HC. Ideal for open ceilings, bring the AP down out of the metal work. Save installation time and expense.
RECESSED CEILING MOUNTS FOR CLOUD AND PANEL CEILING MOUNTS
Oberon’s economical 1040 and 1044 series recess ceiling mounts are something like recessed lighting. A back-box is placed above the ceiling, and a cutout is made for the AP in the ceiling panel or tile. The AP is attached to an AP-specific trim piece and bracket which is then drawn into the back-box and flush against the ceiling. Once installed, only the front face of the AP is visible, providing ideal wireless performance and added physical security.
The Model 1040 is for open ceiling environments. The Model 1044 has a solid, firestopped back-box for suspended ceilings with a fire rating. Trim pieces are available for leading enterprise AP vendors. Access-point-specific trim is included with the product. For different vendors' access points, specify the trim required. Note: the trim is interchangeable after installation. Please contact your Oberon representative for additional trim options.
Model 1040 Series Recess AP Installation Kit for Suspended Ceiling Panels
Model 1044 Series Recess AP Installation Kit for 2’ x 2’ Suspended Ceiling Tiles
A second version of the 1044 is available for use in hospitals, where there is a concern about lifting ceiling tiles and tightening the trim piece from the rear of the box (above the ceiling). The 1044-XX-F series has a larger front attached. With the 1044-XX-F series, once the back-box is installed, the trim piece with access point can be attached to the back-box from the front, rather than tightened in from the rear of the back-box. This will simplify access point swap out and maintenance in a hospital environment with ICRA procedures. For hospital environments, please specify the front attach trim.
Model 1044 – F Series Recess AP Installation Kit for Suspended Ceiling Tiles with Front Attach Trim Piece for Hospital Environments.
CEILING ENCLOSURES FOR STANDARD 2’ x 2’ SUSPENDED CEILING
Oberon’s 1046 and 1047 Series suspended ceiling access point mounting solutions are designed for the economics of high-density WiFi AP installation. These products are designed specifically for low-voltage, PoE-powered access points from leading vendors. These products are designed to drop into standard 2’ x 2’ suspended ceilings. The locking door provides an added degree of security. The easily interchangeable doors allow for simple migration to new access points simply by swapping out doors.
Model 1046 –CCOAP-T 2’ x 2’ Ceiling tile enclosure with interchangeable doors and –T “tegular” flange to match recessed grid ceiling tiles.