A few weeks ago during a routine check on some of our equipment in our Community Centre we noticed that one of our wifi access points was no longer connected to the network and totally refused to reconnect no matter what we tried. This was annoying, but not entirely unexpected – the access points were installed in 2019, as a relatively cheap stop-gap solution until something more permanent was put in place. Then 2020 happened, and priorities changed slightly.

But still, a failing access point forced our hand. More specifically, it forced our hands to move the remaining access points around to try and maintain coverage where it was most needed – the bar, where it supports our till and card terminal, and the office, where people do a lot of parish administration.

Unfortunately, this deployment meant that the Main Hall suffered from poor coverage. It would sometimes work if you stood in the right place, but couldn’t really be relied on. Since we promote our guest wifi network, and advertise wifi coverage as one of the features of the building, this wasn’t great. Not only was it far below the standard we aim to provide, but it also began to affect the quality of events.

So we decided to fix it. Fortunately we already had the beginnings of a solution powering the wifi in our church building, a pair of TP-Link Omada hotspots (more specifically, EAP115s), along with a controller. Instead of spending time scoping out a new system, we knew we could just extend this. All we needed to do was decide on the new hardware for our Community Centre and get it installed.

During the refurbishment of our Community Centre in 2019 we installed some structural network cabling (the plan being to one day hook proper wifi access points up to it), which meant we knew the points in the building where hotspots could be easily installed. Being able to power them over ethernet was crucial because not all these locations had mains. Ideally, we wanted ones which could be powered by our network switch directly; the EAP115 access points need an external power injector, which in turn takes up space and needs sockets. We also considered the density of users, and if we should future-proof by supporting the newer WiFi 6 standards.

In the end we settled for four new WiFi 6 access points; three EAP620HD units which cover the main hall and bar, and an EAP615-wall unit which gives the Smeaton Room dedicated coverage, as well as maintaining access to physical network sockets in there should we ever need them. In an ideal world we would have ceiling-mounted all of the EAP620s, but limitations of our cabling means that two of them are wall-mounted instead. Fixing this would require a significant amount of work to move cabling, channeling out walls and ceilings and then making good again, and it’s simply not worth it for the marginal gains.

The next step once the hardware was installed was provisioning it and configuring our network. For the most part, we just added the Church’s existing network configurations to the new spots. Print off some updated signage with our new network details for guests, and we’re done!

Finally, because we know everything we do has an environmental footprint, we’ve offset a full tonne of CO2 emissions to cover the impact of manufacturing and shipping this new equipment. We’ve also funded the planting of another 25 trees, more specifically mangrove trees in Mozambique.