Tech Notes: Extending Your Network to Remote Buildings / Sites

The technical limit to an Ethernet run is 100 meters or roughly 328 feet. If you want to run a line further than that, you typically move to fiber or you need an active booster in the middle of the link. 

What happens when you need to run to a site across a paved parking lot? What about a site down the block or across a valley or body of water? That is where the Wireless Network Bridge comes into play. 

The wireless network bridge uses two radios to carry your network traffic between networks. The radios can be licensed or unlicensed, and can stretch for a few hundred feet to many miles apart. Each radio is typically placed in bridge mode (versus router) and is connected via Ethernet into the local network on each side. Speeds are typically below 500Mbps but there are higher cost options that can take you upwards of 1Gbps or more. Speaking of cost, how expensive is the hardware? On the low end, a pair of unlicensed 5GHz radios could be around $100 – $150. 

Common vendors include Ubiquiti, Cambium, and Mikrotik. Their solutions are solid and can be built without a large investment. They have flexible product lines that you can use to build out complex environments. There are many wireless Internet service providers around the world using their equipment to provide Internet service to clients in rural or underserved areas. With equipment from these vendors, we can design and build point-to-point and multipoint solutions. 

Here are some examples of where this solution could be used:

  • You want to set up remote cameras on your network but cannot run Ethernet to them. A point-to-multipoint solution could broadcast from the roof towards multiple remote locations. Each location has a radio with the camera plugged into it (or there is a switch involved for multiple cameras or maybe access points). 
  • You want to extend your Internet access to the barn or garage that is not close to the house.
  • Expanding the above solution, you have multiple outbuildings that need service.
  • You want to implement remote key entry systems on your parking lot.
  • You want to expand your wireless network to work on a event venue field in areas where you can’t run wires and mesh wireless is not a good option.
  • You want to build a back up link between offices that are currently connected via a leased fiber connection. 
  • You want to replace the fiber connection between locations to reduce costs but yet provide high levels of service. 

Our go to product has been Ubiquiti AirMax radios for the typical wireless bridge. For clients that need a short link up to about a mile with very little interference in the area, we recommend the NanoStation Loco AC or NanoStation AC radios. For links upwards of 2-3 miles or needing a pass through PoE port, we recommend the NanoBeam AC Gen2 radios. For longer links (upwards of 5-7 miles), we recommend the LiteBeam CPE radios or PowerBeams. For multipoint broadcasts, we recommend the LiteBeam AP sector to broadcast to multiple AirMax radios. These solutions will provide up to 450Mbps under the right conditions. 

For longer connections (upwards of 10 miles or more) you will need to consider Rocket Radios with a dish on each end or an AirFiber solution (likely licensed 11GHz or unlicensed 5GHz). They also offer an unlicensed 24GHz solution that can handle 1Gbps links up to a few miles. 

Before you can build one of these solutions, you should conduct a site survey with a trained and experienced wireless engineer. They will ensure you have line of sight, can clear Fresnel zones, and can comply with local regulations and licensing. They can also select the right solution based on your environment and needs. 

The author:

Alex Wilson is the co-owner of Collabsion, a technology consulting firm that specializes in wireless networking solutions. These solutions include WiFi, point-to-point, and point-to-multipoint networks that can span great distances. Collabsion can also provide consulting services related to process improvement, project management, business continuity planning, and office support services.