In most standard Wi-Fi routers, the three standards, a, b and g, are enough. But in long-range Wi-Fi, special technologies are used to get the most out of a Wi-Fi connection. The 802.11-2007 standard adds 10 MHz and 5 MHz OFDM modes to the 802.11a standard, and extend the time of cyclic prefix protection from 0.8 µs to 3.2 µs, quadrupling the multipath distortion protection. Some commonly available 802.11a/g chipsets support the OFDM ‘half-clocking’ and ‘quarter-clocking’ that is in the 2007 standard, and 4.9 GHz and 5.0 GHz products are available with 10 MHz and 5 MHz channel bandwidths. It is likely that some 802.11n D.20 chipsets will also support ‘half-clocking’ for use in 10 MHz channel bandwidths, and at double the range of the 802.11n standard.
802.11n and MIMO
Preliminary 802.11n working became available in many routers in 2008. This technology can use multiple antennas to target one or more sources to increase speed. This is known as MIMO, Multiple Input Multiple Output. In tests, the speed increase was said to only occur over short distances rather than the long range needed for most point to point setups. On the other hand, using dual antennas with orthogonal polarities along with a 2×2 MIMO chipset effectively enable two independent carrier signals to be sent and received along the same long distance path.
Power increase or receiver sensitivity boosting
Another way of adding range uses a power amplifier. Commonly known as “range extender amplifiers” these small devices supply usually around ½ watt of power to the antenna. Such amplifiers may give more than five times the range to an existing network. Every 6 dB gain doubles range. The alternative techniques of selecting a more sensitive WLAN adapter and more directive antenna should also be considered.
Higher gain antennas and adapter placement
Specially shaped directional antennas can increase the range of a Wi-Fi transmission without a drastic increase in transmission power. High gain antenna may be of many designs, but all allow transmitting a narrow signal beam over greater distance than a non-directional antenna, often nulling out nearby interference sources. A popular low-cost home made approach increases WiFi ranges by just placing standard USB WLAN hardware at the focal point of modified parabolic cookware. Such “WokFi” techniques typically yield gains more than 10 dB over the bare system; enough for line of sight (LOS) ranges of several kilometers and improvements in marginal locations. Although often low power, cheap USB WLAN adapters suit site auditing and location of local signal “sweet spots”. As USB leads incur none of the losses normally associated with costly microwave coax and SMA fittings, just extending a USB adapter (or AP, etc.) up to a window, or away from shielding metal work and vegetation, may dramatically improve the link.
The standard IEEE 802.11 protocol implementations can be modified to make them more suitable for long distance, point-to-point usage, at the risk of breaking interoperability with other Wi-Fi devices and suffering interference from transmitters located near the antenna. These approaches are used by the TIER project.
In addition to power levels it is also important to know how the 802.11 protocol acknowledge each received frame. If the acknowledgement is not received, the frame is re-transmitted. By default, the maximum distance between transmitter and receiver is 1-mile (1.6 km). On longer distances the delay will force retransmissions. On standard firmware for some professional equipment such as the Cisco Aironet 1200, this parameter can be tuned for optimal throughput. OpenWrt, DD-WRT and all derivatives of it also enable such tweaking. In general, open source software is vastly superior to commercial firmware for all purposes involving protocol hacking, as the philosophy is to expose all radio chipset capabilities and let the user modify them. This strategy has been especially effective with low end routers such as the WRT54G which had excellent hardware features the commercial firmware did not support. As of 2011, many vendors still supported only a subset of chipset features that open source firmware unlocked, and most vendors actively encourage the use of open source firmware for protocol hacking, in part to avoid the difficulty of trying to support commercial firmware users attempting this.
Packet fragmentation can also be used to improve throughput in noisy/congested conditions. Although packet fragmentation is often thought of as something bad, and does indeed add a large overhead, reducing throughput, it is sometimes necessary. For example, in a congested situation, ping times of 30 byte packets can be excellent, whilst ping times of 1450 byte packets can be very poor with high packet loss. Dividing the packet in half, by setting the fragmentation threshold to 750, can vastly improve the throughput. The fragmentation threshold should be a division of the MTU, typically 1500, so should be 750, 500, 375, etc. However, excessive fragmentation can make the problem worse, since the increased overhead will increase congestion.