THE RISE OF AFFORDABLE WIRELESS FIDELITY (WiFi) routers and access points is removing long-standing barriers to wireless access at jobsites, sales offices, and model homes and opening up new possibilities for wireless communities.

Today, builders who can get a broadband connection installed in a sales model or a job trailer can use readily available equipment from companies such as Cisco and D-Link to provide a WiFi signal throughout a community. The gear lets warranty techs, salespeople, project managers, quality-control inspectors, and even residents log on and share high-speed wireless access to the Internet.

Of the current crop of WiFi equipment, D-Link's AirPremier line is especially noteworthy for builders. The line is aimed at small manufacturers, hospitals, and school campuses that need to connect multiple locations, as well as retailers and cyber cafe operators looking to attract business with free Internet access. The system includes long-range antennas; exterior, weatherproof wireless access points; and network bridges. It also has a gateway device that provides user log-on security similar to what wireless users would find at the local Starbucks or the airport, minus the hassle and expense of building it from scratch.

Setting up an AirPremier WiFi system in a typical community is not much different from constructing a home network and can be accomplished by most people with basic computer and networking skills. Here's how a complete system that provides WiFi access on the street in the vicinity of a model home or job trailer would be set up: A single DWL-1700AP exterior WiFi access point with high-gain antennas ($900) is connected directly to a DSA-3100 Public/Private Hot Spot Gateway appliance ($500), which, in turn, is connected to the broadband connection.

This setup should realistically provide access within 600 to 800 feet of the access point, though D-Link claims 1,968 feet under ideal conditions. If wider coverage in the community is required, the DWL-1750 External Wireless Bridge/Router ($900) is used to distribute service between additional hot spots.

D-Link provides a variety of antennas to adapt the equipment to meet various requirements. As with all WiFi equipment, the best results are achieved when there is a clear line of sight between the distribution points, and local conditions will greatly affect performance and range. D-Link claims the signal can be pushed as far as 16 miles under ideal conditions, which means good weather and few obstacles such as tall buildings or mountains. Although that might be unrealistic, its capability is certainly adequate to cover the typical builder community. Units can be pole mounted (streetlights work well as a support) or attached to model or market homes. Power is provided to each unit via an Ethernet “power injector” that connects to a 110-volt source and then powers the unit via its network cable.

Delivering Internet access to salespeople and warranty service technicians is just the beginning. Builders can use the same technology to provide residents of the community with password-protected WiFi service in common areas such as clubhouses, playgrounds, swimming pools, apartment buildings, and golf courses. Builders can even distribute broadband service from their office to their warehouses or shop facilities, whether across the parking lot or miles away.

Each DSA-3100 Hot Spot Gateway can support up to 50 users. In addition, once an area is blanketed with WiFi service, other wireless devices such as tilt-pan-zoom job cams and security devices, remote HVAC monitoring units, and community/model lighting automation units can also be installed.

Joe Stoddard is a process/technology consultant to the building industry. Contact him at