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5 Steps to Getting the Most from a Wi-Fi Site Survey

June 08, 2021

Validation is the scientific method come to life for your wireless network. You’ve done your predictive, you’ve claimed your hypothesis, now the testing fun can begin. Here’s a quick guide to performing an onsite validation survey:

Step 1 – Understand THE NEED and WHAT YOU’LL NEED to go onsite

Collecting data to validate your design or for troubleshooting and managing your network health is critical for high-performing Wi-Fi. Regularly monitoring and validating your network utilizing different survey methods helps you determine if your design is meeting your business needs — or if you have a problem.

When should I be validating my wireless network?

According to a recent webinar poll of Wi-Fi pros (available on-demand: Turning Requirements Into Wireless Designs), a best practice from 34% of our polled audience is to ALWAYS perform a pre-deployment site survey as part of your wireless planning. Onsite surveys are typically needed in the following scenarios:

  • During a remodel or redesign of an existing network
  • When opening a completely new site
  • Planning for an upgrade
  • Determining optimal AP placements
  • Operating with external antenna selections
  • Identifying significant interferers
  • Troubleshooting a network issue
  • General monthly health checks for visibility into ongoing network performance

Wi-Fi Site Survey Gear Checklist

Your survey day equipment load-out will depend on the type of site you’re going to and its stage of construction. If it’s the location of a network you own and manage, you probably have a good sense of what to expect. Service providers visiting a site on their customer’s behalf should do their research to get a general idea of the facility, get access keys for the location and COM closet, have ready access to the names of department heads that can validate your access, and pack accordingly. 

Here is a general survey gear bag packing checklist to get you started:

  • Ekahau Connect (Sidekick, Survey, Pro, Analyzer)
  • iPad/iPhone or laptop
  • PPE or other safety gear
  • APs and antennas for staging access points if needed 
  • Site Survey kit (Tripod, power supply or external battery packs)
  • Measuring tape, laser or wheel
  • Camera to take pictures (iPad makes it easy to add photos directly to your survey!)
  • Sample of devices that will be used on the network (least capable most important device) 
  • Additional staff resources if needed (maybe just bring them outside your bag. Or better yet, let them carry your bags!)
  • Comfortable shoes for walking
  • Water bottle for hydrating  

Step 2 – Go onsite and validate

Once you have gathered and packed your gear, your next step is to physically go on site. This is when the magic happens — where you’ll bring your predictive design to life. The empirical data collected during testing allows you to either sign off on the project as designed or make alterations before racking up unnecessary rework costs. Just make sure you have allowed enough time to perform the validation. Expect to allocate an hour per “AP location” to accurately capture data. Here are some key considerations for your validation survey:

Calibrate and verify distances – It wouldn’t be a true “measure twice, cut once” without bringing out the tape. Verify that your predictive is as accurate as possible by double-checking the scale. For the most accurate results, validate the scale over the longest possible distance.

Document your findings – Make sure you take pictures and document everything. Ekahau Survey makes it easy by allowing you to add images and notes right into the .esx project file. Documentation will be your friend whether reporting to your own CIO or CTO, or to a customer helping them understand the performance of your predictive design.

While testing AP locations – Take the time to physically observe the location of the APs, capturing photos and make notes of any potential issues. While staging APs to test, don’t forget to freeze the AP. Make sure you see the desired signal strength and SNR before freezing and moving on to the next AP mounting location. Lastly, be sure you account for AP height in your validation and test accordingly.

Wall material and attenuation testing – With your Sidekick connected to your laptop or iOS device, lock the Sidekick onto a specific channel and measure both sides of the wall for precise attenuation measurements for any materials you’re unsure of in your design. Test drywall, concrete block, and any large, unexpected furnishings mounted to walls.

Here are some additional items or considerations you need to measure while onsite:

  • Look at network components – SSID, security (physical), channel, RSSI, SNR
  • Channel reuse – Select the appropriate channel from the configuration tool 
  • Assess the cable situation
  • Fire up the spectrum analyzer and look at neighboring interferences
  • After surveying all locations, use the Channel Planner to determine the optimal channel plan based on the surveyed data
  • If you are designing using external antennas – ensure the antenna pattern matches what you had predicted
  • Verify floor plan accuracy and check for undocumented changes to the environment (atrium, wall materials, etc.)

Once you have taken all your measurements and validated your design, what do you do next?  

Step 3 – Adjust your design as necessary

After you validate your design, fire up Pro and download the project file from Ekahau Cloud to analyze your results. The odds are you will have to make some adjustments—that’s perfectly normal. The kinds of adjustments will depend on what you measured in the environment. Did you see a coverage issue? Capacity? Was there an issue with HVAC you weren’t aware of requiring you to move the “dodgy AP” to a different location? If coverage is lacking in an area, you may need to add an additional AP. 

If you have specific needs or questions, schedule a free assessment with one of our Wi-Fi experts. We can review the trouble spots you’re facing and get you on the road toward a reliable and high-performing Wi-Fi network.

Step 4 – Deploy your design and begin your post-deployment/installation validation

Fast forward through the deployment and a post-installation floor walk is another great validation survey type to ensure that the AP mounting was done correctly and that you’ve achieved your desired coverage. Don’t rely on network users to test the network for you. Inspecting the network after any deployment or change allows you to validate that the Wi-Fi meets or exceeds your requirements for performance and reliability.

Step 5 – Continue to survey, measure and monitor with regular health checks throughout the optimization phase

Now your Wi-Fi is perfect, and you can go home, right? Not so fast! Wi-Fi isn’t set it and forget it. It needs to be checked in on and adjusted periodically to account for changes in usage levels, number of client devices operating on the network, or changes in the physical environment such as fluctuating inventory levels in warehouses or changes to office space layouts. A monthly or quarterly RF survey can be performed by just about anyone with about 30 minutes of training and provide you with the valuable data needed to make smart Wi-Fi adjustments that will give you a high-performing network built to keep up with the needs of your business.

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