Whether you’re updating your existing wireless network infrastructure, building a new wireless system or simply trying to figure out why you’re running into Wi-Fi performance problems, odds are the answer lies in your WLAN design.
Over the years we’ve talked a lot about wireless network designs: the design process, do’s and don’ts, tips and tricks, what to look for, best practices, what to avoid, we literally have left no stone un-turned.
However, one area we haven’t spent much time on was cost, and the justification behind spending precious IT budget dollars on a proper wireless network design.
Recently I sat down with our very own Philip Wegner, CEO and Founder of SecurEdge Networks, to talk about whether or not businesses and organizations should pay for a WLAN design, and if so, how much should they spend?
Why is having a proper wireless network design important?
Philip Wegner: If you wanted to drive from Charlotte to Disney World in Orlando, you’d start with entering in the destination into your GPS on your car or your phone App. The GPS software looks at where you are, where you want to go, then it charts the best path to get there. The easy part is deciding where you want to go; the hard part is actually mapping the miles of road it takes to get you there. On vacations growing up, I remember my dad pulling to the side of the road, getting out of the green station wagon, and spreading the map out on the hood of the car. Today, that sounds crazy to do it that way. Using software is faster, more accurate, and can even get you there more quickly.
When it comes to wireless planning, you need to know what your situation is today. And more importantly, you need to consider what your wireless system needs to support you in the future. Will it support basic laptops utilizing office applications? Or, will it support your ERP systemutilizing hand held scanners in a warehouse? Both of these are different destinations, and require a different wireless plan.
The funny thing we see today is people literally walking around a warehouse with a map of the floor plan in hand and just placing access points wherever they think they should need one.
Random placement doesn’t really seem like that would produce very positive results?
Philip Wegner: For wireless geeks like us, that makes as much sense as using a physical map instead of wireless design software. Today’s Wi-Fi mapping software can produce very accurate designs by predicting coverage based on the access points being used and the environment the system will be installed in. We find that our predictive surveys are accurate within 5-10% in most environments.
If you don’t use predictive RF software, who knows where you’ll end up.
Should you pay for a wireless network design?
Philip Wegner: That’s kind of a loaded question for us because we’re a Wireless Engineering company. But let me take my company hat off and try to answer that objectively.
First, let me explain that there are two types of wireless network designs typically.
Predictive RF surveyscan be done without physically walking around a facility. A wireless engineer would need floor plans for the building, accurate dimensions, and answers to some basic questions from the customer like what applications do you want to support? What kind of devices will you use? What are the walls in the facility made of? etc. This still requires some expensive Wi-Fi design software if you want the plan to be accurate, but it has the advantage of not requiring an engineer to be on-site which costs a lot of money.
Wireless Site Surveysare what most people think of when they think of wireless planning. They think of an engineer setting up a site survey kit in a big building, then walking around and looking at the actual coverage, interference, and RF propagation inside their facility.
Now, if you can get a certified WLAN engineer, who also possesses the RF Design software needed to produce an accurate design for no charge, then by all means you should take that! We’ve seen companies giving away predictive RF design before, but rarely wireless site surveys. And we’ve done predictive RF designs from time to time for no charge for customers like schools, who don’t have funding to pay for it. But the problem is that most “free wireless designs” are done using free software, which means that it’s typically not accurate. To make matters worse, almost every time we’ve seen free designs, it wasn’t a wireless certified engineer that produced them…so the customer received terrible plans. I haven’t seen many wireless design professionals giving away RF designs because the ones that are accurate require expensive RF mapping software and trained people to deliver them.
So, my advice would be that if someone offers it, you should take it! But realize just like everything else that if it’s free, there’s usually a reason why it is.
Our process is that we charge for the wireless design regardless of the type because we’re providing an RF heat map, project plan, and a certified engineer to do it. But then we’ll credit the customer the design fee if they end up using SecurEdge for the project.
How do I know what kind of wireless design I need?
Philip Wegner: Referring back to a previous question, a Predictive RF Design, by a certified engineer, is accurate within 5-10%. It’s most accurate in office environments and schools for example. If the environment has a lot of RF interference, or something weird going on with the building- like sand in the walls for example, you may need an engineer on site to do some testing to validate the design. A wireless site survey would be required in those environments.
So in general terms, in offices, schools, and smaller warehouse facilities without a lot of interference, a predictive RF design will be very accurate. In industrial environments or hospitals- where there is a tremendous amount of RF interference creating issues like machinery, and big pieces of metal, you’ll need a wireless site survey in addition to the Predictive RF design in most cases.
How much should you spend on a wireless network design?
Philip Wegner: This really ranges broadly based on a few factors: First what kind of environment do you have? Second, what kind of wireless plan is needed and finally how big is your facility?
Predictive RF designs aren’t that expensive- it could be $500 for a small warehouse under 25K sq. ft.. But the wireless design costs range is drastic when an engineer is required to go on-site for a wireless site survey. Typically, a certified engineer will cost $1200-2,000 per day to be on-site. So a million sq. ft. manufacturing facility could be tens of thousands to put an engineer on-site.
The engineer has to physically test the RF environment, and then produce heat maps that are accurate using real RF data, which is a tremendous amount of work and time to produce for a larger facility.
It sounds like depending on the variables it can be quite expensive?
Philip Wegner: It can definitely sound like a lot of money, but what we’ve found is that the cost of over-engineering a wireless system, or under-engineering it, can be much higher. Really the ultimate goal for everyone involved is to get it right the first time.