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Plan your Wi-Fi network with NetSpot Wi-Fi site survey tool

The way we use wireless devices, such as laptops, smartphones, and tablets, makes it crucial to integrate them into our working space seamlessly.
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Small business owners realize how much more influence wireless local area networks (WLAN) have on every day of our lives now and how important it is to create the perfect working environment. With NetSpot planning tool it is quite easy to plan, configure, and deploy a wireless LAN.

WiFi Planning: Setting WiFi Coverage and Capacity Goals

To start the wireless planning right, you'll need to set the coverage and capacity goals, create a predictive model that calculates how many access points (APs) you'll need and what their ideal placement should be, verify the accuracy of the WiFi planning predictions with the help of a manual site survey, and be ready to adjust as you go.

A good WiFi network plan is supposed to answer these questions:

  • How many APs is the network going to need?
  • What is the most efficient placement?
  • What configuration for the access points will work best?
  • What coverage and performance am I aiming at?

With NetSpot WiFi planning tool the aforementioned questions can be answered pretty precisely by creating a predictive design.

How to plan a WiFi deployment

When planning to deploy a wireless network, think of how many clients it is going to serve, how heavy the traffic will be, how many access points it is going to need and where exactly, how much throughput you want the network to provide. Consider the following factors for successful implementation of a wireless network for your business:

Know Your Building’s "Bones"

Before deploying a wireless network you should find out what your building is made of. Building materials like filled cinder blocks, brick, rock walls, or stucco construction are dense and can reduce the strength of your wireless signal, so you'll need a larger number of access points to ensure a fast, reliable connection. Anything that holds water, think pipes or bathrooms, can affect the range of a WiFi signal.

Balance the Load Accordingly

Smaller or medium-sized businesses usually need less than 24 access points, but bandwidth is to be considered too. The proper bandwidth helps with productivity, while the properly managed access points with according load balance are important as well. Use centrally-managed wireless controller appliances to boost network performance and save time.

When deciding on the type and number of APs to deploy consider the following:

  • how many client devices will be sending and receiving traffic on each SSID at the same time;
  • client devices possibilities;
  • what apps the devices will use;
  • users mobility on the network;
  • the minimum throughput levels you want to have.

You can collect all this information by talking to site managers and to actual users of the network. The interviews can be personal or you can simply send the questionnaire to everyone.

  • For new wireless deployments, you should ask people at each site to estimate the number of users — as well as the number of wireless devices — that will be active on the network at the same time. You'll need to know the types of devices and what users’ objectives are. Managers’ estimates about users and devices are usually quite accurate if they were working at this site previously.
  • You may not need the exact number of visitors with wireless devices but an estimate is still worth having. Ask about their immediate requirements as well as what they think they will need in five years. Mostly you will get business objectives (shorter lines in stores) that you must turn into technical objectives (using mobile POS). Educating people about new technical solutions to fulfill business objectives plays big role in planning.
  • Measure activity and performance of the current network with NetSpot network monitoring tool
  • Same questions are to be asked when replacing an old network with a new. An advantage in this case is that you can get statistics and observations on old setup. Measure activity and performance of the current network with NetSpot network monitoring tool that regularly polls, probes, and scans networks. Try to get access to remote collectors that collect data from agents running on network devices, as well as the inline appliances that monitor and analyze packets going through them.
NetSpot planning
  • Now with all of the above information you can check LAN and WLAN traffic studies to pinpoint bandwidth targets for the various categories of users and traffic, as well as client devices. Also keep in mind that when an existing network needs to be replaced, most probably it had some shortcomings that needed to be eliminated — find those out and where in the building they tended to appear.
  • Learn as much as you can about the wired network you are going to integrate the wireless devices with. Learn about topology and addressing scheme.

Perform a Predictive Site Survey

With all the information that you now have about network goals and user categories, it is time to use a planning tool to estimate the number of access points needed and the correct placement for them.

The WiFi planner will estimate the optimal number of access points

The WiFi planner will estimate the optimal number of access points and will map the effective placement of the points based on the size of the covered area, types of APs that you have, the type of coverage, etc. You'll be able to see the power levels of transmission and reuse patterns for the channel for both the 5GHz and 2.4GHz bands.

