How to Install Wireless Amplifiers

July 10, 2013 at 10:00 AM

 Setting up a WiFi Booster for an Indoor Wireless System

 

An Assortment of WiFi Amplifiers

If you do not work with wireless components every day, the prospect of adding a new component to boost the power of your signal may seem daunting. While we always recommend you have a professional install communications equipment to ensure it is done correctly, this brief tutorial will give you the basic steps to set up a simple WiFi booster. If it helps, you can also take a look at the video in this post or visit our complete tutorial here.

 

 

 

If you have a WLAN setup that requires a stronger signal, a simple WiFi booster may do the trick. Due to FCC regulations, if you are doing this installation in the United States, you need FCC approval to buy the amplifier. If you don't need an amplifier with power over 1 Watt, you can purchase an FCC certified amplifier kit which requires no special operator's license. Either way, most setups follow this simple procedure.

 

Diagram of an RF amplifier setup

On the amplifier, you will typically see two coaxial cable jacks, one labeled "Antenna" and the other labeled "Radio". There should also be a power jack (usually a DC jack requiring an external power adapter), which is where the amplifier gets the power to repeat the signal.

 

Using low-loss coaxial cable, simply connect the antenna to the antenna jack on the amplifier, and the radio (or access point or router, etc) to the radio jack. Then, after the two sides are hooked up, attach the power adapter and plug it in. Most amplifiers have LED lights to indicate activity, which helps you to see if it is working.

 

It's that easy!

 

Quick note: L-com has a huge selection of top-quality wireless RF amplifiers for the 2.4 GHz WiFi band and 5.8 GHz WiFi band, as well as 900 MHz, 3.5 GHz, and 4.9 GHz frequencies. These ampifiers feature HyperLink's® Active Power Control (APC), which automatically maintains a constant output power regardless of the length of the attached cables. Aside from the indoor wireless amplifiers, L-com also carries HyperLink® brand outdoor wireless amplifiers for all-weather operation.
 

Tutorial on Coaxial Cabling

July 3, 2013 at 10:00 AM

 

 

 

Coax is one of the most venerable cabling standards having been developed for the US military over 50 years ago. Unlike some standards that were popular for a while and eventually became legacy, coaxial cabling is still very relevant and used in a lot of common applications. It is a robust and reliable cable type with no sign of going away any time soon.

 

 

 Types of Coax Cabling

 

As you can imagine, over the years that coax has been around, many variations have been designed for specific applications. We will talk about the Radio Guide (RG) styles and the low-loss styles that were made popular by Times Microwave's LMR® standard. Though there are many other coax options like mini coax, twinaxial and tri-axial, the applications for those have dwindled in recent years.

 

 

RG-style Coaxial Cable

 

The original Radio Guide standard called for a number followed by codes to determine specific aspects of the cable (such as jacket type, center conductor material, etc.). However, today many of the standards have become "soft" meaning that RG58B/U, for instance, may have very different characteristics from manufacturer to manufacturer.

 

Exposed view of a coaxial cable

Most RG numbers refer to cables made with specific diameters (as thicker diameters typically have lower attenuation over long lengths), shielding, jacket type, and dielectric type. The dielectric is important as it can control the "characteristic impedance" of the cable. In general, cables with a characteristic impedance of 50 Ohms are used in data and wireless network applications, and cables with a characteristic impedance of 75 Ohms are used in higher bandwidth audio/video applications.

 

The bottom line about RG-style coax cable: if you need to get a specific type for your application, you should include the characteristics of the cable with your request. The actual standard may have some variations that would make the off-the-shelf product unsuitable for some circumstances.

 

 

Low-loss Coaxial Cable

 

Low-loss cable is almost exclusively used in wireless applications. It is ideal for any antenna-to-radio setup, and is often used extensively in wireless system installations. Low loss cable is often referred to by its series number, such as 200-Series cable, which is usually a rough approximation of the diameter of the cable. The higher the number (ie, 400, 800, etc), the thicker and heavier the cable, and the less attenuation over the length. Because of this, higher series numbers are typically used in cases where the antenna is permanently installed at some distance from the radio. Lower series numbers are used in cases where the antenna is closer, especially in portable setups where the weight of the cable is important.

