Wireless LAN design isn't as simple as placing access points or arrays around a building. Deploying an effective and reliable Wi-Fi environment requires site surveys and planning by both the vendor and the IT organization, taking into consideration the physical environment and the number of devices and applications.
Wi-Fi vendors are developing
WLAN design: Vendors including users in site survey planning
Enterprises should work closely with their vendors when building or redesigning their WLAN. Many Wi-Fi vendors offer WLAN design planning applications and tools -- such as Motorola's Wireless Valley and AirMagnet's Planner.
Xirrus recently announced its cloud-based application for WLAN design. Wi-Fi Designer-Cloud allows both Wi-Fi value-added resellers (VARs) and end customers plan and design the Wi-Fi network prior to installation to achieve an optimal wireless experience.
"[Enterprises] can't shortcut the WLAN design process, because they have to know what they are dealing with ahead of time in order to get the best Wi-Fi experience," said Bruce Miller, vice president of product marketing for Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based Xirrus Inc.
WLAN design and planning is critical to achieving a good user experience. Radio waves traverse brick walls differently than dry wall, and each building will require unique considerations based on office layout and the building's materials. Wi-Fi Designer-Cloud allows end users to upload a floor plan of their environment, including descriptions of their walls, and work with Wi-Fi engineers to determine the best placement of arrays or access points.
"A critical piece of the process for our customers is to know how many of what Wi-Fi products will be needed," Miller said. "Wi-Fi design is not cookie-cutter, and there are many variables as to where product placement should be."
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With applications in the cloud, IT organizations and Wi-Fi implementers can collaborate instantaneously, rather than sending files and blueprints back and forth, said Matt Kassawara, systems engineer for Arrow Technologies LLC, a network infrastructure and installation provider and Xirrus distributor.
The Highlands Ranch, Colo.-based provider works with both Xirrus customers and VARs to conduct Wi-Fi site surveys. Kassawara and his team use Wi-Fi Designer-Cloud to import building floor plans and determine the best placement for access points. "We create a predictive map that tells us where the signal is going to be strongest and weakest before any gear is brought to the site," he said.
Prior to the Xirrus cloud-based tool for WLAN design, the Wi-Fi layout plans existed only on-premises, and sharing the end product was a clunky experience, Kassawara said. "We used to have to print out or take screenshots and email the user or partner the plan. Moving this into the cloud allows us and our customers to have access to the plan wherever we are and changes to be made on the fly," he said. "Any designer can have access to the plan, and enterprise end users can also make changes as needed."
Post-installation site surveys boost wireless experience
WLAN design applications are relevant long after a network is installed. As conditions change, the optimal place for an array or access point changes too. Variables such as the movement of cubicle walls, new devices and even more employees in the building can change radio wave paths. The addition of new network services -- such as video and voice applications -- can also change demands on the Wi-Fi.
Post-installation site surveys and coverage testing are just as important as initial site surveys, said Craig Mathias, principal at the Ashland, Mass.-based Farpoint Group advisory firm. "Wi-Fi site design tends to be difficult because it's hard to know exactly what the nature of radio propagation is in the building," he said. "Whatever initial assumptions or measurements were made will be different over time, and demands on the network are only going to grow over time."