Guest Column | May 22, 2014

3 Wireless Site Survey Tips And Common Mistakes To Avoid

Wireless Site Survey Tips

By Lucy Dixon, Marketing Assistant, Accucode

With the proliferation of mobile devices, employees and customers now expect the ability to be seamlessly connected at all times. A lot of businesses have set up wireless networks in their offices, stores and warehouses in an attempt to provide that seamless connection. There are a lot of variables that go into setting up a good network, however. With the Wi-Fi landscape changing every day it’s important to understand what is already there before you build a network. You should conduct a wireless site survey to gather information that can help you build a network that will meet all your needs. 

One important variable surveyors have to consider is the different channels radio signals can run on. Along with many other electronics like Bluetooth headsets, cell phones, and microwave ovens, most wireless networks run on 2.4 or 5 GHz band. These bands fall under channels that are unlicensed, meaning there are no strict regulations on how and when they are used. When it comes to the installation of network access points, this kind of free-for-all in the channels can create a lot of noise and interference. So if the network is running slow, there could be a lot of things going on to make the network jam up. Below, are a few other tips for a successful wireless site survey.

Know The Environment

For a predictive survey, or a survey for a site which does not currently have a network, this may be one of the most important points. To set up a successful network, it is important to become familiar with the entire area you’re trying to cover. That includes the materials the building is made out of, to the size of the rooms and halls, to the height of the ceilings. It’s also important to become familiar with the customer environment. Walk down every aisle to make sure that the shelves, racks, signs or even holiday decorations are not going to interfere with the signal. Sometimes, even the duct work can interfere with the signal, so it’s very important to understand every aspect of the building.

Make A Channel Plan

If a network is running slowly, but the survey tools are showing decent coverage, you should look at the aforementioned channel options. While the 5 gigahertz band has 12 non-overlapping channels, most consumer devices are still running on a 2.4 GHz band, with just three non-overlapping channels. That means that you have to look at the surrounding networks and see what channels they are running on. Then, make sure that your access points are separated by channel use and by physical location.

For example, if you are setting up a network in a strip mall, the location of a neighbor’s access points and the channel they’re running on will affect your channel and where you place your own access points. Say a store shares a wall with a neighboring store, and they have a router (access point) on their side of the shared wall running on channel 1 in the S-Band. In your customer’s store, you would want to physically separate the access point and choose a different channel. This, of course gets more complicated as you add more access points to expand coverage. You also need to find a balance between number of access points and end users. The more end users, the more access points you’ll need, but you’ll want to keep the number of access points to a minimum due to the limited channel options. Eventually, channels will overlap, and you will need to design an optimized network setup for such situations.

Test The Hardware And The Frequency At The Right Time

Subscribe to Business Solutions magazineA common mistake surveyors make when testing a wireless network, is running the test when the network is not typically in use. For example, if your customer is a retail store and the surveyor runs the survey at night when you, and all the surrounding stores are closed, the results could show a smooth-running network. The next day, however, that same network could get bogged down by many more end-users and other interfering signals. If you run a test during the downtime, it will not accurately reflect how well the network operates.

Also, always benchmark equipment on a familiar network before conducting a survey in the field. Make sure the equipment is reading the right frequency and there aren’t any other technical malfunctions like a broken internal antenna. The precaution allows the surveyor to guarantee a problem with a client’s network versus a problem in the measuring equipment.