All About Wireless Site Surveys

All About Wireless Site Surveys

Why do you need a wireless site survey?

Telcion installs wireless network solutions on a regular basis and is often posed with the challenge of whether a site survey is necessary or not, and what the cost might be. The answer is yes, you need a site survey, in order to provide some predictability to the results of a wireless implementation. Without it, there is no way to guarantee the implementation will meet the expectations for bandwidth, signal strength, coverage, and interference.

What is a wireless site survey?

A wireless site survey is simply the process of planning a wireless network for a particular environment to meet its unique requirements for coverage, capacity, roaming, quality of service and other metrics that may need to be met.

A floor plan of the environment to be surveyed is needed, and the more detailed the floor plan is, the better. The floor plan should include dimensions as well as any structures that can impact the propagation of wireless signal such as elevators or staircases. This floor plan will be used with wireless site survey tools to determine the best location for access points and will be the basis for the heat maps that will be generated to indicate signal strength, coverage, and problem areas.

What a wireless site survey includes:

  • Mounting locations
  • Description of cable paths
  • Recommended access point models and antennas
  • Multiple heat maps indicating coverage, signal strength,
    bandwidth capacity, and any trouble spots
  • Pictures and notes taken during the site walk through that will impact the implementation

Is a wireless site survey worth it?

Small businesses that need basic connectivity with a couple of access points may not see a lot of benefit from a survey. However, for larger businesses where multiple access points will be deployed, and where there is specific network requirements, a wireless site survey is a must.

What are the different wireless site surveys?

There are several types of survey’s that can be completed depending on the results the client is looking for. For small implementations (5 or less access points), a predictive survey is all that is needed and can be done remotely. In larger implementations, a predictive survey is completed followed by an onsite active survey, to confirm the results. And finally, a post implementation survey is completed to show actual results. What is required is heavily dependent on the results that are needed. The more critical the wireless network is to the business, the more time investment in a survey to make sure the desired results are met. Without a survey, we are just guessing at what the outcomes will be which will assuredly lead to poor coverage, lack of bandwidth, and inconsistent performance for users. Ultimately, this will become a time consuming and expensive endeavor that a site survey would have prevented.

Predictive Wireless Site Surveys
In a predictive site survey, we will collect floor plans of your space, preferably as CAD drawings from your architect if available. We will ask some questions about how you plan to use your wireless network and what your general needs are. Using the information you provided, we will recommend an access point model. This model will be used to create a heatmap of your location. The heatmap will feature recommended equipment placement and a visual representation of how the wireless signal will propagate within your environment.

For small environments, a predictive survey can be delivered as part of the sales process to help estimate the number of AP’s required in order to determine budget and project cost. However, there are some sacrifices that are made in terms of quality and accuracy. In most cases when deploying more than 3 wireless APs, a predictive site survey is not sufficient. Items such as AP placement, wireless signal coverage, and network performance are generally estimated and may require slight or even drastic changes in order to best align with your environment and needs.

Active Wireless Site Surveys
If accuracy is the goal, then an active site survey is ideal. An active wireless site survey will require an on-site visit by a certified wireless engineer. It can typically take from a few hours to a few days to complete, depending on the size of the location. An active site survey can be done in a new environment with no wireless equipment in place. A survey can also be done in a location where a wireless system already exists but needs to be fixed or configured properly. The final report will offer an extremely accurate plan for equipment placement, wireless signal coverage, network performance, cabling and installation.

Just like in a predictive site survey, a floor plan will need to be shared and the general wireless needs will need to be discussed. This is where the similarities end. A wireless engineer uploads the floor plans into the site survey software and positions a single access point in the space. The engineer then begins to roam around the space and takes measurements of the access point’s signal strength. The site survey software will also measure outside interference from nearby wireless networks in order to allow the wireless engineer to provide recommendations for channel selection and other configurations.

The man-hours that go into an active site survey are not limited to the time spent on-site. The wireless engineer will spend several hours following the onsite component drawing up walls and other structures on to the provided floor plans in order to provide an even more accurate representation of the wireless signal propagation in the space. Staircases, elevator shafts, windows and walls will all have a negative impact on the wireless signal. Construction materials of the walls will also have their own affect. For example, drywall will not be as bad for wireless radio signals as concrete is. Cabinets, doors, ceiling height all impact wireless coverage. And we are not only measuring for signal strength and interference, but also determining the reachability to other access points in the event of an AP failure or scheduled downtime of a specific AP.

Environments that should strongly consider a survey:

  • Office buildings with highly congested environments, including neighbors with their own wireless networks that will cause interference
  • Warehouse environments that require signal coverage in dense or noisy areas
  • Buildings that are filled with many solid structures like concrete pillars
  • Any environment where wireless is critical to day to day operations, including hospitals, clinics, manufacturing, etc.

How much does a wireless site survey cost?

A predictive survey, as described above, for small environments can generally be included in the design process at no cost, assuming there is no onsite walk through required. An active site survey is customized per client and is difficult to estimate. As a general rule, the price is $2,500 per day, and most buildings can be completed in two days. If it is a campus environment with multiple buildings, it will likely take 5-7 days.

Factors that will affect survey cost:

  • Square footage of survey area
  • Support requirement for specific wireless applications
  • Ceiling height and requirements for lifts
  • Floor plan creation requirements
  • Physical location of survey environment
  • Wireless hardware requirements
  • The time it takes to compete site survey
  • Report turnaround requirements
  • Specific client requirements such as needing the survey conducted during off-business hours, expedited completion, or difficult environmental areas (emergency rooms, cold storage, heavily trafficked)

Why Telcion?

Telcion has been performing wireless site surveys for over 10 years and has significant experience in the deployment of wireless networks in high availability environments including hospitals and manufacturing warehouses. More than that, Telcion understands networking and voice, and knows how to deliver the results needed to meet our client expectations for performance on a wireless network.

Telcion has wireless engineers on staff that are certified on both Cisco and Meraki platforms. In addition, Telcion has a structured cabling division that can install and certify the cabling infrastructure required for a wireless network.

There are many requirements to build a successful wireless network, and Telcion can bring all of the toolsets together to deliver the results you need.