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Problems with "rubber ducky" antennas

I have inherited a network with two Linksys WAP54G routers configured as wireless bridges to connect two buildings located 400 feet apart, each with a Ethernet LAN (one housing all servers and DSL connection to the world. Traffic is mainly Internet and access to an AIX box (9600 baud screens). This connection goes down constantly. What do I need to measure to solve this connectivity issue?
If you're using the default "rubber ducky" antennas to connect two APs located inside a pair of buildings that are 400 feet apart, then I'm not surprised that you're experiencing poor signal quality. You would probably fare better with external directional antennas, mounted outdoors and positioned to better focus available output power. The dipole antennas on most APs spread signal in all directions, which in your bridged configuration is wasting much of the available power.

To really dig into your problem, you could use an RF spectrum analyzer like YellowJacket to examine the output signal and diagnose sources of RF spectrum interference. Alternatively, you could use a WLAN analyzer like AirMagnet or WildPackets AiroPeek to measure signal strength and watch the protocol interaction that occurs when the association drops between your bridging APs. However, because you're using two identical products, you're probably not struggling with an interoperability or mismatched configuration problem. You can probably just quickly verify that your problem is poor signal strength by running a shareware tool like NetStumbler.

Place a laptop running NetStumbler next to one AP to view the current signal-to-noise ratio of their association. If SNR is consistently less than 20, then take steps (like using external antennas) to increase signal quality between your bridging APs. If SNR varies widely over time, then you're experiencing another problem like multi-path that requires further digging and might be addressed by repositioning APs or antennas to avoid obstructions reflecting RF. Links to these and other WLAN diagnostic tools can be found on my website's WLAN Tools page.

This was last published in January 2004

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