Site Survey

With WiFi systems, it's very difficult to predict the propagation of radio waves and detect the presence of interfering signals without the use of test equipment. Even if you're using omni-directional antennas, radio waves don't really travel the same distance in all directions. Instead walls, doors, elevator shafts, people, and other obstacles offer varying degrees of attenuation, which cause the Radio Frequency (RF) radiation pattern to be irregular and unpredictable. As a result, it is essential to perform a RF site survey to fully understand the behavior of radio waves within a facility or geographic area before installing wireless network access points.

The ultimate goal of a RF site survey is to supply enough information to determine the number and placement of access points that provides adequate coverage throughout the facility or location. In most implementations, "adequate coverage" means support of a minimum data rate. A RF site survey also detects the presence of interference coming from other sources that could degrade the performance of an OFDM network or wireless LAN.

OTA’s team can supply you with a Site Survey that will identify and resolve all the technical issues involved in your unique deployment.

Click here for more Tips on How to Conduct a Successful Site Survey.

The need and complexity of a RF site survey will vary depending on the facility. For example, a small three room office may not require a site survey. This scenario can probably get by with a single access point located anywhere within the office and still maintain adequate coverage. If this access point encounters RF interference from another nearby wireless LAN, you can likely choose a different channel and eliminate the problem.

A larger facility, such as an office complex, apartment building, hospital, or warehouse, generally requires an extensive RF site survey. Without a survey, users will probably end up with inadequate coverage and suffer from low performance in some areas. You certainly wouldn't want to relocate and add access points to the facility after installing and interconnecting 20 access points or more.

When conducting an RF site survey, consider these general steps:

  • Obtain a facility diagram. Before getting too far with the site survey, locate a set of building blueprints. If none are available, prepare a floor plan drawing that depicts the location of walls, walkways, etc.
  • Visually inspect the facility. Be sure to walk through the facility before performing any tests to verify the accuracy of the facility diagram. This is a good time to note any potential barriers that may affect the propagation of RF signals. For example, a visual inspection will uncover obstacles to RF such as metal racks and partitions, items that blueprints generally don't show.
  • Identify user areas. On the facility diagram, mark the areas of fixed and mobile users. In addition to illustrating where mobile users may roam, indicate where they will not go. You might get by with fewer access points if you can limit the roaming areas.
  • Determine preliminary access point locations. By considering the location of wireless users and range estimations of the wireless LAN products you're using, approximate the locations of access points that will provide adequate coverage throughout the user areas. Plan for some propagation overlap among adjacent access points, but keep in mind that channel assignments for access points will need to be far enough apart to avoid inter-access point interference.
  • Be certain to consider mounting locations, which could be vertical posts or metal supports above ceiling tiles. Be sure to recognize suitable locations for installing the access point, antenna, data cable, and power line. Also think about different antenna types when deciding where to position access points. An access point mounted near an outside wall, for example, could be a good location if you use a patch antenna with relatively high gain oriented within the facility.
  • Take note of data rates and signal readings at different points as you move to the outer bounds of the access point coverage. In a multi-floor facility, perform tests on the floor above and below the access point. Keep in mind that a poor signal quality reading likely indicates that RF interference is affecting the wireless LAN. This would warrant the use of a spectrum analyzer to characterize the interference, especially if there are no other indications of its source. Based on the results of the testing, you might need to reconsider the location of some access points and redo the affected tests.
  • Document findings. Once you're satisfied that the planned location of access points will provide adequate coverage, identify on the facility diagrams recommended mounting locations. Of course the installers will need this information. Also, provide a log of signal readings and supported data rates near the outer propagation boundary of each access point as a basis for future redesign efforts.

These steps will point you in the right direction in conducting a useful and accurate RF Site Survey.

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