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What is a wireless survey?

With wireless systems it can be very difficult to predict the propagation of radio waves and detect the presence of interfering signals without the use of test equipment, even when using omni-directional antennas, as radio waves do not travel the same distance in all directions. Walls, doors, lift shafts, people and other obstacles give varying degrees of attenuation and can cause reflection, refraction and diffraction of the radio waves which cause the RF radiation patterns to be irregular and unpredictable. As a result it is often necessary to perform a RF site survey to fully understand the behaviour of radio waves within a facility before installing wireless network access points.

During the site survey the consultant will gain an understanding of the RF behaviour of the environment in which the wireless solution is required. This information will provide details on coverage, interference, noise levels and other RF sources as well as providing enough information to enable correct placement of access points, antennas and any associated power and switching equipment.

The user requirements previously captured during a project definition workshop (bandwidth, quality of service, number of users, equipment type etc) will be used during the site survey to ensure that the environment is tested in accordance with its intended use.

The ultimate goal of a site survey is to supply enough information to determine the number of APs required to provide adequate coverage throughout the facility in order to meet the requirements of the client. In most implementations, adequate coverage means the support of a minimum data rate. An RF survey also detects the presence of interference being emitted from other sources which could cause a degradation of performance of the wireless LAN.

The need and complexity of a RF survey will vary depending on the facility and the clients requirements. For example a small three room office may not require a survey; a single AP located centrally in the office would most likely give adequate coverage. If this AP encounters RF interference from a neighbouring unit it is likely that the interference could be eliminated by changing the AP’s channel.

A larger facility such as an office block, apartment building, hotel, hospital or school will generally require an extensive RF survey. Without a survey users may suffer from inadequate coverage and poor performance. The relocation or addition of APs to resolve the issue are neither practical or cost effective.Unfortunately, simply popping APs in wherever you have coverage dead spots can create more problems. By far the most common of these is known as multipath. When a signal is transmitted it is reflected and refracted by walls and other obstacles resulting in multiple signals arriving at the receiver (like an echo) instead of a single strong signal. If another AP is added in an attempt to provide increased coverage it is highly likely that the dead spot will get worse as the receiver constantly flips between these two APs.

If you are thinking about deploying a wireless solution, or have already realised the benefits of having a professional site survey performed, please contact us to discuss how we may help you get the best out of your wireless network.





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