We install wireless network solutions on a regular basis, and are often asked if a site survey is necessary or not.
The answer is yes—you do need a site survey, in order to get the best results from your wireless implementation. Without one, there is no way to guarantee a solution will meet your 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, etc.
The first thing needed to conduct a wireless site survey is a floor plan of the environment. The more detailed the floor plan is, the better. It should include dimensions as well as any structures that could impact a wireless signal, such as elevators or staircases.
This floor plan is used with wireless site survey tools to determine the best location for access points. Heat maps will indicate signal strength, coverage, and problem areas.
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
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 with multiple access points and specific network requirements, a wireless site survey is a must.
What are the different types of wireless site surveys?
There are several types of surveys that can be completed depending on the results you’re looking for.
For small implementations (up to 5 access points), all you need is a predictive survey. These can be done remotely.
For larger implementations, a predictive survey is followed by an onsite active survey to confirm the results. Additionally, a post-implementation survey is completed to show actual results.
The more critical the wireless network is to your business, the more time should be invested in a survey to make sure the desired results are met. Without a survey, you can only guess 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’ll ask some questions about how you plan to use your wireless network and your general needs. Using the information you provide, we will recommend an access point model.
This model will be used to create a heat map of your location. The heat map 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 access points required and project cost.
Active Wireless Site Surveys
If accuracy is your goal, then an active site survey is ideal. An active wireless site survey requires an on-site visit by a certified wireless engineer. These typically take from a few hours to a few days to complete, depending on the size of your location.
An active site survey can be done in a new environment with no wireless equipment in place. It 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 with a predictive site survey, an active wireless site survey begins with a floor plan. 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 take 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 all have a negative impact on the wireless signal.
Construction materials also have their own affect. For example, drywall is not as bad for wireless 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 access point failure or scheduled downtime of a specific access point.
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, such as hospitals, clinics, & manufacturers
We’ve been performing wireless site surveys for over 10 years. We also have significant experience deploying wireless networks in high availability environments like hospitals and manufacturing warehouses. More than that, we understand networking and voice, and know how to deliver the results needed to meet your expectations for performance on a wireless network.
We have wireless engineers on staff who are certified on both Cisco and Meraki platforms. In addition, we have 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.