Two Hoots and a Holler

Two Hoots and a Holler

| 2/27/2013 8:00:00 AM

Why is the bottled water at airports so expensive?  Do they buy it at convenience stores and mark it up even higher?  Why does the Easter bunny carry eggs?  Why aren't two-by-fours actually two inches by four inches?  Who decided that the world needed pillow shams?

Some questions lack easy answers.  

I’ve tried to answer one of them more times than I can count: “What’s the range of this wireless product?”  

Measuring Hoots and HollersIt’s usually phrased in terms like: “Competitor B’s product says it goes two hoots and holler.  Will yours go that far?”   Sometimes it feels like they’d like to be poking me in the sternum while they’re asking the question, just for emphasis.  "How many hoots?  Mmm?  How many hollers?"

Lots of vendors would just play along and lay claim to three full hollers plus a hoot and a half. And why not?  Wireless range is affected by everything from antenna height to interference from devices broadcasting at the same frequency.  In the right circumstances a device’s range might very well be four full hollers; who knows?  The same device will behave differently in different environments.  

I prefer to answer the question truthfully, but it’s a bit complicated.  First of all, unless they’ve been to the actual site and tested the actual installation, nobody has a clue what a device’s effective wireless range will be.  Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying.  There are too many variables involved.

So it would be disingenuous to predict your extreme range ahead of time.  But I can tell you how to find out. 

A year or two ago I put together a piece called The Ten Commandments of Wireless. (Good stuff, too, though I say so myself.)   I described some of the ways in which the laws of physics affect radio. Various iterations were widely published, and yet it managed to survive some very substantial peer review.  I’m guessing that’s because the laws of physics don’t tend to change from one year to the next, so no one has ever felt the need to call me out as a kook.

What has changed is that more and more of you are taking wireless out of the coffee shop and into the real world of device connectivity and networking.  If wireless is in your present or your future, and the term “fade margin” doesn’t automatically make you start thinking in logarithmic scales, you may want to click over and peruse The 10 Commandments of Wireless. It’s a quick read, but quite valuable.

Even if you’re a seasoned old wireless pro, I’d love it if you wanted to check it out and give me your input.  

And if you’ve got some hard-earned wireless lessons learned in the past, give me a hoot or a holler.

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