The map is very visual and helpful, you can simply drag the access points on the map to see what positioning gives you better coverage.

Power Up

Now that you know how many WLAN access points your network will need, decide on the power requirements to support these points, typically 15 watts or less. Depending on the size of a business, the requirements will differ. Consider power injectors option — they can be placed anywhere along the line within around 300 feet and will spare you the need for an external AC adapter.

WiFi Network Security and Safety

When a WiFi network is not secured, anyone can connect and use it. Keeping your wireless network restricted to authorized usage only is important when it is a business network especially. Do your best to avoid using obsolete protocols like WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy).

There are modern and secure options like WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) and WPA2. A higher safety measure is to use the strongest available encryption for access points — AES 256 bit encryption.

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Planning & Prediction
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Planning & Prediction

Perform a manual Site Survey

Use a Wi-Fi planning tool to do predictive site surveys, which will help with access points placement plus decide on which power levels to set according to the data collected at the interviewing stage. Note that a predictive site survey won't count the neighboring WLANs co-channel interference, and the existence of electromagnetic signals from neighboring non-WiFi devices. To know more about these RF signals, a manual site survey is to be done.

The manual real-time site survey will show you how accurate your predictive survey was within the architectural and RF environments. With all this data combined you have all tools to design a better WiFi network that will meet and exceed the expectations.

Keep the following tips in mind when performing a manual site survey:

  • For data services, create the network where the wireless devices have a minimum RSSI (received signal strength indicator) of -70 dBm and an SNR of 20 dB or higher. If a WLAN will be supporting voice and video, the RSSI should be at least -67 dBm with an SNR of 23 dB or higher.
Signal quality
  • It would be ideal if a client was able to detect a signal of -70 dBm or better from one access point and another signal of -75 dBm or better from one or more other points. A client will firstly connect to an access point with a stronger signal and as it moves closer to a different AP and the signal there grows stronger the client can switch to the new AP. In case there are too many access points with equally strong signals then you can consider thinning them out or lower their Tx power.

With all the data you collected and analyzed you have enough means for designing the wireless network.

Use the most suitable WiFi Planning tool

Even if you have developed quite a good eye and can predict where the access points will go, it may not be a good plan for a large network that will be using multiple routers and may spread out to several floors of the building. In such case it is better to make precise calculations and develop a solid WiFi network design. The best part — you don't need tens of routers to plan any size of WiFi network — one is enough!

WiFi network planning tools generally work like this: load the floor plan, set the scale of the plan, and perhaps define wall materials on the floor plan. With this data a software app will be able to estimate how far Wi-Fi signal can travel in each direction of the plan.

This is how you plan and set up a new network with NetSpot WiFi planning site survey tool: start a new project and define your survey zone, place your hotspot in the designated location, take several samples, create a new zone snapshot, move on to another location and take samples there.

Once done with the whole space, merge your survey snapshots and they will appear as one complete project just as if you were measuring an existing network with multiple access points in place.

With the NetSpot Wi-Fi Planning Tool, you’ll get the most precise data for the most efficient hotspot placement

By performing WiFi network planning site survey with NetSpot WiFi planning tool, you'll get the most precise data for the most efficient hotspot placement that meets and exceeds coverage and capacity requirements.

This WiFi network planning site survey takes all important factors into consideration including the existence of neighboring WLANs, adjacent and co-channel interference, and the existence of electromagnetic signals from non-WiFi devices, which can affect the SNR of devices on the WLAN.

How To WiFi planning: tips & tricks

Some helpful tips to keep in mind when making a predictive WiFi design:

  • Use one map image per floor, don't lay out several floors on the same map. Assume one floor to be one zone. Breaking floors into multiple zones may not work very well.
  • Be accurate, but keep it easy. There’s probably no need to draw every piece of furniture on the map. Simply drawing the main interior and exterior walls will do it.
  • If you’re going to use location tracking (RTLS) indoors, place the APs in the corners and rooms instead of hallways. Don’t place APs in the same locations on neighboring floors, but rather in a zig-zag pattern.
  • Use the heatmaps to evaluate the result. Does it meet the initial requirements or needs some tweaks? Not that it needs to be said, but use an optimal amount of APs — not too many not too few.
WiFi Heatmap
  • In spaces with high ceilings, play with antenna downtilt / uptilt positioning.

