Outdoor vs. Indoor Routers. ft. Engenius

 

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We were cleaning up our storage racks the other day and noticed that we had an outdoor router so that got us thinking: What does that even mean? Do they have greater range compared to indoor ones? Are there even any differences? Let’s investigate.

 

So the router we found was an Engenius ENS620EXT outdoor wireless access point. It offers speeds of up to 867Mbps on the 5GHz channel and 400MBps on the 2.4Ghz channel. It has full support for MU-MIMO and beamforming using 2×2 spatial streams. All in all, it’s a pretty well-rounded feature set but nothing that you couldn’t find in a regular indoor router.

 

There are however a few differences here and there that you don’t normally see. The first is the enclosure itself – it has an IP55 rated weatherproof housing to protect against moisture and dust. It’s not completely waterproof, but according to code it will withstand water being projected at it by a nozzle from any direction.

 

The second feature is compatibility for the wireless distribution system standard, or WDS. You can think of this like a mesh wireless network except with one difference. In a mesh network, if one access point goes down, then the rest of the network can reorder itself and repair the chain. A WDS system is sequential, so if one access point goes down, then everyone behind it will go offline as well.

 

We kept digging, and eventually found an equivalent indoor router to compare. We wanted to match the brands to keep it as similar as possible, so we grabbed an Engenius EAP1750 indoor wireless access point. This router’s rated at AC1750, but that’s okay since this is a relative comparison. We’re primarily interested in testing wireless internet range, and we shouldn’t be bottlenecked since our internet’s just 125mbps.

 

In theory, an outdoor router should be more powerful than an indoor one right? After all, an outdoor router doesn’t have the liberty of bouncing it’s signals off walls.

 

For our testing, we’re using a North American Samsung Galaxy S8 with the Snapdragon processor. It’s got full support for 802.11ac with a 2×2 dual stream and MU-MIMO technology, so it should be a good match for our routers. For a baseline, we ran a speed test on our wired systems and got a maximum download speed of 121mbps and an upload of 14.44mbps, which will be our target to hit.

 

For our first test, we set up both routers in the middle of our studio, and did an indoor test from 5 feet away and 20 feet away. From 5 feet away, both routers performed as expected. The indoor router measured 89 down, the outdoor router 96 down, and both had an upload of 14. Moving further away to approximately 20 feet, the gap between the two routers narrowed down to 74 and 79 Mbps respectively while offering the same upload speed.

 

For our next test, we moved both routers to the outer wall of our warehouse. From 5 feet in front, we immediately got some drastic results. Our indoor router dropped to 39mbps down and stayed at 14mbps up, while our outdoor router sat at 67mbps down but dropped to 13mbps up.

 

Next, we walked forward 25 feet while maintaining line of sight. The outdoor router performed pretty well, sitting at 18mbps down and 14mbps up. The indoor router, however, was essentially useless. With a download speed of 0.74mbps and an upload of 0.69mbps, it struggled to even maintain the connection to finish the test. At this point, we were curious just how well the outdoor router works outdoors.

 

So we went to 75ft away, and did the test again, and the router dropped down to 11 down and 9 up. We went another 25 feet, and at a total distance of 100 ft away, our download managed to jump back up to 15mbps while our upload dropped all the way to 3.

 

Now at this point, we noticed something interesting. We were only able to maintain this connection with a direct line of sight to the router. As soon as anything got in the way, such as a tree or a car, our signal would degrade enough that we couldn’t complete the speed test. The phone stayed connected, but it was in that weird limbo mode where it couldn’t do anything because the wifi signal was too weak and it hadn’t switched over to LTE yet.

 

We ran one final test, with the routers at the back of the building while we were standing at the front of the building. Unsurprisingly, the indoor router wasn’t even detected. What DID surprise us was the outdoor router: at more than 50 feet away from a concrete and metal warehouse, we were able to pick up our wifi signal. And it gave us a speed of 6 down and 6 up, enough to actually be usable.

 

So what does this all mean? Well, in our testing, the outdoor router did perform better than the indoor router. Does that mean all outdoor routers are better than indoor ones? No, definitely not. We also have to remember that we tested this in our warehouse studio, which is essentially one giant room. In a regular household, an indoor router may be better at penetrating walls.

 

Our indoor router was also designed as a ceiling mounted unit, so the antennas were designed specifically to bounce signals off of walls. We know some high-end routers from companies like TP-Link, ASUS, Linksys, or D-link could probably broadcast a steady signal outdoors, but the ones powerful enough would likely cost much more than our $150 Engenius model.

 

We set everything up on the 2.4Ghz frequency because it offers slightly better range and it’s lower frequencies are better at penetrating solid objects. We did some early testing with the routers indoors on the 5GHz network, but our download speeds dropped by over 90% as soon as we walked outside and closed the door behind us.

 

As always, the best router is the one that fits your needs. The outdoor router may have given us better range and speed outdoors, but it doesn’t offer any wired ethernet connections for other devices or USB ports for hosting a file server. In conclusion, it’s pretty simple. Use an indoor router at 5Ghz for indoor use, and an outdoor router at 2.4Ghz for outdoor use!

 

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