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Wireless Site Survey: Understanding The Basics

by John Ciarlone on April 5, 2023


There aren't many organizations these days that don't heavily depend on their wireless networks. A robust wireless network is essential for many operations, from supporting mobile devices and IoT applications to providing employees access to cloud services and data. 

If your organization depends on a wireless network, then it's critical that you conduct a thorough site survey.

A wireless site survey assesses the environment of an organization's wireless network and identifies any potential risks or issues. You need to routinely conduct a wireless site survey to determine if your signal coverage is sufficient, identify potential sources of interference, or detect unauthorized access points.

Without this information, your organization could be at risk of experiencing problems such as slow speeds, poor coverage, frequent disconnects, and even security breaches. The following is an overview of the various purposes, benefits, and protocols associated with a wireless site survey.

Types Of Site Surveys

Firstly, it's essential to understand that there are several different types of site surveys. The site survey you perform depends on what your specific goal is. In some cases, you may want to do more than one type of survey to get the information you need. With that in mind, the following are the three types of site surveys:

Predictive Surveys

Predictive surveys are used to plan and design a wireless network. This type of survey helps identify the ideal placement for access points, using a blueprint of the space to determine the required signal strength and network coverage of an area based on the space being used and the number of users and devices expected to access the network.

Predictive surveys are used when setting up a new network or upgrading an existing one. In some cases, the building where the network will be set up may still need to be constructed.

Passive Surveys

A passive survey involves monitoring a wireless network without interfering with its operation. This type of survey is used to assess the performance of an existing wireless network, providing insight into common issues such as signal strength, interference, and access point placement. Passive surveys are used to both evaluate the existing network and provide information necessary for upgrading the network.

Active Surveys

Unlike a passive survey, an active survey will interfere with the current wireless environment to measure signal strength and other factors. This type of survey is used to determine more detailed information about an existing network, including the performance of individual access points and any areas that may have poor coverage. 

Active surveys are typically used to troubleshoot and identify potential problems in a wireless network, information which can be used if planning upgrades. Active surveys are often combined with passive surveys for a more comprehensive overview of a network's performance.

What Purpose Does A Wireless Site Survey Serve?

A wireless site survey provides information about the performance of an existing wireless network or assists in the planning stages of setting up a new one. The amount of data you can collect from a site survey can help you identify existing problems or potential risks and recommend changes and upgrades to enhance the network's performance.

With that in mind, the following are some of the more specific purposes that a site survey serves:


Captures Wi-Fi Signal And Spectrum Data

Measuring the strength of the Wi-Fi signal can give you a better idea of the quality of your network's coverage and performance. However, you'll also want to capture spectrum data. Spectrum data refers to the measurement of all wireless signals in an area, including both WiFi and non-WiFi sources. 

Doing so will allow you to identify interference levels and any unauthorized access points in the area.

This data can be used to identify potential problems with the existing network or to plan a new one. It can then be used to help optimize the placement of access points and other components of a wireless network.


Inspects Access Point Mounting And Accessibility for Cables

Inspecting access point mounting and accessibility for cables is another crucial aspect of a comprehensive site survey. Doing so helps ensure the access points are securely mounted to prevent incidents or accidents. 

Additionally, you'll want to ensure your cables aren't damaged, are securely fastened, and aren't too exposed to ensure they aren't causing issues with your network's performance.


Determines Areas Of Interference

A site survey can help determine any areas of interference in the network. This includes any external sources causing interference, such as other wireless networks or Bluetooth devices.

The data collected from the site survey can then be used to identify potential solutions and make any necessary changes to reduce or eliminate interference, which can slow down the network's performance.


Tests Predictive Designs Before A Network Is Employed

Testing predictive designs before a network is employed helps ensure the network's design will meet the space's needs. This is done by considering the area's layout and any potential interference or obstacles that could impact the network's performance.

Additionally, the estimated number of users and devices will be considered to ensure that the network is optimized for the most efficient performance.