Once you are done with your off-site design, time to do the pre-deployment and post-deployment surveys on site with NetSpot WiFi planning tool to ensure the best result is achieved.

Common Wireless Networking Missteps

Ready to go online? Learn how to avoid some of the common wireless network perils:

This Access Point Worked at Home

Some wireless devices designed for home use may not be suitable for business environment, especially if the business is large. Home access points may cost cheaper but they were not made for a space bigger than a small home office and are usually meant for single deployments.

Add Access Points

The optimal locations for access points may not turn out to be the easiest ones. And while a wireless site survey is ideal, it may be costly for small businesses. The access point challenge can be solved with the help of one of the following approaches:

  • Invest in multiple access points. In the long run you may find it cheaper than commissioning a site survey.
  • Set up one AP and chart its coverage with one laptop. This rudimentary site survey of one access point coverage range will be your guideline for APs in the whole facility.
  • Invest in a WLAN controller and NetSpot software. The controller accounts all connected access points and sets the proper channel and power allocation. NetSpot offers you a visual floor plan of the facility with the heat map explicitly showing the signal strength throughout.

Stay on Point

Once you set everything up it is easy to become unconcerned. However you should keep in mind that technologies evolve quickly as well as hackers' possibilities. Keep your small business safe and unexposed to security risks, keep up with what's going on with the wireless market and where the technology is headed. Staying ahead of any possible risks will save time and money.

Leave Room to Grow

When you build a WLAN, don't just think about current needs, try to think about the future of your network, and prepare to grow with the technology. An advantage of wireless structures is that they are relatively easy to rearrange. Try to think through the business goals and needs in the future — choose the equipment and configuration accordingly.

A wireless network is no doubt an important asset to any business, but as with everything else you should always consider the objectives, limitations, the potential benefits as well as possible problems. Being aware of both advantages and disadvantages will keep the efficiency on the higher level and will make your wireless network a valuable asset to a successful business plan.

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How to plan a WiFi deployment?

Estimate how many clients are going to connect to the deployed network, how much traffic is it going to need, and size up your space to see how many access points you might be installing.

How to Perform a Predictive Site Survey?

To perform a WiFi site survey, use a WiFi planner tool like NetSpot. It can help you estimate the optimal amount of access points and will map out their efficient placement. The visual map is very helpful as you'll be able to drag the access points and see how their positions affect your wireless coverage.

How to Perform a manual Site Survey?

A manual site survey benefits you in many ways: with the data collected you can easily create a better wireless network that will meet and exceed the expectations. When performing a manual site survey, keep the following in mind:

  1. For data services, the wireless devices on the network should have a minimum RSSI of -70 dBm and an SNR of at least 20 dB. For voice and video connection, aim for RSSI of at least -67dBm and SNR of at least 23 dB.
  2. You want a sufficient amount of access points in your network with strong signal. You don't need to overcrowd your space with APs however. An optimal AP placement will help you save money and build an even coverage.

What are the Common Wireless Networking Missteps?

  1. Using an access point not suitable for a specific environment. What works well for a private home network, might fail in a large business environment.
  2. Placing access points without any strategy. Perform a WiFi site survey with NetSpot to determine optimal placement and number of devices.
  3. Not staying in the know. It is not just setting up the network that keeps it functioning well, it is also proper maintenance. Keep your business safe and unexposed to security risks, keep up with what's going on with the wireless market and where the technology is headed. Staying ahead of any possible risks will save time and money.
  4. Not thinking ahead. Don't just think about your immediate needs when setting up a network, try to think how it will develop and what your business might need from it in the future.
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Read next in All about Wi-Fi

If you want to dive deeper into this Wi-Fi thing, check out the following articles about Wi-Fi security, the best apps for wireless networking, inflight WiFi, etc.
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Wi-Fi Site Surveys, Analysis, Troubleshooting runs on a MacBook (macOS 10.10+) or any laptop (Windows 7/8/10/11) with a standard 802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax wireless network adapter.