 

 

Connectors

 

There are a large variety of coaxial connectors, usually designated by a letter or combination of letters. Most coaxial connectors are round or hex shaped, and can come in screw-on, push-on, or twist-lock designs. Be extra careful if you need a connector that is called "reverse polarized" or preceded with the letters "RP". These connectors are similar to the regular polarity versions except that the gender of the connector is reversed, making it unable to mate unless it is with another RP style connector. For a complete list of coaxial connectors with large images, try this coaxial connector chart.

 
If you are in need of coax: L-com has carried RG style coax cable and assemblies for decades, and together with our vast collection of low-loss coax cables it is one of the most comprehensive in the industry.
 

Low Loss Coaxial Cable for Wireless Applications

June 26, 2013 at 10:00 AM

 

Closeup of Low Loss Coaxial Cable Stripped to Show Components

Even in a wireless network, cables and wires are still used to connect components together (access points to amplifiers, amplifiers to antennas, etc). Each component needs cabling to interact.

 

If you are a wireless engineer and need to interconnect components, chances are you are using low loss coaxial cabling. While 50 Ohm RG-style coax is sometimes used, the attenuation is usually too much for any length over just a few feet. This is where low loss coaxial cable comes in.

 

 

Coaxial Cable and RG-Style Coax

 

All coaxial cable works the same way: the signal is run over two "axes" (thus the name). Coaxial technology is one of the oldest signal cabling types, and is still used today for a specific reason: it is robust and can carry a signal very well over a long distance. In general, the thicker the cable, the less "loss" or attenuation of signal there is over the length of the cable.

 

The original standards for coaxial cable were set forth by the US military. These cables used the term "RG" (for "Radio Guide" or "Radio Government") followed by a number to designate the standard. This worked well at the time, but as technology became more and more utilized in commercial and non-military applications, the restrictions of the standard became less rigid (to the point where RG316, for instance, may have very different properties today depending on who manufactures it).

 

 

Times Microwave LMR® Cables

 

No matter who makes the RG-style cables, they have one fundamental problem: the signal degrades over the length of the cable until it is no longer useable. For shorter use in labs or machine-to-machine applications, this is not a problem. But in wireless applications, the signal integrity up until it is broadcast through the antenna is critical.

 

For that reason, Times Microwave Systems developed a low loss version of coax that it branded as its LMR® series coax. The newly-engineered solution offered far lower loss and better RF shielding, making them a much better choice for wireless systems than the RG styles.

 

Outside of Times Microwave Systems' product (the term LMR® refers specifically to Times Microwave Systems product and is trademarked for their use), several other companies now offer low-loss coaxial cables. These generally follow a similar naming convention as what Times Microwave Systems uses: a three-digit "series" number that refers to both the thickness of the cable and the low loss properties.

 

For instance, 100-series low loss coax is thinner and has greater loss than 200-series, which is thinner and has greater loss than 400-series, etc.

Diagram of most common low-loss coaxial cables

Note that with thicker cable factors such as cable weight and flexibility must be considered. However, there are now ultra-flex versions of thicker series like the 400-series that offer similar loss characteristics but are far more flexible.

 

Quick note: L-com has been manufacturing high-quality coaxial cables and components for over thirty years.
 

DB9 D-Subminiature Connectors : Advantages and Disadvantages

June 19, 2013 at 10:00 AM

9-pin D-Sub connectors (DB9 or DE-9)

 

DB9 Connector on Cable

For many years, serial communication was one of the chief methods of connecting peripherals (such as joysticks, printers, and scanners) to PCs. The most common connector type for serial communication was the 9-pin D-Subminiature connector, or sometimes called a DB9 or a DE-9.

 

Nine pins were plenty to carry the data in series, and though there were many drawbacks to DB9 connectors which eventually lead to them becoming legacy in favor of standards like USB, there are still many devices with DB9 ports or cables on them today.

 

 

What are the disadvantages?

 

The connectors themselves are large, making them difficult to connect and disconnect in tight spaces. Also, the pins are exposed in the shell, so they can be easily bent or broken off. Though the connector can be mated without using the thumbscrew hardware, it does not tend to hold as well using just friction-fitting. If you do use the thumbscrews, the connector takes much longer to plug in and unplug.

 

Finally, serial communication tends to be slow, especially over longer lengths, and unexpected breaks in communication could cause software on the PC to freeze. All of these problems led to other standards becoming more popular for the same applications.