Verifies Installment Of Changes And Additions To Network

Suppose you've made any changes or additions to your existing network. If this is the case, a site survey can help verify that the updates were successfully installed. This can help you identify any potential issues or snags before they become more significant problems. A site survey can also indicate whether any more updates or changes are necessary.


Ensures A Fast And Reliable Network For All Users

Ultimately, a wireless site survey helps ensure that all users have access to a fast and reliable network. By taking into account the existing setup and environment of a space, as well as any potential risks or problems, you can create a network tailored to the unique needs and requirements of all users, helping keep employees productive and customers happy.


What Kind Of Information Will You Get From A Site Survey?

The following are some of the specific types of data you can collect from a wireless site survey:

  • Sources Of Radio Frequency Interference: Site survey tools can identify any potential sources of interference that could affect the performance of your network, such as other wireless networks or Bluetooth devices.
  • Weak Signals: You can identify areas throughout your space where the signal grows weaker using passive site survey tools. This can help you determine if something obstructs the signal or where additional APs need to be placed. 
  • Dead Zones: Dead zones are areas where there is no signal at all. Site survey tools can help detect these areas and identify any potential solutions to improve coverage in those spots.
  • Channel Planning Settings: Certain channels will be better suited for a particular environment than others. For example, specific channels may be better than others if you are in a high-density area. A site survey can help you identify the optimal channel settings to ensure a reliable connection in your space. 
  • Power Planning Settings: The power settings of your APs can also be adjusted to ensure that the signal is strong enough for all users without wasting power by broadcasting too far. Broadcasting with too much power can cause roaming problems and other issues.  A site survey can help you identify the ideal power settings for your space. 

How To Do A Wireless Site Survey

The following are the general steps that are taken when conducting a wireless site survey:

  • Identify Your Network Requirements: The first step is to identify your network requirements, such as the number of users and devices that will be connected, which types of applications will be used, and the estimated coverage area.
  • Gather Necessary Tools: You'll need several site survey tools, such as an AP scanner and spectrum analyzer, to conduct a successful site survey. There are countless apps available that can help you collect valuable data, but a professional will have the best tools and equipment needed to do a comprehensive audit of your network.
  • Obtain A Blueprint Of The Space: Obtain or create a building blueprint of the area you will be surveying to accurately map out your findings. If a blueprint isn’t available, a current floor plan/diagram is normally acceptable.
  • Perform A Visual Survey: The next step is to physically walk through the space and identify potential sources of interference that may not be marked on your blueprint, such as walls, furniture, or other objects. You should also check existing APs to ensure they're mounted correctly and that cables are securely connected and undamaged.
  • Conduct A Passive Survey: Use your site survey tools to conduct a passive survey, which records and analyzes the existing signals in your space. This will help you identify potential sources of interference, weak signals, dead zones, and other issues.
  • Conduct An Active Survey: If you're testing an existing network, you'll want to evaluate its performance and capabilities.

As such, you'll want to measure the signal coverage and data packet behavior of each AP. You’ll also want to check the throughput tests Service Set Identifier (SSID) and Virtual Local Area Network (VLAN) settings of each AP to help determine the optimal configuration for your network.

  • Find Optimal Settings: Once you have collected all the necessary data, you can use this information to help determine the optimal settings for your APs, such as channel and power settings.
  • Test And Validate: The last step is to test and validate your changes by performing another survey of the space. This will help ensure that everything is working correctly and that all users can access a fast and reliable network.

Let The Professionals Conduct Your Site Survey For You

Wireless site surveys are time-consuming and require a great deal of technical expertise. Not to mention, there are countless site survey tools available to choose from. For this reason, it is often best to leave the job to the professionals.

As such, working with our qualified specialists at Hummingbird Networks can help ensure your survey results are accurate and your solutions are correctly implemented.

 Ensure your wireless network is up to speed with a professional WiFi assessment!

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