King of all you survey

For network engineers and resellers, setting up a wireless network is an interesting assignment. The challenge of assessing a site and working out where the best locations for access points and how to optimise performance is a test of skill and ingenuity and experience.

An experienced or enthusiastic technician should be able to set-up a small network, with perhaps three or four access points dotted around a modern office premises, without too much difficulty. But if you start moving beyond this scale, and if you are in buildings that are older or of a more sturdy or complex construction, setting up the Wi-Fi becomes a much more challenging task.

When you start talking about networks where there are likely to be hundreds of users, it moves into another dimension.

Finding the best position
For a large wireless network that needs to cover an entire multi-storied building or campus, you really need to conduct a detailed site survey before positioning and implementing the gateways, access points, range extenders, along with the switches and other infrastructure you might need to deliver the best results.

There are many factors that will impact performance, availability and reliability in larger installations. As well as the sheer scale, the construction of the buildings and the presence of other services may have an impact in Wi-Fi performance.

Signals may be weak, distorted or unable to penetrate some walls or features. Electrical cables in walls, radio communications or microwave signals, and passive infrared sensors such as those used in motion-sensitive lighting or security cameras, may cause interference.

You also need to consider how the network will be used of course. How many people are going to connect to the Wi-Fi and in which areas, and what kind of bandwidth and performance are they going to need?

Getting a complete picture
You can get a good idea of how many access points you might need by making use of the Zyxel Wireless Optimizer, which is free to download and use. But for detailed planning on extensive and complex locations, you will need to use more sophisticated spectrum analyser and heat mapping tools. These will give you an accurate picture of all the features and facets of a site that might affect Wi-Fi performance and how effective access points and other wireless networking devices will be in different locations. By using these intelligently, a skilled and experienced engineer will be able to work out where equipment should be placed to provide optimum performance.

This won’t necessarily result in more equipment having to be purchased. Deploying a lower density of access points in some zones is the best way of minimising the potential for interference and maximising availability and speed. The site survey and heatmap will also show the engineer where different kinds of access points can be deployed to get the best combination of good performance, user experience and cost-efficiency.

A good investment
Zyxel uses and recommends the use of tools from Ekahau and the Metageek to carry out detailed site surveys in advance of major upgrades or deployments. It is advisable to get someone who is experienced in Wi-Fi deployments and site surveys to perform the analysis, interpret the site report and implement the network to an optimal design. Zyxel’s own experts are available to do this and many of our reseller partners will also have the required skill and experience.

There will be a cost associated with carrying out the survey, but it will be well worth the investment to ensure that you get the very best performance and return on your investment in wireless networking.

If you’d like to find out more, please get in touch with one of our team.