In an increasingly digital age, seamless and high-performance WiFi is no longer a luxury but a necessity. Whether for a small business or a vast corporate office, a flawless wireless network plays a critical role in the smooth operation of all modern organisations.
One way to ensure optimal wireless network performance is through a WiFi site survey. A comprehensive site survey can help identify potential interference, dead spots and coverage issues, offering a proactive fix to WiFi problems before they even arise.
What is a WiFi survey?
In simple terms, a WiFi site survey is a thorough analysis of a location to determine the optimal installation of WiFi access points (APs). The primary purpose is to ensure reliable and consistent WiFi coverage in all necessary areas.
There are typically three types of WiFi surveys:
- Predictive – these use software to map out a virtual model of a site. It’s an initial estimation and isn’t as precise as the other types
- Active – these measure the real-world signal strength and data throughput of a WiFi network
- Passive – these listen to all WiFi traffic to assess the overall radio frequency environment and detect interference
Key components of a typical site survey include spectrum analysis, signal strength measurement and interference detection. Each plays a unique role in providing a complete picture of the wireless landscape, helping to create the best possible network.
What do WiFi heatmaps show?
WiFi heatmaps are a powerful visual tool that highlights various aspects of your wireless network, including:
- Signal strength and coverage – these are displayed where your WiFi signal is strongest and where it covers most efficiently
- Signal-to-noise ratio – shows how well your WiFi signal compares to background noise
- Channel overlap – this can identify where multiple WiFi signals may interfere with each other
- Data throughput – this indicates the speed at which data is successfully transferred
The heatmap uses a traffic light-style colour spectrum to show areas where WiFi is working best, with green colour indicating a good connection in an area and red indicating a weaker connection.
Benefits of WiFi surveys
There are many benefits of conducting a WiFi site survey. With optimal network performance at its core, a WiFi survey can drastically improve coverage and user experience. By identifying areas of potential interference, the survey ensures a more streamlined connection, enhancing security in the process.
In terms of cost savings, a survey can lead to significant optimisation by efficiently planning network installations, minimising the risk of costly future alterations. It’s an invaluable tool for network planning and expansion, troubleshooting and diagnosing network issues, and meeting compliance and regulatory requirements.
When is a WiFi site survey needed and who are they for?
A WiFi site survey is needed in a range of scenarios, including the following:
- Office expansions – determine optimal access point placement and coverage
- Building renovations – identify changes in the environment that affect WiFi signal propagation
- Network upgrades – evaluate current performance and design an upgraded network.
- Troubleshooting existing issues – identify and resolve WiFi network problems
What type of survey do you need?
Figuring out the specific type of survey you need is an essential first step when considering WiFi implementation.
It could be purely a fault-finding survey, or perhaps primarily a fault-finding one with a focus on areas known to lack coverage. Or you could be looking to expand network coverage, calling for a part network design.
Alternatively, you may require a WiFi design survey. This could entail an off-plan desktop design for a building not yet occupied, or it may concern a currently owned building that serves as a blank canvas.
Here, the application of Access Points on a Stick (APoaS) could be essential – a method involving an onsite presence using a variety of access points to test the specific layout.
Such an approach is particularly valuable when dealing with warehouse environments or urban office layouts, where factors such as mounting or aesthetics are important.
In these instances, identifying points where there is a potential loss of signal, due to walls, floors and warehouse racking, is invaluable when designing a new WiFi network.
A well-considered design is a robust foundation on which the rest of a network can be built. This not only streamlines the process but can also result in substantial savings on hardware and software licences.
The goal is to use the least amount of hardware that meets the specified requirements, since having too many access points can be just as detrimental as having too few. The balance needs to be just right.
Choosing the right WiFi site survey company
This really does require careful consideration.
Firstly, you should ensure that the company has substantial experience in conducting WiFi surveys, specialising in the type of venue you’re looking to survey – be it a stadium, conference centre, office block, warehouse or manufacturing plant.
Look for a company that has the necessary tools and resources for a successful project completion.
They should have specialists equipped with up-to-date software and hardware tools, who can produce a comprehensive, accessible survey that both technical and non-technical people can understand and act upon.
Remember, a good WiFi survey goes beyond just providing a heatmap of coverage. Modern challenges often stem from over-coverage or configuration issues, rather than lack of coverage.
Therefore, it’s important to have a detailed conversation with prospective companies about their experience and approach.
Don’t hesitate to initiate a video call to discuss their expertise.Trust your instincts, but do see if they ask about your additional infrastructure, such as switches, firewalls and internet connectivity.
This information is part of due diligence, as bottlenecks can occasionally arise in these areas too.
Finally, be prepared to provide accurate floor plans, a prerequisite for most survey software, enhancing the clarity and relevance of the reports you receive.
Case study: DHL
An organisation that Performance Networks has conducted a WiFi site survey for in the past is DHL, the world’s leading logistics company that employs over 350,000 people in over 220 countries.
The WiFi site survey was conducted at their largest UK site, the East Midlands cargo hub, which has recently had significant investment to be developed into a state-of-the-art facility.
A section of their new multi-million pound automated sorting machines operation was being affected by interference which had the possibility to cause costly delays. They could see it was external, non-WiFi interference but could not locate the source.
Our WiFi site survey identified the issue down to a specific area and the analysis showed that the interference was caused by other hardware devices, which were then disabled to allow normal operations to proceed.
DHL have since engaged with Performance Networks to assist them in the optimisation of other parts of their wireless infrastructure to ensure best performance.
Here’s what DHL’s EMEA Aviation Hub Sort Control Centre Manager, David Jackson had to say:
“Performance Networks resolved a complex ongoing WiFi issue in one visit. They were fast to respond and highly professional. We have since engaged them for further WiFi consultancy and thoroughly recommend their services.”
How long does a typical WiFi survey take to carry out?
The duration of a WiFi site survey depends on the size and complexity of the site. However, typically, it could take anywhere from a few hours to several days.
What is the expected cost of a WiFi site survey?
The cost can vary depending on the complexity of the job and the specific needs of the client. A professional WiFi survey provider will provide a bespoke quote based on your requirements.
What equipment and tools are used during a site survey?
A range of specialist tools is used, including spectrum analysers, network discovery tools and specialised software to create heatmaps of the WiFi coverage.
What kind of information and insights will I receive from the survey report?
The report will provide a comprehensive analysis of your WiFi network, including signal strength, coverage maps, areas of potential interference, suggested locations for access points and network security recommendations.
How does the survey handle security considerations and data privacy?
A professional WiFi survey provider will ensure that all data collected during the survey is handled confidentially and securely, respecting all relevant data privacy regulations. They shouldn’t access or interfere with your sensitive data during the survey.
Can the survey be conducted in an operating environment without disrupting the network?
Yes, a skilled provider will perform the survey with minimal disruption, allowing your business to operate as usual. In many cases, surveys can be performed outside of your normal business hours to further minimise any potential disruptions.
The importance of conducting a WiFi site survey before implementing or upgrading a wireless network cannot be overstated.
These surveys offer invaluable insights, making the difference between a network that merely functions and one that excels. But it’s important to select a reputable and experienced company to ensure accurate survey results and reliable network performance.
By considering factors such as experience, tools, service quality and customer feedback, you can find a WiFi survey provider that will work with you to optimise your network, providing an unrivalled WiFi experience for all users.
With the right partner, your WiFi issues will become a thing of the past, and you can look forward to a future of seamless connectivity.
If you have any questions about our WiFi site surveys, don’t hesitate to contact us.