Over a decade ago the term ‘wireless site survey’ was used to refer to the process of designing a WLAN (Wireless Local Area Network) that set coverage as the principal consideration ensuring the fewest number of access points could be installed so Wi-Fi signal was achieved in all areas of the space.
However since then the increased uptake of users with multiple devices; which nowadays averagely sees three wireless devices (smartphone, tablet, laptop) per person are common place. This development has quickly changed the priority from coverage to capacity as aging WLAN’s struggle to meet demand with bandwidth-hungry applications such as VoIP and HD video, as planning for coverage and planning for capacity are very different things.
The method of placing an access point onto a tripod and parading it around the design space (AP-on-a-stick) in order to map the best placement of access points is still a worthy recommendation for identifying coverage, but coverage only.
Primarily planning for capacity over coverage will change your approach from installing the minimum number of access points needed running at full power, to installing a greater number of access points running at a lower power, so as to not interfere with one another and provide the best user experience.
Designing for capacity is much more in-depth than designing for coverage as more factors need to be taken into account, such as the number of potential users and therefore devices that will be covered per access point, the spectrum to be utilised (2.4GHz or 5GHz) and the physical layout of the building along with the material used in its construction.
Fortunately American vendor Ekahau have developed their Wireless Site Survey software which includes a number of features which makes conducting the survey to reporting access point recommendations much simpler.
The innovative software which runs on a number of laptop operating systems, allows original building designs to be uploaded from a vast range of file formats and the operator to conduct the survey with a single walk through. Connecting the Ekahau Wi-Fi Adapter (included as standard) to the laptop by the USB port allows for a truly portable plug and play solution. The adapter is often used in combination with the Ekahau Spectrum Analyser, which can also be connected via USB and quickly detects potential issues that would have otherwise remained unseen such as cordless phones, microwave ovens, wireless motion detectors and video cameras, which all typically operate at the same frequency space as Wi-Fi devices. Extra usability allows for additional variables to be inputted manually such as furniture layout and off-design solid or partition walls.
When Ekahau were developing the software, great consideration was put into the reporting functionality, as research showed reporting to be a general burden, which Ekahau has overcome. With the customer in mind the software provides a user friendly, easy to understand report with visual heat maps, suggesting its own access point recommendations. This report, which can be fully branded, is completely editable should the operator wish to override any information.
Ekahau Site Survey (ESS) is currently used universally by IT professionals and agile enough to be deployed across all building types and sizes, whether existing premises or new build projects. The diversity of the software came into its own recently at The Helsinki Exhibition and Convention Centre which is the largest convention centre in Finland, with 58,000 square meters of exhibition space, 53 meeting facilities, and a broad range of conference services.
Each year the events held in the convention centre attract on average 9,400 exhibitors and more than 1.1 million exhibition visitors. The Helsinki Convention Centre decided to upgrade their Wi-Fi network as the existing wireless installation was no longer able to meet the requirements of today’s network demands.
The centre’s new Wi-Fi installation required meeting the connectivity demands of thousands of users simultaneously carrying devices ranging from mobile devices to high-end laptops, so the site’s Wi-Fi network must have enough capacity and intelligence to support real time applications and exhibitors’ streaming video presentations in addition to the more typical network traffic generated by visitors.
The two biggest halls could have up to 10,000 concurrent WLAN devices within a single coverage area, emphasizing the importance of minimal cochannel interference and the utilization of highest possible data rates. As each exhibition is different from an RF perspective, the convention centre has to be able to fine tune the Wi-Fi network easily without being forced to make any extensive network changes.
The 3D Wi-Fi Network Planner in the Ekahau Site Survey software was used for predictive planning and pre-deployment site surveys, testing different configurations at the planned AP locations. Multiple validation surveys were executed using the software during different events to achieve optimal network configurations.
During and after the completion of the Helsinki Convention Centre’s WLAN installation, Ekahau Wi-Fi tools proved to be instrumental in planning and testing the network performance. Enabling mobile clients to quickly connect to the strongest access point, which is something that is easily verified with Ekahau Site Survey.