Vela Blog WiFi

Site Surveys More Important Than Ever

You don’t want to skip this step. Here’s why.

Any enterprise that has deployed or is working on deploying an 802.11-based wireless LAN has heard statements like ‘there is no need to perform a site survey – just install the access points and let the wireless infrastructure sort it out.’ Usually this comes from the wireless LAN hardware vendors themselves and are driven by nothing more than accelerating the sales cycle and selling more hardware. Unfortunately, saying an RF site survey is unnecessary couldn’t be farther from the truth.

The basis for the ‘no-survey’ statements lies in the RF management algorithms built into most current controller-based wireless LAN architectures. The goal of these algorithms is to provide an adaptable RF system capable of dealing with changes in the RF environment in real time. Though it would be wrong to suggest that the RF management functionality of these systems provides no useful benefit, one thing they surely do not provide is a replacement for a comprehensive pre-deployment RF site survey.

Here’s why… Wireless networks are continuing their shift away from a simple purpose-built, single application system toward a more comprehensive, robust multimedia network platform. The reasons for this shift are simple: First, the wireless networks and technologies powering them are becoming more robust and more capable of supporting the wide array of modern applications being deployed on enterprise networks. With continued enhancements such as the 802.11ac standard for high-throughput wireless LAN communications, even bandwidth hungry applications can be supported. Second, organizations are quickly realizing that the ROI of a wireless LAN deployment can be accelerated by layering more applications onto the system. In other words, a WLAN supporting a single application will realize a slower return on investment than a WLAN supporting multiple applications.

More and more, we are seeing businesses large and small look to their wireless networks for voice, video and location-based services. If the network is ready for these applications, no problem. But what if it isn’t? What if all that money was spent on the fancy new wireless network infrastructure and it can’t support the inevitable add-on applications that will be thrown at it? No IT department wants to deal with telling the boss that the network isn’t capable. That’s where the RF site survey comes into play. And it’s not just the physical measurements and analysis performed by the RF engineer that is on site. It’s a comprehensive process including consulting and information gathering to determine what applications the wireless network is intended to support on day one as well as other projects that are in the pipeline that may have a wireless component that hasn’t yet been identified.

The process should be educational for the organization into which the wireless network is being deployed. Helping the technical staff and business units understand what is possible will help to cultivate new ideas for leveraging the investment in the wireless network and accelerating the ROI. The IT department should come away from the site survey process with a better understanding of the technology they are deploying and how it is being deployed, ultimately helping them to provide more comprehensive support to their customers, the business.

I know, I know… You know you should have site surveys performed but it’s hard to justify the cost to management. It’s true – the site survey will cost money. In some cases, quite a bit of it. But it’s a simple question of statistics and economics. Most wireless networks installed without first performing a comprehensive site survey suffer from performance and reliability problems that just can’t be tolerated when voice or location-based services applications are deployed. The cost to remediate these networks can be two or three times the cost of an initial, pre-deployment site survey. In other words, pay a little now to get it right or pay a lot later to fix it.

So how can you justify the cost of the survey to management? Simple… Let’s assume that your hardware vendor suggests a quantity of access points based upon a simple calculation of the square footage of your facility. In all likelihood, this calculation will be conservative and safe, estimating on the high side to help ensure that your facility is fully covered. This method almost always results in the purchase and deployment of more access points than necessary. For now, let’s ignore the fact that having too many access points can be as bad as having too few and let’s focus on costs. The cost of deploying a single extra access point can cover the cost of surveying for one day. If the site survey saves one access point, you’ve covered a single day of survey time. Each access point saved is another day of survey time covered.

But what if the site survey recommends deploying more access points than initially thought? Well, this is where the true value of the survey is realized. If the network had been deployed with too few access points, users would have experienced unreliable and unpredictable performance, resulting in complaints to IT and, worse, low confidence in the network. IT would spend countless hours troubleshooting the problems and addressing user concerns only to find out that additional hardware is necessary and the hardware that is in place may not be installed in the optimal locations. The cost of your IT resource time, outside consulting to perform a remediation site survey and the moves/adds/changes required to bring the network to a point where it is capable of meeting the business needs will likely exceed the cost of a pre-deployment site survey by a significant margin.

It’s always cheaper to do it right the first time So the short answer is simple – It’s always right to survey an area prior to deployment of any wireless technologies. Find a consulting firm that understands the technologies and the business drivers and work together to develop requirements and survey practices that suit your organization. You can then be confident that your wireless network can support most anything you can throw at it.

Connectivity is critical to your business. Don’t trust it to just anyone. Contact Velaspan today.

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