Internet access is essential in every business. You must do everything you can to have faster speeds, reasonable data rates, and no issues with infrastructure inhibiting your signal.
What's the best way to ensure a reliable wireless connection for your business?
With a Wireless Site Survey.
What is a wireless site survey?
A wireless site survey is the physical inspection of a site where a wireless radio frequency (RF) network will be installed. The survey assesses the environment to determine wireless coverage, data rates, network capacity, roaming capability, and quality of service. The goal is to visualize the wireless coverage areas (generally through heatmaps), so you can know where your signal will be strongest and weakest.
Also known as: WLAN site survey, wireless network survey, RF site survey, or networking site survey
In other words, a survey is conducted to ensure that your business gets the most from your wireless network and saves you money (and frustration) in the long run.
Site surveys can be conducted in any environment: warehouse, office, hospital, hotel, school, etc.
The two main objectives are:
- Finding areas of RF coverage and interference
- Determining the placement of access points (APs)
3 Types of Wireless Site Surveys
There are several survey types. You will likely encounter all of them in your site's lifetime. Each type serves a different purpose, so it's essential to know how they differ.
Predictive Site Survey
A predictive site survey is performed without field measurements and relies on computer software, floor plans, and WiFi standards. An RF software simulates the building and predicts the number of APs and locations needed to meet the required coverage.
Predictive site surveys do not require an onsite visit, so they are typically used when deploying WiFi in a new space. They are beneficial when budgeting but are only as reliable as the information provided. With this in mind, it's best to do a passive site survey once a site's built to arm the engineer or designer with as much information as possible.
Passive Site Survey
In a passive site survey, we do a physical survey of the building to collect data. A physical walk-through of the site ensures that all factors that may impact network performance are accounted for. The surveying tool is not connected to the WiFi network during the walk-through and only listens to the WiFi environment. The survey software scans specific channels and networks to measure signal strength, signal-to-noise ratios, and interference.
Passive site surveys are performed once a space is built, both before a network is operational and routinely after going live to monitor and assess performance.
Active Site Survey
An active site survey is similar to a passive survey, but the survey tools are connected to the network's access points. This allows for an array of information to be gathered, like network traffic, round-trip-time (RTT), throughput, and upload/download speeds.
Active site surveys are usually used to troubleshoot WiFi networks and measure the real-world performance of your network. They are generally more expensive and need to be conducted during business hours for the most accurate reporting, but it collects information that the other two survey types can’t provide.
Why is a Networking Site Survey Necessary?
When people connect to your network, they aren't just looking at articles. They're streaming, video conferencing, downloading, running several programs at once, and connecting multiple devices. We live in a world where people expect peak performance all the time. They don't care if they're at a conference with hundreds of other people; they want near-instantaneous downloads and minimal latency.
This creates a challenge for IT teams because every space is different, from the ceiling height to the material selection and needs of an organization. A wireless survey will help engineers understand the RF behavior of a space to determine the feasibility of deploying a wireless network that can meet an organization's needs.
Here are 3 reasons why site surveys are necessary:
Identity Coverage Holes and Interference
Everything from furniture to people can affect radio frequency. A site survey will help identify co-channel interferences, troublesome external radio interferences, and where to place APs for the best coverage. Correctly placing APs is key to avoiding these interferences, minimizing overlap from other APs, and eliminating coverage dead zones.
But remember, a wireless site survey is a snapshot.
It assesses a site's radio signal profile at that exact moment. As your business evolves, with additional headcount, new furniture, or a refreshed layout, the radio signal profile may change and require a new site survey. This is why we recommend regular passive site surveys.
Determine the Correct Types and Amounts of Access Points
Installing the correct number of APs is essential to getting a clear signal. Install too few, and the network won't be as clear, fast, or optimal as it could be. This can lead to poor signal and dead spots, hurting your bottom line. On the other hand, install too many, and you're wasting money on unnecessary equipment costs, installation, and maintenance.
Save Time and Money
Time is money, and the longer you spend on network connectivity issues, the more money you'll end up losing. It's estimated that without a wireless survey upfront, people end up spending 2 to 3X the cost of a survey trying to fix networking issues. You can either pay a little now to get it right the first time or pay a lot later to troubleshoot and fix it.
The physical hardware also comes with a cost, and having too many APs is a waste of money with no real benefit. The correct number of APs is a fine line, and a site survey can help you determine that.
How is a Passive Site Survey Conducted?
- The survey engineer will identify your wireless network needs by asking a series of questions like: How fast do you want your internet? How many clients/employees will access the network at once?
- Obtain a floor plan
- Determine what areas need the most coverage.
- Perform a walkthrough and assess current infrastructure
- Evaluate where wireless access points (WAPs) can be installed
- Run the data collected from the site visit through the survey software of choice
- Assess the software’s findings and make adjustments as needed
- Record results and build a report that includes mounting locations, cable paths, the scope of work for installation, hardware required, configuration recommendations, licensing information, etc.
- Pass report and findings along to the engineering or IT teams
What Does a Wireless Survey Cost?
Based on our experience, we see predictive site surveys ranging from free to $500+. Active/passive site survey cost varies more greatly from $1,500 to $10,000+. Factors that influence price include:
- Size of the building (square footages)
- Type of environment (warehouse, retail, office space, etc.)
- Where the site is located
- Client-specific requirements (turnaround time, after-hours surveying, etc.)
There are plenty of "low cost" options for wireless site surveys, but you will get what you pay for. The truth is, if a professional isn't handling your network, there's a greater chance that it won't be optimized to the fullest.
When your network signal is strong, your business is strong.
Make sure you’re using a qualified WiFi engineer with plenty of experience in the field to conduct these surveys. Our team at ASD will take care of it for you and ensure strong wireless coverage, data rates, network capacity, roaming capability, and quality of service. Contact us to schedule a site survey or learn more about wireless network costs by downloading the purchasing guide.