 

However, this does not mean that the DB9 connector is a lost cause. There are actually solutions available for many of the problems mentioned above. For instance, right angle adapters solve the tight-space problem by allowing a tight angle without damaging the connector. Widely available D-Subminiature plug and jack covers can protect pins from damage when not mated, and adapters like gender changers and socket savers can reduce the stress caused by repeated mating cycles.

 

 

On the other hand...

 

ES4-232 4-Port Ethernet to DB9 Adapter and Device Server

DB9 connectors have advantages too. In general they are far easier to customize, with at least 9 individual pins to carry serial data. Though the speed is slower than other standards, the length of the cable can be much longer. USB, for instance, has a five-meter length limit, but RS-232 (the most common standard for serial data) has no defined length limit, and RS-422 has been used at lengths hundreds of meters long with special equipment.

 

Also- Don't worry if you have an old device that only has DB9 connectors on it. Even with D-Subminiature being mostly legacy, there are plenty of options for conversion. Converters to and from USB, Ethernet, and other standards are common and can allow you to use your device on any computer today.

 

Examples of Applications for Serial Converters

If you're looking to find DB9 Connectors: L-com carries products ranging from economical serial cables with many off-the-shelf lengths to high-quality premium cables for demanding applications. Also check out L-com's D-Subminiature adapters for innovative solutions to common problems, and L-com's bulk cable, connectors, adapter kits and tools for do-it-yourself components.
 

Tutorial on Wireless Networking

June 12, 2013 at 10:00 AM

 

Wireless network antenna and devices

Entire cities and even countries are looking into ways to expand communications access for their residents as the Internet has shifted from a luxury to an imperative. The most promising solution: wireless networking.

 

Why? Wireless networking allows a non-physical (well, at least non-cabled) connection to a wireless LAN (WLAN) and onto the World Wide Web for users. So what are you waiting for? Cut the cord!

 

Be mindful of this though- issues such as network and band congestion, security, signal range and propagation, power demands, and more make WLANs tricky to implement for all but the most informed network engineers and IT professionals. Yet there's no stopping this technology in its rapid advance, with solutions such as distributed antenna systems (DAS) and MESH networks beginning to show promise. For you to get started, here's a basic wireless tutorial on terminology and concepts.

 


Wireless Standards

 

Radio frequency signals can take a lot of different forms, so in order for devices made by different manufacturers to communicate, the IEEE has provided several standards including the mainstay for wireless Ethernet: 802.11.

 

The 802.11 standard specifies the band and IP protocol used to transmit data, and provides guidelines to maximize the speed of transmission. 802.11a, for instance, uses the 5Ghz band and can typically transmit at speeds up to 54 Mbps in shorter ranges. 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n, and the new 802.11ac all use various methods to increase the speed and range. The latest IEEE wireless standard, 802.11ac boasts transmission speeds of up to 1 Gbps!

 

Each standard typically requires wireless routers, access points, and other transmission equipment to match its designation, though there are many that can operate in multiple standards (such as routers that are 802.11b/g/n compliant).

 


Wireless Bands

 

In attempt to maintain order within the entire radio frequency spectrum that is available to us, the FCC and other global communications standardization organizations have designated or set aside specific ranges of frequencies for specific uses. We call these "ISM bands". ISM stands for industrial, scientific and medical to denote where these frequencies are used.  ISM bands (specifically the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequencies) are also used in commercial wireless networks. 

 

Typically access points, antennas, and amplifiers all use either the 2.4 GHz band, 5.8 GHz band, or both for WiFi. Other ISM bands have been set aside for things like cell phone use, RFID chips, emergency/municipal use, and military use.

 


Wireless Security

 

As mentioned previously, one of the big emerging issues with wireless networking is security. Without a physical cable that can be plugged and unplugged, the only method to control who can do what on a network is to build it into the software and protocol. That means it is critical to set up a wireless network with appropriate security measures and to be aware of the security status of any network you connect to.

 

For most small networks, methods such as WPA, WPA2, or WPA-PSK allow the safe identification of nodes that should be allowed on a network with passwords and other controls. Wireless routers can also use access passwords to allow administrators to adjust or update security features as required.

 
If you have questions about a wireless project or application, contact L-com's technical support line for a live response and expert advice!
 
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