Load Balance a wireless router?

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Before I start – not sure which stackexchange site this post is best for so if there’s a better suited one let me know and I’ll move it 🙂

If you think about airports that offer free WiFi, they clearly get a lot of connected devices. But these devices are generally spread out over a large so the load balancing takes place horizontally – IE having many different access points in different parts of the airport, each serving different devices.

On the other hand, if you look at events like BarCamps or other conferences (and I’m sure this applies to other use cases) you generally get 200 people in a fairly small venue (compared to an airport) and the WiFi network gets overloaded. Is there any way you could load balance this?

I’ve had a few ideas, but I’m not sure which would be best/if there are other ways.

1) have lots of wireless routers, with different ssids all connected to the same internet connection, and ask guests to connect to any of the wireless networks randomly

2) have lots of APs with the same ssid and internet connection, but broadcasting on low power so they only operate in a small area

3) have hidden wireless networks and one public one, have them be forced to connect to the hidden one upon connecting to the public one

1 and 3 will make the venue very noisey (in microwave radiation) and would probably make APs interfere

1 is easiest to implement but a little confusing if you don’t know what to connect to

2 would be a good idea, although some areas might get left out of a coverage area

I dont even think 3 is possible

Any other ideas?


2) have lots of APs with the same ssid and internet connection, but broadcasting on low power so they only operate in a small area

This, combined with effective channel management (making sure no two adjancent APs share the same channel 1, 6, or 11) is about the best you can do with WiFi, and is likely the most similar to how cell phone network operators split their cells when they become overloaded.

As I understand it, Cisco has a solution for it, which basically entails multiple access points, with each accepting or rejecting client association requests based on the loading of that AP.

See this post for a bit more detail, and this Cisco page for a lot more detail. Get some coffee before you start that second one!

There isn’t one answer – I have been to many airports that are rubbish/have frequent disconnections or similar.

Generally speaking, you want to look at enterprise/hospitality grade wireless devices such as Netgear’s ProSafe Wireless Controller range – http://www.netgear.com/business/products/access-points-wireless-controllers/wireless-management/WC7520.aspx (I am no way suggesting this over other devices – this is just the first one that comes to mind).

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