With So many WiFi Options available for indoors, we tend to extend the same solution while covering outdoors. But there are completely new class of devices designed to cater this need.

Ever wonder what these devices are?  and How are they different from existing Wireless solutions. These devices are known as Outdoor CPE Devices.  

You may be knowing them as

  • Outdoor WiFi Extender
  • Outdoor WiFi Repeater
  • Outdoor Mesh WiFi Routers.

OR

  • 5G External WiFi Routers.

 So, Let’s try to understand, while keeping aside all Marketing fluff.

What is Outdoor CPE?

Any Device that extends Existing WiFi coverage over Long range and Large Coverage area qualifies as an Outdoor CPE Devices.

Outdoor CPE devices are broadly classified as

  • P2P devices
  • Outdoor Access Points

Normal, Wi-Fi routers run out of juice While transmitting wireless signal over long distances, plus they don’t have enough power to boost weak wireless signals coming from long distant WiFi Clients such as Laptops, Mobiles, Tablets.

How does outdoor CPE devices work?

Outdoor CPE devices work by greatly enhancing Radio Transmission and Reception Capabilities, So you can send a Wi-Fi signal over a much larger area, such as a courtyard or big office buildings.

Also, While Receiving Weaker signals, Signals are amplified using Low Noise Amplifiers(LNA).

In short Outdoor CPE devices have high performing RF Transmission and Reception Capabilities.

Challenges in Designing Outdoor CPE Devices

Designing Wireless Device with

  • Long range and Large Coverage Area
  • with limited Transmit Power is always a Challenge

If you tend to achieve a very Long range, then the Antenna must direct all its  Transmit  power in very narrow beam. More Like a flashlight.

All Outdoor Point to Point Devices (P2P) are designed to operate in flashlight mode with very narrow Radio cross section, termed as  Radio transmission tunnel.

So, P2P devices have Special Antenna’s that has

  • High Directionality (Narrow Angle) typically 5 degree. For Transmitting power like a narrow tunnel over a very long range.(upto 20 kms)
  • High Receiver Sensitivity (9 -25 dbi). Highly Sensitive Receiver  tend to gather more power and has Low Noise Amplifier(LNA) to Boost Gain.
P2P outdoor CPE device Radiation pattern

PS: P2P devices cannot be used as Access Points. They need to be connected to another Router/Access Point to create a hotspot zone.

Outdoor Access Points.

Outdoor Access Points comes in different shapes and sizes along with different names, such as

  • Outdoor Range Extender
  • Outdoor Repeater
  • Outdoor Access Point

Outdoor Access Points WiFi Coverage Range usually starts from 100m to 300m. Outdoor Access Points have

  • High Antenna Directionality Ranging from 60 degree to 180 degree.
  • Antenna Receiver Gain (9 -14 dbi).

More Like a Street Light.

Streetlights are designed to focus light in a direction, technically termed as Sector and in this case, it is 180 degrees pointing downwards.

Omni Directional Antennas

If you want to light up your whole room, you need a blub which provides light in all direction(omni). Omni directional Antenna’s radiate power in all directions just like a Bulb.

Flashlights are Designed to See things at a far range, Whereas Bulbs are designed to Provide Light all Around.

So Technically Speaking….

If your Transmit angle is

  • 360 degree, you have omnidirectional Antennas.
  • 5 degree ,you have Highly Directional Antenna (Flashlights…)
  • 60 to 180 degree, you have Sectoral Antenna outdoor Access Point.

Larger the angle lesser the Range.  Converse Lesser the angle, greater the range.

What is difference between indoor WiFi Router and Outdoor CPE.

  • Indoor  CPE’s( Access Point,  Range Extenders, Repeaters) have Omni directional antenna Designed to transmit and Receive Data from all Directions.
  • Indoor CPE devices have MIMO omni directional antennas . MIMO antenna serves  2 purposes.
    •  Improve data throughput rate And  Parallelly transmit data to multiple Devices.
    • Indoor environment has multiple radio reflections due to walls, metals and other obstacles. This leads to Multi-path for radio propagation.

So, while surfing mobile on couch… Your  mobile may be receiving data from multiple paths reflected radio streams. MIMO systems are designed to understand & identify multiple-paths and transmit different Data in different Propagation Path. That’s how they maximize the Data throughput.  

  • Antenna Gain: Indoor CPE devices have average to low Antenna Gain(5 to 7 dbi). Antenna Gain is applicable to Receiver Side. It is a measure of receiver Sensitivity.

 Antenna Receiver sensitivity means How much power it can grab from atmosphere and narrow it down to a fine cable.

Just to make it clear dbi doesn’t boost the power. For Higher Antenna Gain the Antenna size is bigger.

 Indoor Routers have Simple Dipole Antenna’s whereas Outdoor CPE routers have

  • Antenna arrays
  • Disc antenna
  • Parabolic Antennas.

