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article on received signal strength indication (RSSI)
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Cablevision's Optimum Internet service is expensive but reliable and
it's fast. Some folks try to save money by switching back and forth
between it and Verizon's because both companies offer deals to get
users to switch. But Optimum wi-fi is a good reason to stick with
Cablevision because they've installed hundreds of thousands of access
points in their coverage area here in parts of New York, New Jersey and
Connecticut. These access points, also known as 'hot spots,' are
available for use by any Cablevision customer who uses Optimum Internet
service and who owns up to five devices that can access wi-fi. These
include laptops, tablet computers and smart-phones, and even desktop
computers that include wireless adapters. Each device must be logged
into any Optimum wi-fi hot spot only once, and thereafter will
conveniently and automatically log in to any available ones.
These hot spots seem to have a stronger signal, and thus a wider range
of accessibility than the typical wireless home network. In order to
compare a particular Optimum hot spot with my own home network router,
I decided to take some measurements. For Optimum, I chose the hot spot
in Pancheros Mexican Grill at 691 U.S. Route 130, across from the big
Trenton Post Office in Hamilton Township because I like the friendly
service and the food there. The burritos and quesadillas are freshly
made and filled with very fresh marinated and grilled meat and veggies.
Slightly technical part
The router there is somewhere in the rafters at about second floor
level, a few feet in front of the serving counter, near the cash
register. My own home network is powered by a Linksys router in the
office of my second floor condo, also in Hamilton. I used my Gateway
NV57H laptop running Windows 8 and a free wi-fi utility called iSSIDer,
which lets a user compare a home network router to those of the
neighbors, and suggests ways to optimize a network's relative signal
strength. Such utilities that measure relative signal strength do not
express it with a graphic display of the familiar set of bars and
instead use the more precise, but somewhat confusing system of received
signal strength indication (RSSI) as measured in decibels. These
decibels are expressed as negative numbers for some technical reason,
so for example, a signal of -25 decibels is stronger than one of -30.
I judged the distance outward from each router using two Google Maps
satellite images approximately centered on mine and on the one in
Pancheros, and that were zoomed in to show a distance scale of 10
meters. Using a mechanical drawing compass, I traced concentric circles
with the reckoned location of each router at center, and with each
radius representing an increase of 10m. Next, I took a 0m measurement
with my laptop as close to each router as I could get. In the case of
my router, I placed the laptop right on top of it, but in Pancheros I
could only stand under the spot where the signal seemed strongest.
After that I moved outward by 10m hops measuring the signal strength
repeatedly and out to a distance of 70m. For the most part, I picked
interval spots where my circles conveniently intersected parking space
lines painted on the respective parking lots outside Pancheros and in
front of my place.
At zero horizontal meters distance from my router, and literally
touching my laptop, the highest reading I could get was -25 decibels.
There's no spot inside my tiny place that's 10m or more away from the
router, so my subsequent readings were all taken downstairs, outside at
ground level, and through the floor, and through at least one interior
wall and one exterior wall. As you can see from the table, the results
are quite linear-- the further away from the router, the lower the
reading. Not so with the router in Pancheros. Results from there are
only sort of linear. For example, at 30m and at 50m, the subsequent
readings were higher in each case instead of lower. But once outside,
the Pancheros readings all show higher signal strength than for those
for my own router.
The data from the Optimum wi-fi hot spot at Pancheros taken outside the
store are all 30 or 40 decibels stronger than those at the same
distances from my router. It's hard to dispute that the Optimum hot
spot has a stronger signal, except when the intervening materials are
considered. Outside Pancheros, the signal only passes through a single
pane of glass, plus a concrete pillar in some cases. Perhaps this study
merits another try with a different Optimum hot spot.
July 11, 2014