Work outside but stay online ‑ what are the options?

Working in the garden? Access Points/5G etc. - what are the options?

The long awaited British summer post lockdown is upon us and fingers crossed, we are looking forward to a repeat of the glorious summer of last year! The sunshine for most was a useful escape from the harsh reality of the 2020 lockdown measures, having to work from home and only 1 hour exercise outside per day. Now entering the summer of 2021 the government and businesses are still playing it safe, recommending only partial return to work/offices or public spaces in large groups – seeing a continuation of a work from home culture until at least the end of the year. Working from home as you will have experienced by now has come with its own set of challenges as our traditional home network has creaked and moaned under the new heavy loads of mum, dad, kids and home tech all competing for access and internet bandwidth. 

As recently as 2010, you might have had three or four online devices in your home. A PC, a laptop, and a handful of smartphones were about all the average family was using. But nowadays, we have streaming media everywhere and a large increase in connected devices as we’ve entered the age of the Internet of Things (IoT). We’re currently going through a transition period where people are fundamentally rethinking what exactly an online device is. Now, everything from LED lights to your oven has its own internet connection. This in turn is changing the amount of coverage and capacity we need from our Wi-Fi. For instance, it may no longer be sufficient to only have internet coverage inside your home. If you have WiFi security cameras, sprinklers, or other devices, good outdoor coverage is also a necessity. 

So a new day dawns and you wake up to sunlight shining through the window at home. It's another working from home day, maybe you have just taken the kids to school and you are back home faced with the option of working in your  make shift work office, or perhaps just the kitchen/dining table, fighting that natural urge to go out into nature. Being outside can make the work experience more pleasurable - feel the warm breeze, the scent notes from local flowers – taking some of the stress out of the home/office divide and get some holistic fresh air to help maintain your mental health (let's face it we have all heard a few good stories from friends and family on how they have been forced find creative places to work at home). 

So, how do you make that leap to the benefits of working from your garden? Before spending money on signal extenders, additional cabling or adapters, it's worth checking if your existing home WiFi signal reaches your garden space or if you are lucky, a garden office /shed. Make sure your router is an up-to-date- model as older units are often less powerful than newer versions or contact your ISP to see if you qualify for a free upgrade. 

I have seen some pretty funky grand design style garden summer houses/offices that people either built pre-lockdown or to save their sanity during the lockdown and have a peaceful, creative space to work away from the house/home/family/pets distraction.

With apps to stream music, films, series and even books, a lot of our leisure activities rely on the internet. Also, a garden office could feel lacking without a reliable online connection. If you feel like you are still living in the stone age when you can’t get online, we look at the sanity saving tech options to get you out of the confines of the house and out into the fresh air of your garden.

To improve the reach of your home set-up, you could try moving your router so that it’s closer to your garden, and remove obstacles like trees and shrubs which might interfere with the signal. 

Also bear in mind that things like insulation and double glazing in the house will negatively affect the strength of the signal coming from your house. 

My personal recommendation is a Wi-Fi mesh network. This is the best option to enable you to get fast Internet access with a good radius outdoors. Alternatively, if your preferred office is a vista of green in a park, and there is no Wi-Fi, then you should invest in a hotspot.

Useful Considerations

Ok, so at the time of writing I am based at home in the south of England. Granted the south gets better weather than most, but it is still England and any who have lived here will know this means rain showers, windy and grey skies can more often than not feature in any given day without prior warning. 

With this in mind, those who are lucky enough to have a sizable garden or lucky enough to have one at all, have invested in building garden offices, in order to create a sheltered space outdoors, but with the option to seal itself up to an indoor space, should the weather turn less than desirable. Usually the garden and out-buildings are far from the main house, so the Wi-Fi coverage from the existing house router is not enough. Signal repeaters might be a solution, but in bad weather their signal is weaker and you can’t really rely on it. This is why in the majority of cases we recommend our clients to install an armoured internet cable. 

Hotspots

A lot of phones already have the ability to become pretty impressive (and highly portable) hotspots, though that often requires upgrading your data plan and possibly updating your phone. Using your phone as a hotspot will also drain the battery and using it as a phone to speak to someone will often cause the hotspot network to drop. You'll want to consider something more powerful and dedicated. Mobile hotspots work almost exactly like a mobile phone, but instead of using that cellular data to let you message / stream, they turn the signal into a mini Wi-Fi network. Reliably quick connection that won't break the bank, backed by being extremely accessible.

