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2020 CARES Act Grants

Options for Improving Public Internet Access

For those libraries whose grant application requests funding to improve public Internet access, this document is intended to provide some guidance and examples of equipment that meet current standards.

Improving Exterior Wi-Fi Coverage

Are there areas outside your building which would be great for patrons (parking lot, road, picnic table, benches), but where the Wi-Fi signal is inadequate? An easy way to check is to run a broadband speed test (we recommend on a phone or device while out there, ideally at the same time someone else is using it. If the outside locations you are intending to provide Wi-Fi access to need coverage or improvement, there are a number of options:
  • Upgrade Current Wireless Router/Access Point – Depending on the age and capabilities of your wireless router or access point, you may be able to purchase a new one with significantly better range and speed. If you have multiple access points, you should prioritize the one that impacts exterior users for the purposes of this grant.

  • Add an Additional Unit – Is there a spot in your building that you could put a Wi-Fi device that overlooks the parking lot/benches you are trying to reach?

    • Wireless Access Point (WAP) – Is there an Ethernet jack near that spot, or can you run an Ethernet cable from your switch or router to it? If so, an extra Wireless Access Point/Router provides the best bandwidth.
    • Extender – If getting an Ethernet cable to that spot is impractical, you could consider adding a Wi-Fi extender. This connects to your existing Wi-Fi and rebroadcasts the signal. Though not as effective as a WAP connected to Ethernet, they have gotten much better in the last few years.
    • Outdoor Wireless Device – There are outdoor options for both WAP’s and extenders, but the installation is more involved, and they require power and/or an Ethernet connection.

Replacement in Underlying Network - Is there a device that has failed, is a bottleneck, or has intermittent problems? Examples – A failed Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS), a router that needs to be reset regularly, a switch with multiple dead ports, network cabling that has failed, or an old router or switch that acts as a bottleneck to your network?

What Do I Buy?

  • Wi-Fi standards are rapidly changing. 802.11ac Wi-Fi is probably the most widely used today, but the recently-released Wi-Fi 6 (or 802.11ax) standard is emerging and will eventually replace 802.11ac. Wi-Fi 6 is backward compatible, so it will work with any Wi-Fi device—new or old. We recommend moving to Wi-Fi 6.
  • If you are looking for an additional device to extend coverage, one option is a well-reviewed model of the same brand you are already using.
  • If you have a preferred vendor or tech person, consult with them when selecting equipment. Reviews can be another valuable resource.
  • If you are upgrading equipment, we recommend that you replace network (Ethernet) cables at the same time, with cabling rated at least Category 6 or 6A.
Examples of Devices That Are Rated Highly and Meet Current Standards.

Important Note: these are only examples—many, many other products offer comparable features and performance, and new models (especially Wi-Fi 6 devices) are being released continuously.


Wireless Routers
Wi-Fi Mesh Networking Extenders Network Switches

POE Switches (these provide Power Over Ethernet, which makes installation of POE-compatible Wi-Fi access points easier.  POE provides device power over the Ethernet cable, allowing access points to be placed in locations without access to power--in ceilings, for example.) Uninterruptible Power Supplies (these protect computers, routers, etc. from power surges and brief power interruptions) Glossary

Access PointA Wi-Fi device that allows users to connect wirelessly to a network (and usually, on to the Internet).  The term is often used interchangeably with “Wi-Fi Router.”  True access points, however, do not include routing functionality.  In general, the best choice for libraries is a router.  See “Wi-Fi Router” for further information.

Ethernet – The most widely used wired networking technology, defined in the IEEE 802.3 Standard.  Virtually every computer device in use today includes an Ethernet port, which allows devices ranging from printers to routers to workstations and servers to communicate with each other.

Mesh Wi-Fi Mesh networking is a streamlined implementation of Wi-Fi extender technology.  Mesh networks consist of a mesh-enabled router and one or more “satellite” units, which re-broadcast the main signal to extend the range of the network.  Mesh devices typically provide simplified setup and management compared to adding Wi-Fi extenders to an existing network. If purchasing a new router, and the library is likely to need to extend its coverage, it is best to purchase all mesh-compatible equipment rather than using range extenders.

POE  (Power Over Ethernet).  Designed to simplify installation of network devices—such as routers—in locations that do not have access to power outlets.  This works by sending power over the network (Ethernet) cabling.  It requires that both the network switch, and the remote device are POE capable.

Switch – A component used to connect all the devices on a network together so that they can communicate.  Switches would typically also be connected to a router to allow Internet access.  Note: prior to the invention of switches, hubs were used to interconnect devices.  The terms “switch” and “hub” are sometimes (incorrectly) used interchangeably.  Switches provide much faster connectivity than hubs; hubs should be considered obsolete.

Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) – Sometimes referred to as a “battery backup,” a UPS is designed to protect equipment from power surges and interruptions.  They are typically used to protect core networking equipment such as routers and switches (and servers) from power surges, “flickers,” and outages.  In the event of a power disruption, a UPS will automatically switch on so that equipment remains operational.  The capacity of UPS units is expressed in Volt-Amps (VA).  Larger capacities provide longer runtimes after a power failure.  For protecting switches and routers, 1000VA is usually more than adequate.

Wi-Fi A family of wireless networking protocols, based on the IEEE 802.11 specifications.  Wi-Fi is a trademark of an industry group, the Wi-Fi Alliance.  The 802.11 standards continue to evolve, with newer, faster versions released periodically.  The most widely used version today is 802.11ac.  However, a newer version, 802.11ax, (adopted in late 2019) is the latest and is recommended when buying new equipment.  With the release of 802.11ax, the Wi-Fi Alliance introduced a new naming scheme which is intended to simplify things.  In this new scheme, 802.11ax is referred to as Wi-Fi 6.

Wi-Fi Extender – A device used to “re-broadcast” the signal from a router/access point so as to provide a better signal to a “dead zone.”  An extender is not connected via cable to the local network; instead, it picks up the signal from the main router/access point.

Wi-Fi Router A Wi-Fi device that combines two components: an access point and a router.  The access point provides a wireless connection to the network; the router component serves as a “bridge,” connecting Wi-Fi users to the library’s internal network, or, in some cases, directly to the Internet.

For more information, contact Christa Porter.