Outdoor CPE Devices have Higher Gain Antenna (9-23 dbi).

  • So, if you Want an Outdoor Range extender with Omni directional Antenna . A Gain of 10dbi-15dbi should do a good job.

One other way that these devices are useful is that you can send wireless signals from one Wi-Fi router to another. This means that a guesthouse can have the same Wi-Fi signal as your main house.

Outdoor CPE devices are becoming common for businesses as well as outdoor household usage. With the increasing technological advancements, many companies and products have flooded the marketplace. We have carefully chosen the 5 best routers for your needs, based on the following parameters:

Things to Consider While Buying Outdoor CPE Devices

Range: What is the area that the CPE device can cover? Usually the range can be from around 670 to 700 ft., but according to FCC guidelines, usually people restrict their range to around 400 ft.

Speed: On either a 2.4Ghz or a 5Ghz frequency, what are the network speeds that it can support? Typically, we can expect a speed of hundreds of Mbps, but some routers can even go up to 1700 Mbps, and in between. Speeds are usually hampered by frequency and range, but you can generally expect great speeds with CPEs.

Antenna Signal Gain: In simple terms, a high gain antenna provides a narrow signal beam, which makes it ideal for long range signals. Some antennas have 3.5-5dBi strength on the 2.4Ghz Channel and up to 7dBi on 5Ghz frequency channels.  Dual Polarized antennas (such as from the TP-Link) can also be up to 13dBi or more.

IP rating: Which weather conditions can the device survive in? Most products featured in this list have an IP67 rating, which makes it ideal for them to be used in many weather conditions from dust storms to rainstorms. They also have dehumidifiers and some have internal heaters and fins for better heat management. They also come in rugged cases to better protect themselves.

Operation: How easy is it to install, run and operate? Most of them come with their own mounting kit, which includes brackets and stands. They can be mounted on any pole or wall, but separate care must be taken to ensure protection from lightning (attaching a grounding cable or a separate lightning collector rod). Setting up the CPE is also done through the company’s custom software, where more features and tools can be used to better enhance the performance. Usually some of the older brands have more mature software setups, while newer brands sport a more minimalist and modern approach to their UI.

The WDT (Watchdog Timer): Helps the device to detect and recover from any malfunction.

Brand: Which brands are the ones to look out for?  The current big players in the consumer and business segments are TP-Link, D-Link, Engenius, Draytek and Ubiquiti. These companies have decent customer base and are reliable products. But with advancement of technology and connectivity solutions, not only are old brands stepping-up their game, but newer brands are also emerging in the market, bringing with them many new innovative products. Some newer brands like Cambium have brought new and innovative products with features that offer much better user convenience, and Brands like Mikrotik have also made a lasting mark in this segment.

Price: A Good solution (per CPE device) should cost you around $200-750 USD, these devices are great if you have more than 3000 sqft property. On an average, a decent Hardware can be found at ball park USD $350, some pocket friendly solutions coming in at less than USD $100.

REVIEWS

Reviews: What are other people saying about the product? We have carefully sourced the products from a wide range of websites from which we have chosen 5 with the best features. We have also provided you with the respective Amazon links to the products and you can peruse through the options to find whatever fits your needs.

That said, We have also tried to give our own opinions on the products themselves, and we hope that this is what you are looking for. A careful price-to-quality analysis will help you better choose your device, and this guide shall help you through it as much as it can.

1.    Draytek VigorAP 920R Outdoor Wireless Access Point

Amazon link

This is one of the best Outdoor wireless APs out there. It has a tough plastic casing, which is IP67 certified, withstanding harsh weather conditions and temperatures from -40°F to 158°F. It takes advantage of features like MU-MIMO, which helps it handle multiple users at the same time and is ideal for a high density environment. It has a mounting kit included in the package and can be mounted on poles or walls. Draytek offers a web-based utility which can be used to configure the device. The best feature is that you don’t need a separate controller, as many such devices will connect to the Vigor network, offering a seamless connectivity to your access points.

We suggest you check the dimensions of the CPE device before mounting. You also have to get your own PoE switch or buy your own adapter. It is also suggested that the mounting is as high as possible, and that the antennas are pointed in the general direction of the router to get the best possible connectivity. Connectivity can range up to 670ft, and speeds can range from around 27Mbps to 7.5Mbps depending on the range.

2.    Mikrotik NetMetal ac2 Outoor Access Point

Amazon link

Continuing it’s rugged exterior from predecessor models, this router can see you through the roughest of storms to the hottest of days. With a three layer metal casing and IP66 rating, it can withstand temperatures from up to -40°F to 158°F. It has a silicone band enclosure for making it water and dust resistant. It comes with a mounting kit and power adapter and can be mounted both on walls as well as poles (though it would seem as though it was designed to be mounted on poles due to the area for this in the rear side). It has a dedicated 10/100/1000M Gigabit Ethernet port, a SIM card slot as well as a SFP port as well.

