Case Study: Adapter Kits as RF Connection Solutions
From Wi-Fi hot spots to remote radio repeater sites, adapters speed technical work and eliminate costly multiple visits, as this case study from RF Industries demonstrates.
When Eric Black, the owner of LA Unplugged, sends his three installers to build a Wi-Fi hot spot or a wireless local area network (WLAN) to cover a more extensive area, they take along kits of cable connector adapters.
“We design, engineer, and install wireless systems. In Hermosa Beach, California, we built a wireless system that covers 20% of the city. It has free access and fairly high-speed internet connections equivalent to three T1s, or about 6Mb,” Black says.
Wi-Fi allows computers to use the internet without wired connections, but at the very least the wireless transmitters and receivers that enable the Wi-Fi nodes require cables to connect them with various types of antennas that emit and receive signals to and from the computer.
The high frequencies involved mean relatively higher signal attenuation in cables, so using cables at a minimum length improves overall system performance. However, it wastes time when technicians have to install connectors in the field or sort through a large inventory of prefabricated cable-connector combinations.
What complicates the problem is that Wi-Fi equipment manufacturers use a variety of input and output connector sockets on their black boxes because no standard has emerged. Also, using a unique connector style helps to prevent inadvertent connection with devices that could damage the Wi-Fi equipment.
As a result, technicians face a variety of socket styles, size, and threading directions that can stand in the way of a speedier installation. (Some equipment manufacturers use sockets with reverse threads.)
Black explains that LA Unplugged installs hot spots in municipalities, malls, and shopping centers using a fairly limited set of radio equipment and a variety of antennas, each with a different connector.
“We have to create new pigtails every day. We do that to adapt to new antenna connections. We use the RF Industries RFA-4024-WIFI 30-piece Wi-Fi Unidapt kit. That has really served us well,” Black says. “One time, we used almost every connector in the kit, which is six times four, or 24 connectors. It’s been a real lifesaver in a lot of ways. It would be a nightmare to have to make and crimp or solder and create the pigtails every time we test a new antenna.”
Black’s three installers share one kit plus several extra adapter connectors and a cable tester. Adapters come into play at several stages during Wi-Fi hot-spot construction.
During a site survey, the adapters allow technicians to try out various antennas and measure results with different radios in whichever spectrum is used, including 802.11 (a), (b), or (g). Then technicians use adapters during actual installation as antennas are tested once again to make sure they meet the engineered coverage specifications.
The kit then is used with Unicables to build the cable assemblies, which later are replaced with permanent pigtails made for connecting the antennas to the radios. Adapters also are used with the coaxial cable tester to test the permanent cables.
“We like to make a lot of tweaks,” Black says. “We have the kit, so that allows us to do things we wouldn’t bother with otherwise. We are able to try things out.”
He attributes his company’s success in winning municipal bids at almost the same price points as competitors to his organization’s experience, and “we had a really good design.”
Black says using the kit saves a lot of time.
“We’ve never calculated it,” he said, “but out of every six hours, it probably saves an hour. We’ve had the kit since it came out in February 2004, which is when our business started. We have a lot of clients, and we’ve always had the kit. We haven’t done that much work without it.”
On the opposite side of the country, Bruce Marcus of Marcus Communication & Electrics in Manchester, Conn., has used the adapters for many years.
“I have every one they make, including the super-big one (the 74-piece RFA-4022),” Marcus says. “My technicians carry at least two on service calls. The 36-piece kit – everyone has two. The master kit – I keep one with me, and I must have two of the next larger kits in my lab at the house. Our technicians who work on antenna combiners and who conduct field testing carry the big gray ones.”
Although the company’s business is concentrated in New England, Marcus himself travels widely. He consults throughout the country and sometimes overseas. “FedEx can go everywhere; so do my RF adapters.”
He adds that while he has found every type of connector possible in use at various radio repeater and Wi-Fi installations, including reverse-threaded female SMA connectors on cables, “without the Unidapt kit, we couldn’t have put them on the air.”
According to Marcus, the adapter’s mechanical integrity and signal loss characteristics are equal to made-up adapters. “I would not leave them in permanently because they are screwed in and can come loose. For emergency and testing, they’re perfect because you have them with you right now.”
This cast study was contributed by RF Industries.
*Unidapt and Unicables are a trademark of RF Industries.