Today’s service suffered from very poor connectivity throughout, leading to stuttering and buffering. This wasn’t up to the standard we aim to meet, so we spent a few hours getting to the bottom of exactly what was going on.
So, what was the problem?
After eliminating most possibilities we isolated the fault to the wireless link between the Community Centre and the church. The church building itself has no telephone line, so to provide internet we use a pair of high-power directional wifi devices. One of these is positioned on the outside of the Community Centre, but we’re not able to (and we have no real desire to) fasten one to the outside of our Grade I listed building and ruin the look of things.
This restriction has meant that we’re forced to put the church side of the pair inside the tower, which has thick stone walls. To help mitigate this, in the past we’ve had this all the way up in the belfry where the louvres which allow the sound of bells out gave us a space which wasn’t several inches of solid stone. Since the wifi bridges we use are highly directional, we angled this as best we could towards the Community Centre through the louvres. Unfortunately, this angle hasn’t been particularly great, and although some of the signal has been getting through it’s been particularly susceptible to interference. In some cases, even the weather was capable of causing enough disruption to render the connection practically unusable. The louvres of the belfry are also protected from invading birds by a wire mesh, which although it isn’t fine enough to act as a perfect Faraday cage also reduces the signal strength.
How did we fix it?
To improve the reliability of the connection we could do two things – remove obstructions, and improve alignment. After a bit of careful consideration and weighing up locations, we found a way to do both by using a small window within the staircase of the tower.
By moving the node within the church to the window ledge we managed to improve the alignment on both axes (particularly the vertical), as well as shorten the distance between the two nodes. The models we’re using have a particularly narrow vertical angle of just 35º, and the previous alignment just wasn’t close enough to be reliable, but the new position gives a lot of improvement.
The window is just a single pane of glass, and glass is almost entirely transparent to radio signals. Although the transmitter is still hidden away, it’s no longer trying to punch through layers of wood and metal.
What’s the downside?
The downside is that the transmitter in the church is now in a slightly more easily disturbed place. Although it’s not in an area which is usually accessible to the general public, we’ve had to put some cabling in places which anyone going to ring our bells would need to pass.
What’s the difference?
Based on the testing we’ve done, the improvements should make buffering of our services a thing of the past, as well as making our contactless donations faster and more reliable. It also means that we can let more people use our guest wifi without worrying about the link becoming congested, which is important as we move towards encouraging the use of digital orders of service.