4G LTE routers have a secondary advantage - they can combine 4G connection with your home internet. If your wired, cable-based WiFi ever goes down, the 4G kicks in to prevent any service interruptions.

Outdoor Wireless Access Points

After the WiFi 6 standard was launched, manufacturers have immediately implemented it into their new networking devices and, while the outdoor access point market is a bit slower at adopting new technologies than the indoors-focused devices, D-Link has released the consumer-grade outdoor wireless access points, that are highly competitive in price and performance compared to other outdoor-suitable access points. Features such as MU-MIMO which allows a Wi-Fi router to communicate with multiple devices simultaneously and Bridging, for securely connecting multiple buildings together wirelessly without the need of cables, are still here, but one of the most interesting additions is the 2.5GbE PoE port which will mean you will only need to run one Ethernet cable to the AP for power and data, and with the help of WiFi 6 features, provides better throughput than with previous generations. It is critical you have a wireless access point that is suitable for outdoor use. The last thing you want is to set one up that is not weatherproof and ends up getting damaged.

For instance a typical outdoor access point will be ruggedised for extreme temperatures and rain while and indoor access point is designed for simple installation on the ceiling and does not have the ruggedised features of the outdoor access point. 

Wired / Cable connection

Laying an Ethernet cable between your home and garden office shed is the most secure means of establishing an internet connection, if you are worried about your WiFi data being hacked or snooped and is probably the best option for a fast and reliable connection, but it comes at the price of time, money, initial groundwork to setup and risk of cables being cut when gardening or general wear and tear.

WiFi Point-to-Point

This is where you place one device outside of your house and another on the garden building. Both units require power to work and some configuration may be required in order for the units to communicate correctly with each other, so a degree of IT knowledge would be needed. The real bonus to using PtP is that the range is considerably greater than that of a standard Wi-Fi repeater. This is certainly the best option if your garden building is a distance from your house and Ethernet cabling is not viable for you.

The Mesh Option

Another option is to take advantage of an indoor mesh WiFi solution, which usually comes with one router and one or two satellite wireless access point units, and are pretty much plug and play,  helping address some areas of your home or outdoors where it is impossible or impractical to run anything but a power cable to. These APs can cover up to around 5,000 square feet. Most people don't have homes that big, so with the right placement you can incorporate coverage outdoors too.

Handy features

D-Link provides strong security features and lets you see all devices on the network. Also nifty features, such as the ability to turn off Wi-Fi access to your kid’s tablet with a touch of a button, and for those working outside with family members around, the option of prioritising bandwidth, perhaps to support your Zoom calls, rather than an online game one of your kids may be playing taking up the bandwidth.

Perhaps you are a business owner supporting staff during the lockdown and WFH policy by supplying decent Wi-Fi connectivity technology or you maybe the man of the family unit and taken it upon yourself to help prevent mental health issues compiling for all those in your family this summer by rolling out a work from the garden or outdoors solution. D-Link’s Nuclius Connect Cloud enables you to visualise and administer all the wireless access points you have across an estate or over multiple sites.

Boost your signal with a Wi-Fi Extender

In most scenarios home broadband internet is set up with a BT engineer drilling a hole in the front of your house to run the cable from you to the local cab box in the street. It's also fair to say you have a fairly reliable broadband connection in the house, but the internet wireless router is more than 100ft away from your garden/outside space and therefore can not be picked up outdoors.

Next best option is trying to extend the existing Wi-Fi signal down the garden to the office, which at its simplest would involve using a Wi-Fi extender or repeater. These are a quick and easy solution for buildings closer to home. This is a great option to relieve frustrations of those with  a spare electrical socket  located relatively close to your garden, but still too far for a decent signal. 

An average Wi-Fi router has a range of 300ft (100m) with no doors, windows or walls obstructing the signal. This range reduces significantly to around 100ft (30m) with obstacles blocking its path. Although typically used for larger houses or weaker routers, many extenders are capable of reaching outside – perfect for working or playing music playlists in the garden.

Round up

Between the options the mesh system's big advantage over the router plus extenders is that the mesh devices create a single network, so you don't have to reconnect to Wi-Fi when you move from room to room or outdoors. In general, mesh systems are designed so that your phone or laptop will automatically connect to the closest mesh unit without issue. When you have an extender, you have two networks, one for the router and one for the extender that you may need to switch between when you move around. Plus, having two networks could cause interference with each other.

Paul Routledge - D-Link
By Paul Routledge, Country Manager, D‑Link
A highly experienced networking professional, Paul Routledge has led the UK&I region of D-Link for over 5 years