Friday, August 5, 2011

Custom Wireless Access Point Mounts

Quite often the topic of access point mounting options comes up when discussing Wi-Fi solutions and exchanging best practices and experiences with professional peers.

It is not surprising that many professionals in the industry find the vendor supplied AP mounting brackets insufficient, and search for mounting solutions that can better meet their needs in a cost-effective manner. The standard access point mounting brackets bundled by many vendors are usually ineffective for common deployments. By common deployments I mean cubicles, offices, carpeted areas, or generally open and accessible spaces that require omni-directional RF coverage.

Standard Vendor Wall and
Ceiling Mount Brackets - bleh!
Vendors typically provide either wall-plate or drop-ceiling frame brackets. Wall-plate brackets are easy to deploy, but having APs visible in the workplace is usually not very aestethically pleasing (let's face it, most enterprise grade APs are ugly, but some have been getting better) and in many environments wall mounted APs also cannot provide an optimal RF coverage or capacity for the physical space (think of large open areas without interior walls and exterior walls too distant to effectively cover the center of area). Drop-ceiling frame brackets also typically leave ugly APs exposed and also can be a pain to install, having to cut out holes in existing ceiling tiles to run Ethernet cables through to the APs. This may not be of big concern for a small company, but deployments of any significant size will quickly realize the inefficiencies involved when installing hundreds or thousands of access points in this manner. Additionally, standard vendor brackets are usually a pain to install with tegular ceiling tiles where the tiles are not flush with the framing structure, but reveal below the edge.

Hence the need for most wireless installers to seek alternative mounting options.

Off-the-Shelf Mounts
A quick search on the Internet will yield hundreds of solutions for off the shelf 3rd party mounts for most wireless manufacturers and AP models. Although much more aesthetically pleasing, these solutions are typically extremely expensive. Mounts that cost upwards of $200-$300 each are not uncommon and can significantly increase the solution cost. Consider enterprise grade access points that can be acquired for $300-$600 each (depending on vendor, list price, discount structure, customer contract details, etc.), those 3rd party mounts could very well increase a project budget by 30-70%. That's a significant additional expense for to an organization without adding much value.

Note - certain exceptions do exist where specific access point mounting features are required and can drive value for the organization, such as NEMA enclosures for deployment in harsh environments or secured locking enclosures in high risk environments.

Sample 3rd Party Wireless AP Mount - Nice, but Expensive!
Custom Mounts - A Better Solution for Many Applications
Rather than use the vendor supplied mounts or expensive 3rd party mounts, consider creating or sourcing custom mounts that fit your specific needs. For instance, custom drop ceiling mounts can be sourced from a plastics manufacturer that look aesthetically pleasing, cost significantly less (especially when ordered in bulk), and can provide optimal coverage for common spaces requiring omni-directional access point antennas. Here is an example:

Cisco 3502i Custom CELTEC PVC Foam Drop-Ceiling Mount
You can see that the 2'x2' custom mount looks very similar to the 3rd party mount. However, instead of being manufactured out of powder-coated steel or aluminum, this is made with CELTEC PVC Foam. This plastic is highly durable and can easily support the weight and load of most wireless access points.

This mount was made specifically for a Cisco 3502i wireless access point. Partnership with a plastics company was quick and resulted in a fairly simple, yet elegant design. The mount itself is only 1/4" thick allowing for bulk packaging and shipment. The plastic has a custom machined hole that is beveled to match the contour of the front face of the access point. On the reverse side, a neoprene sleeve secures the access point in place to prevent shifting and eliminate risk of injury during installation and maintenance. The neoprene sleeve has a specially designed hole at the center for heat dissipation and stretches for AP installation. A second hole has been engineered to provide easy routing of cables to the access point.

Pricing for the custom mounts is much more reasonable, and can range from $25-$40 each depending on the volume ordered, and typically reduces related expense down to 4-13% of project budget.

Revolution or Evolution? - Andrew's Take
Custom access point mounts can fit a variety of needs in a cost-effective and aestethically pleasing manner, and allow deployment flexibility to meet RF design requirements. Minimal up-front engineering effort is required when partnering with a plastics manufacturer. Prior to purchasing wireless access points, determine the mounting requirements and leave the mounting kit that most vendors supply out of the purchase. They're usually not worth it anyways. Avoid 3rd party mounts unless you can source them at a reasonable price, and don't get caught paying for extra features (such as swing doors and locking mechanisms) that are not required for your environment. CELTEC PVC Foam mounts provide durable and quality mounts for most deployments. Find a plastics manufacturer that can deliver on your design requirements and are responsive to customer needs.


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