Why Your Best Wireless Design Idea Is a Wireless Site Survey

There is a red flag quote that is uttered in our office from time to time and it goes “the customer is doing their own wireless design”. When we hear this we know to either run as far away from the opportunity as possible or we need to engage with this customer quickly and explain to them why this is not a recommended best practice.

While we do have some customers that are certainly knowledgeable enough to do their own RF designs the majority of customers do not. There is a science and art behind wireless RF planning starting with a proper wireless site survey, and if not done properly will waste money, time, and potentially cause issues to your own networks, your neighbor’s networks and in some extreme instances incur the wrath of the FCC.

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The motivation for this blog was a comment made by one of our sales persons this morning. He messaged me to inform me that a lead he followed up on had already chosen a wireless product for their warehouse deployment. The product they chose is a consumer oriented (read – HOME USE) product and not one known for delivering solutions in the warehouse segment. The customer was excited that they had found a product that could cover their entire warehouse with only a couple of inexpensive access points.

In this instance the customer feels that they have found a solution that will work with their existing systems, met their requirements and that they were able to achieve this very inexpensively. However, what they don’t realize right now is that by not working with a qualified and experienced wireless RF consultant or wireless network solution provider they have left out many considerations which will most likely cost them in the long run.

1. I am going to assume that no actual proper RF design was done for this implementation. My assumption is based on the fact that the consumer product they chose does not offer any type of wireless design tools or utilities. And if they had gone with another wireless network solutions provider or consultant who did have wireless design tools they would not have recommended this product. In a best practice scenario, a proper RF design would have been done using a survey of the existing facility to measure how RF signals propagate throughout it.

A warehouse with racks of wood furniture and mattresses will have different RF propagation properties then one containing racks of canned food on pallets. Once the RF properties are known of the environment a design for the quantities and placement of the access points will be done. The design, in addition to the RF properties, will take into consideration the type of devices being used for production, the applications, the number of devices as well as the existing RF spectrum. All these variables drive the final design and without taking them into account the implementation will be sub-optimal.

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2. The product that they chose, while a good product in its own right, is a consumer grade product and is not made for enterprise or warehouse use. Consumer grade Wi-Fi products are made for the home environment which is non-complex and usually requires servicing at most 5-10 devices at a time. Once you exceed that threshold the wireless product may not be able to maintain an optimal level of service or may stop working altogether. We have seen instances where a person was delegated to continually go around to these consumer grade wireless access points, deployed in a small campus, and reboot them throughout the day because they were locking up due to the extreme level of use that was being demanded of them. See how the low upfront cost ends up costing you in the end!?

3. What was enticing to this customer about their chosen solution was the fact that this wireless product advertised increased coverage areas with “high-powered” or “long-range” wireless. However, the customer did not pick up on the fact that although the manufacturer was selling these “high-powered” access points they also were selling “high-powered” client adapters. In order for wireless transmissions to work the client has to be able to “hear” the access point as well as the access point has to be able to “hear” the client device. When the access point is “high-powered”, let’s say 600mw of power, and the client device is not “high-powered”, say 10mw, we are going to have a problem. This problem is known as “near-far effect” in the Wi-Fi world.

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To properly design a wireless network we have to include the transmission capabilities of the client device. If the client device cannot transmit back to the access point a discernible signal, then issues will arise. Here is an analogy I use often with customers to explain this phenomena. If we were at opposite ends of a football field in the end zones and I (the 600mw access point) had a megaphone and you (the 10mw client device) did not, you would be able to hear me but I would not be able to hear you. For our communication to work properly you would need to also have a megaphone so that transmit and receive capabilities we share would be similar.

4. Coming from the consumer focused market segment, the chosen solution for this implementation doesn’t normally require any type of management system. The product is designed to be used in homes where at most there might be two access points. Two access points are manageable when you have to access each one individually to do configuration or troubleshooting.

However, once you scale past a couple of access points, management, configuration, troubleshooting and any other administration tasks become cumbersome without some type of management system. Enterprise level wireless network solutions provide an architecture where the access points are centrally managed and make these tasks simpler and provide granular reporting and deep details about the operation of the system.

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5. Interoperability is yet another consideration that this customer did not take into account when choosing the product that they chose. Consumer grade products are tested for interoperability with other consumer grade products like game consoles, AV products, smart phones, tablets and other devices that normally aren’t used for production in a business environment.

In contrast, enterprise grade wireless systems are tested for interoperability with products that do exist in work place environments like hand held scanners, bar code printers, patient monitoring devices, voice over IP phones, etc… Most enterprise level wireless network manufacturers post the devices they test for interoperability with. They do this to ensure that you chose solutions that work well together and are known to “play nice”.

6. Who is this customer going to rely on when they need to add on to this network and add additional systems? I am again going to make an assumption, because I have been at this for some time, and say that once the wireless is in place the demands on it are going to grow. Once this happens, and it will, this chosen solution will not be accommodating and they are going to have to audition some new products to answer the growing demand for wireless network capacity. If we had the opportunity to work with this customer, in addition to the RF design, I would have included provisions for expanding and growing the network knowing it would not stay static for too long.

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Hopefully this blog has communicated adequately the reasons for working with knowledgeable solutions providers and doesn’t come across as a ploy to create job security for ourselves. While we want to make sure that we stay employed for as long as we can, we also want to make sure that we develop trust and reliance from our customers, current and future.

That trust and reliance is a result of our ability to design, propose, install and support for them wireless networks that meet and exceed their expectations on performance and cost. We are in it for the long term and that requires building trust which comes from delivering solid, reliable, efficient wireless solutions.

At SecurEdge, we deliver affordable, robust, and secure wireless platforms – it’s all we do. If you have any questions about wireless site surveys or would like to discuss an upcoming project, please contact us here.

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Michael McNamee

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.