8 Tips to Design an Outdoor Wireless Network like a Pro

By Michael McNamee

Michael is the Practice Manager of Security and Mobility at SecurEdge Networks. A true Wi-Fi “Guru”, he has an incredible ability at solving the most challenging wireless mess and then helping you understand it all.

More from this author

Here are some tips to design an outdoor wireless network like a pro:

  • Google Earth is Your Friend

    – Use Google Earth to layout your network and design your coverage areas. The tool is free and with the ruler tool you can measure across the campus and compute how many square feet, or acres you need to cover. This is a great starting point and will help you visually layout the network.  Incorporate it with Visio and now you start looking professional

  • Find a good RF planning tool – Google Earth was a good start but now you need something that incorporates GPS, site survey processes and RF measurements. There are several out there that are free and others that are a cost. Tools we recommend are Meraki’s WiFi Mapper, Aruba’s Visual RF and Outdoor Planning Tool, and Air Magnet Survey Pro.wireless mesh network 2 resized 600
  • Use 802.11ac – Legacy wireless standards are no longer the standard from now and to the future. 802.11ac offers so many enhancements and improvements over legacy and 11n equipment now that it only makes sense to go with 802.11ac.
  • Access point density is preferred – Check out Novarums’ whitepaper titled “2010: Guidelines for Successful Large Scale Outdoor Wi-Fi Networks”. They specifically point out that “more bars are not necessarily better”. More access points is a better metric and provides for a better wireless client experience due to better throughput, less latency, better radio usage and less client contention. After surveying 175 different networks Novarum (see whitepaper link above) found that the common denominator in all networks that produced high coverage AND high performance was high access point density.
  • Know your devices – Plan for the devices that will be using the wireless network. Are the devices laptops, tablets, PDA’s, VoFi phones, smart phones, etc…? By knowing the devices and their capabilities; transmit /receive power, encryption levels, radio type and antenna count you can design to work within the device limits or take advantage of their feature sets.
  • Know your applications – Planning for the types of applications that will be used over the wireless network is important here. If you plan too small you are going to have problems in the future when the wireless network is asked to host other applications. This is where I say over build because in our experience once the network is installed it is ALWAYS asked to do more.
  • Choose a great Wireless Network Solution, not just a good one The foundation on which you build your network will be the success or downfall of your design. If you choose a platform that is limited in its functionality and scope your network will not be able to grow. There are several good wireless platforms out there and they fill the niche for whatever they are good at. However, most of them aren’t proficient outside of what their focus is. For instance, one vendor may excel at outdoor coverage but has no solution for indoor wireless. Or another is a great hotspot solution but does not scale well or have features for use other than for guests. Don’t paint yourself into a corner and wind up having two disparate systems for your wireless network.
  • Allow for adjustments – RF is a dynamic medium because it can be affected by many different variables. Rain, trees, concrete, cars, people, earth all have an effect on RF signals. Because of this you need to build in some adjustments to your design. Pick some secondary access point locations in case a tree line interferes with coverage of a field or park. Use your wireless platforms automatic RF optimization features to detect WiFi interference and adjust the signal quality. If you keep in mind that the RF is always changing and you design with it in mind you will be successful. 
wireless network design, wifi companies, wireless service providers,