Wireless site surveys are procedures designed to detect and prevent issues like signal interference in wireless networks and ensure the best placement of access points (APs). When WiFi connections aren’t performing well, they help assess the WiFi performance and see where the WiFi can be improved. For larger networks, they are essential for ensuring a healthy connection across a broad scope of systems.
A wireless site survey technician is someone who is trained to carry out a wide range of different site surveys. These include passive surveys looking at local network traffic, active surveys logging data transmission rates and success rates, and predictive surveys designed to look at potential improvements.
First of all, to become a wireless site survey technician, a knowledge of all things network technology, including wireless equipment, standards, protocols, and WLAN design is essential. However, problem-solving, and analysis skills are also needed since the job includes finding issues the wireless network and recommend and implementing issues.
Many of your necessary skills can be learned through a bachelor’s degree in computer science, engineering or related fields. Around five years’ experience in LAN/WAN engineering is recommended, with further specialization in the tools and knowledge used to perform a wireless site survey.
Besides training as a wireless engineer, you must also have strong communication and teamwork skills to be able to communicate problems and solutions with other technicians and those in other departments and management teams in the business.
Wireless Site Survey Tools
There are different tools that can help you meet your site surveying needs which you should learn if you mean to become a wireless site survey technician. They are as follows:
Windows-based software tools can be used on a laptop. Using them involves recording aspects of wireless connectivity such as the connection strength while physically walking around the site. These include NetStumbler, a free tool for smaller businesses, as well as more expensive packages like Visiware and AirMagnet Survey.
Switched wireless tools like the Aruba Mobility Controller are designed to monitor overall radio coverage and can be used to find the best locations for your APs in order to offer the widest range of connection strength across the site.
Simulation tools are used for very large sites, such as campuses and multi-floor offices. Tools like Bluesocket’s Wireless Lan Planner can help you simulate AP placement, helping you define how many APs you might need for a site and can help give an approximate estimate of connection strength throughout the final environment. However, unlike the other tools, they can’t look at issues like interference.
The Wireless Site Survey Process
Put together a blueprint of the floor plan of the area that you need the entire wireless network to cover. Some tools may be able to monitor these plans directly. When thinking about user locations and AP placement, take into account obstacles such as walls, hallways, and floors that could block some radio signals.
Next, identify where you plan to locate your access points. In general, there should be an AP for every area that needs internet access, with router, power and network cable installation needed for each AP. Your APs should be installed high, close to the ceiling, as this means less chance of obstruction. However, be mindful that ceilings can disrupt the signal, so they shouldn’t be above them.
Using the tools mentioned above, you should now be able to test coverage. For most basic site survey software tools, this means walking around the site with your laptop in hand and it should feed you back information on signal strength as you go. Switched wireless tools can help you map out all your APs in real time, seeing if any APs are underperforming, and identifying blackspots where they simply cannot reach for now.
With the coverage test complete, you should have an idea of where AP signal strength is failing. In most cases, the solution is to relocate your APs, install new hardware, and test again. This step takes a lot of tweaking, but you should continue until you’re able to get full signal strength indicators for every device. Save your test data, so that you can compare it with future tests.
As the business grows, as hardware fails, and as things move around, signal strength is going to change. As such, it's essential to remember that wireless site surveys are not a one-time solution, but something to be repeated at least twice a year, and any other time there are major changes in the building. Schedule future testing and remember to compare current test results against past results you have saved.
How to Tell if a Wireless Site Survey is Successful
The different site survey tools available will have different displays and measures of success, but the most common is the site heatmap. This will look like your floor plan, showing signal strength, usually in a range of colors, to display where site strength is at its highest and any black spots that signals can’t reach. There should also be a panel that shows the different systems your APs should be able to reach. Signal strength may be shown in bars, or in different colored dots, with no bars/red dots showing no signal, some bars/yellow dots showing an imperfect connection, and full bars/green dots showing full signal strength. When all of your systems have the indicators of full signal strength, your site survey is successful..
The Result of a Wireless Site Survey
A wireless site survey can help ensure that connectivity problems related to the signal from your APs are reduced to a minimum, getting rid of issues like interference and ensuring that no-one is left in a dark spot. As businesses grow more and more reliant on more technologies, it’s essential to ensure they’re all able to connect.