When you’re running a device lab to test across a variety of internet connected (mobile) devices, a wireless local area network will be your primary way to hook up your gear to the ‘tubes. When you’re taking that device lab rather seriously and you’re testing across, let’s say, more than 30 devices, you will quickly run into a problem: your WiFi.

Don’t believe the tech spec hype

Some manufacturers publish tech specs stating the maximum connections their access points are capable to support. Yes, most don’t even do that (or talk about the “number of people that can share the same internet connection”), and there is a reason for that. These numbers might be true in some ideal scenario (like: all connected devices using the same chipset, behaving in mixed conditions (some idle, some active), all in vital shape), but having tested a number of these SoHo-style devices we all tend to use at home and in small and medium businesses, I can tell these numbers are very optimistic. At least for the use case we’re after, and that, to be fair, might not be the scenario the manufacturers meant when they published their numbers:

The use case is a tough one

Synchronized browsing, used in web development to easily preview and debug code in production across a farm of devices, implicates X devices calling the same URL at more or less the same time, sometimes several times a minute (code, preview, debug, refresh). There are a lot of variables to take into account and a lot basically “depends” as a rule of thumb around this topic ;). For illustration purpose imagine the traffic produced by 50 devices calling a webpage with 30 requests and a 0.5-1 MB pageload, refreshed continuosly – do the math. That is most likely not what the makers of that WiFi-gear had in mind when they were talking about the number of clients.

A number of mobile devices combined to a device lab
How does your WiFi gear like more than 30 devices?

I cannot find gear that is suitable for the above scenario and affordable for individuals or small and medium businesses, that run (non-for-profit open) device labs. The available product documentation is not comparable (enough). I know there is superexpensive gear used for permanent installations or at events, but this is not even close to the budget range of what I am looking for. I am not a wireless networks expert, and most of the people would agree this to be a black box to most of the typical web or app developers. And the experts I asked also only know the superexpensive gear (and actually don’t know talk too precisely about limitations with the above use case).

There seems to be a huge gap between 30-300 Euro-ish SoHo-style devices and 6000+ Euro-ish gear. Is there an affordable solution, somewhere inbetween?

Call to action

I know that a ton of people is looking for a solution, so this blog post is to find out. Please help, point people that could know more than us to this post, and share knowledge via a comment. If you run a device lab and found gear that does the job, please post your experience and suggestions. If you combined a set of APs to a working solution, please post the details here (I’d prefer a single device for a number of reasons, but, anything is better than nothing).

Thank you!

Update (May 29, 2013 – looong overdue looking at the number of feedback I have received via Twitter and E-Mail in the meantime, my apologies!):