May 16, 2022 9:30:00 AM 6 min read

How does a Digital Sign Connect to your Network (and which way is best)

 

For many businesses, digital signs are a great way to get important information in front of your audience. One of the biggest benefits of adding digital signage is the ability to quickly update the content on your sign from anywhere. But before you get to access that unlimited potential of your sign, you’ll need to hook it up to the internet.


If you're looking to connect a digital sign to a network, there are a few different methods you can use. One of the easiest and most effective is cellular connectivity. Cellular works right out of the box and avoids connecting to your local network, providing increased security. WiFi is another option, which will wirelessly connect your local network to the display. Finally, a wired connection via ethernet is the final option, which connects to your local network as well.

Related: Traditional Static vs. Digital Signage Pros and Cons

Cellular

Most people don’t immediately think of cellular when they consider connecting their sign to the internet. Cellular connectivity is actually one of the easiest methods of connecting your sign. It does not directly connect to your network, you don’t need to worry about whitelisting or configuration, which can save time and money. It works right out of the box! You also can view the health of your sign through a content management system like Cirrus’ ScreenHub, which allows you to maintain control without the headache. Cirrus outdoor displays also come with LTE cellular connectivity for 5 years at no extra cost.

Cellular also has a higher uptime than an internet provider. Cellular networks are considered critical infrastructure, if they go down, it’s often for a shorter time. This can really make a difference after a major weather event or during work by the internet provider. 

We find this to be the most reliable and easy to deploy method and we recommend cellular over wireless or wired options. The only scenario where cellular would not be a good option would be in areas with poor cellular coverage. 

If cell coverage is spotty in the area, this can cause connectivity issues. This most commonly happens in rural areas, so ask which cellular provider works with the display sign.

Finally, some LED manufacturers,  limited cellular usage, preventing animations and videos to 30 seconds or less. They also limit how often your sign can update. Always check what rules the manufacturer has around cell coverage before you buy. While this method is the easiest to deploy, you want to make sure you are going to get the most out of your sign. Cirrus doesn’t impose limitations on updates or video through a cellular connection, it’s your sign and you should be able to use it to its full potential.

Pros

  • Set it and forget it.
  • Less maintenance, less upfront cost
  • If your internet goes down for any reason your sign will continue to update
  • Cell service has higher uptime than the internet as it’s considered a critical infrastructure

Cons

  • If there is poor coverage in your area this may not be the best option
  • Check the cellular plan offered by the manufacturer, some are more robust than others

Ethernet

The original method of connecting a digital sign to your network is ethernet. This will provide a wired connection which provides improved stability over a wireless WiFi connection to your local network

If you’re replacing a static sign or readerboard, the existing conduit for cables may be full, making it complex and expensive to run a new conduit for an ethernet line. Ethernet cables also have a maximum length of 330 feet, so if you have a large parking lot between your sign and where the sign will be placed, it can be a no-go. If you exceed the maximum distance your connection will be unreliable.

The last thing to consider is your firewall. If you have a firewall you need to grant the sign access and ensure it’s set up correctly or set up a static IP. IT support may be needed to arrange the proper permissions which could be a cost to your business.

Pros

  • It’s on your network and the connection is usually reliable.
  • You can set the timeline for fixing network issues with your IT person or team

Cons

  • If you’re a small business and you do not have a dedicated IT person, you may need an external contractor to fix network issues incurring costs
  • If your conduit isn’t wide enough for the ethernet cable you’ll need to run more, which is expensive
  • Ethernet has a maximum distance of 100m (330 feet) and then it becomes unreliable, which means your sign may not work
  • If you have a firewall for your business, setting up access can get tricky

WiFi

WiFi is an option if you want to put your sign outside and don’t have conduit space available. Seems simple enough… you just put in your password and you’re done! But this isn’t actually the case. The benefits are mostly the same as with ethernet – the sign is on your network and you control that network. With WiFi, you remove the complexity of running conduit – which can save you money, but it is not without its own complications.

One of the biggest challenges with WiFi is the positioning of the antenna at the sign and the access point that is connected to your building and router. A sign needs an antenna that receives the WiFi signal, and a configured access point to your network. They need to have a direct line of sight in order for your sign to get a signal. This means if your access point isn’t on the same side of the building as your sign, there are trees in between the access point and the sign, or large trucks or busses frequently park between them it can make the connection to your sign spotty or non-existent. 

As more smart devices are installed in and around your business, it can begin to affect the signal strength of your wireless connection. While you may have a strong signal in year one, the more wireless devices installed in your business or other nearby business can cause signal interference issues with your display.

One of the biggest cons to WiFi is that any new access point needs to be whitelisted and then configured to have access to your network. Any time a small change is made to your network, the display connection needs to be reconfigured, which can be a big headache if you don’t have a dedicated IT person. 

Pros

  • It’s on your network - you can see it and control it
  • You set the timeline for fixing network issues if you have an IT person or team
  • Don’t need to run conduit, which saves money

Cons 

  • You have to drill a hole in your building and run a wired ethernet cable to your router.
  • Broadcast antenna and access point location matter, they need unobstructed line of sight free from: 
    •  Trees
    • Large Trucks
    • School Buses
  • Cars are now WiFi access points and can muddy the signal, making your connection to your sign spotty
  • Needs to be whitelisted and configured so that it can access your network
  • Any time you update your network, you need to confirm it’s still correctly connected

Ready to go Digital?

If you’re looking to take the next step, we’re here to help. Cirrus specializes in digital signage and content management software, to make on-premise marketing easier. Our experts can discuss what you want to achieve with a digital sign and help determine if Cirrus might help you achieve those goals. Reach out to us when you’re ready.Contact Us Today

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