The software used is RouterOS, but the CPE can also be configured by using their Mikrotik Winbox utility. While it isn’t the easiest to set up, there is a dedicated Wiki page for RouterOS, making it a little easier to set up. They even have a mobile app that includes almost every feature available on their Website, with a step-by-step initial configuration wizard as well. These have always appealed to the more IT professional landscape rather than day-to-day household usage.

Do take a note that you don’t get antennas in the package, so you must separately buy them. Of course, the higher gain the antennas are, the better (around 4-5dBi). The 5Ghz frequency on a 5dBi antenna gives you from 93.8Mbps to around 20Mbps and the 2.4Ghz frequency on the same antenna gives you from 39.3Mbps to 20Mbps, depending on the distance (from 70-570 ft). It also does depend on the client’s Wi-Fi. This performs best indoors and is suitable for such environments but perform decently outdoors as well.

3.    Engenius ENH1750EXT Outdoor Access Point

Amazon link

Engenius is known for its long-distance connectivity solutions. A model showing the evolution of technology, this wireless AP has a new rugged exterior and two PoE+ ports for connecting many devices. It also has a larger body, but still the same weight as previous models. There are 6 antennas; the bottom 3 of 5dBi each, dedicated to the 2.4Ghz frequency and the top 3 of 7dBi each, dedicated to the 5Ghz frequency. These antennas are detachable and omnidirectional. And in between the bottom 3 antennas are two ethernet ports with a compression nut to ensure proper connectivity and protection to the cables. It is also having an IP68 waterproof and dustproof rating, so rains won’t be a problem. It can withstand from 0-90% humidity and also temperatures ranging from -4°F to 160°F. It comes with a mounting kit and PoE injector, so you can mount on both poles and walls. You can set up and configure this router on the Engenius web page by going to their custom URL. A quick setup guide is also provided in the package.

Although it can withstand an ESD of up to 80V, you should buy separate lightning protection equipment. The maximum distance found was 500ft away, and at close range you get around 110Mbps using the 2.4Ghz channel and around 385Mbps on the 5Ghz frequency channel.

4.    Cambium ePMP 2000 5 Ghz Smart Outdoor Access Point

Amazon link

This is a relatively new company, but it is ideated from the previously well-known Canopy Networks and Orthogon Systems. While ePMP platforms are expensive, they are more stable and have a mature software.

It has 2 key features that separates it from the clutter. One is Smart BeamForming (which reduces the effects of on-channel interferences) and Intelligent Filtering (which reduces off-channel interferences by shielding the used channel with a dynamic filter). Cambium also provides a lot of free courses and certified training programmes as well for their products.

You get 2 Smart Antenna ports (H and V), a Gigabit Ethernet port and a GPS Antenna Connector (SMA, Female). It can operate in temperatures ranging from -22°F to 131°F. It has an internal heater for the cold weather and has an IP65 rating, so it isn’t the most ideal for dust and water resistances. You can go to their dedicated IP address and through their descriptive Quick Start guide, set up the CPE with ease. You can also monitor and/or change tools and settings through this interface. Additional features are also offered by Cambium for user convenience.

You can mount on both walls and poles, but make sure your mounting is firm and that there is sufficient lightning protection.

5.    TP-LINK CPE510 Outdoor Wireless Access Point

Amazon link

TP-Link is one of the main sources of consumer-type networking products. Predominantly in the home-user market, it isn’t extremely popular in the business market. Nonetheless they haven’t neglected the Outdoor Access Point segment, and an affordable router is the TP-Link CPE510 Outdoor Wireless AP.

It has a dual polarized 13dBi antenna built into the access point. It can withstand up to 6000V of electric shock, from -22°F to 138°F temperatures and operate in conditions with 10% to 90% humidity. It also has an IPX5 rating, so it can withstand water just for a brief moment.

With the kit, you get a passive PoE adapter, a power cord, an installation guide, and a mounting kit. Ideally you should mount it on a pole, but brackets are given for wall mounting. Once you go to the default IP address, you can explore the Pharos software of TP-Link and set up your CPE.

 After you make your decision the following video will help you install the device:

One must note that the antenna is not omnidirectional. Hence to cover longer distances we recommend using two of these. You can still replace it with an omnidirectional antenna, should you choose to do so. Also, there must be a clear line of sight between the CPE and the wireless devices, and minimal obstructions over longer distances. You also need to assign a static IP address. TP-Link claims that the signal range is upto 10 miles, but signal drops have been seen up to 75% at 1500ft (with obstacles), but we can say that this Outdoor CPE device has a pretty long range.

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