Wi-Fi site survey tips | Network World

Wi-Fi can be fickle. The RF signals and wireless devices don’t always do what’s expected – it’s as if they have their own minds at times. A Wi-Fi network that’s been quickly or inadequately designed can be even worse, spawning endless complaints from Wi-Fi users. But with proper planning and surveying, you can better design a wireless network, making you and your Wi-Fi users much happier. Here are some tips for getting started with a well-planned Wi-Fi site survey.

Use the right tools for the job

If you’re only trying to cover a small building or area that requires a few wireless access points (AP), you may be able to get away with doing a Wi-Fi survey using a simple Wi-Fi stumbler or analyzer on your laptop or mobile device. You’ll even find some free apps out there. Commercial options range from a few dollars to thousands of dollars for the popular enterprise vendors.

Using a simple Wi-Fi stumbler or analyzer, you can walk around while looking at the signal level of the APs you’re surveying to get an idea of the signal propagation, coverage boundaries, and possibly the data rates.

This is an on-the-spot approach; you would visualize in your head where the coverage boundaries are, or sketch them on a floor plan or map of the area.

For networks that will require more than a handful of APs, a map-based survey tool is recommended. There are some free or low-cost options, but the popular enterprise-level solutions go into the thousands.

AirMagnet Survey from NETSCOUT

Using a map-based survey tool (pictured) allows you to load a floor plan or map of the area into the software and then walk around while marking your location. In the end, you have a heatmap of the signal, noise, signal-to-noise ratio, data rates, and other results. This allows you to better visualize the coverage and performance of the APs and any neighboring networks. It also provides a better way to save and view the data after the fact than what you’d get using a Wi-Fi stumbler or analyzer.

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