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Proper AP Placement Can Vastly Improve Wi-Fi Network Connectivity

The dos and don’ts of AP placement design and installation

Saying that wireless AP placement can make or break an organization may sound dramatic, but it is true in many ways. Well-planned access points create a network with good connectivity, seamless roaming functionality, and minimal interference. This all translates to efficiency, speed, and adaptability. Poorly planned APs result in a network with poor connectivity, dead zones, and interference—which lead to frustration, inefficiency, and lag time.

Whether starting from scratch, expanding into a larger space, or just looking to upgrade, businesses should be looking to optimize the placement of access points to make the most out of their Wi-Fi network. Otherwise, they may see the unfortunate sight of employees gathering in one corner of the building that has a good signal.

Here are some things to know about AP placement design—including tips for installation and general things to keep in mind as an organization moves through this process.

Before starting AP placement design, consider these elements

It’s not wise to design anything without knowing its intended function. This goes double for AP placement. Before beginning the process, there is some important information to gather to make sure the installation process goes smoothly, and users have seamless connectivity:

Assess network needs

The needs of the network will partially determine the number of APs that are needed. These requirements include things like the internet speed desired and the type of workload. Demands for a small accounting firm with five employees will be much different than those for an international graphic design firm with hundreds of employees.

Number of users and their devices

It’s important to know the number of users as well as the devices they will be using to connect to the network. Most experts recommend one access point per 25 - 30 users. That accounts for multiple devices per user as well, such as smartphones, laptops, and tablets.

Space covered

This is where the design element of AP placement comes into play. Total square footage needed is obviously important, but things like building shape and construction materials are also vital to know ahead of time to create an optimal network. Certain materials cause interference, and oddly shaped buildings can lead to a lost signal.

Who will be installing it?

If an organization already has an internal IT team, it would be wise to ensure that the team has experience mapping out AP placement and designing a network. Bringing up some of the points above may help expose inexperience. The process can be simple and straightforward, but when inexperience, inappropriate materials, and poor design are mixed, the results can be subpar. The business may need to talk to an outside consultant to get the job done.

Tips for AP design and installation

The first step in installing a new system or upgrading an existing one is to perform a wireless site survey. This will take all the usage intentions and challenges of a business into account before the IT team makes recommendations on installation.

Now that the estimated uses of and potential challenges to the network have been taken into account, it’s time to think about designing the best layout for the access points.

Take into account where the most usage will occur

Place APs in areas where the network will be used the most. These are most likely common areas such as conference rooms and offices. The demand on the network will be highest in these areas, so there should be adequate coverage.

A common mistake is placing APs in hallways. The thought here is that a hallway is a central location, so the signal can reach multiple places at once. However, walls and building materials can interfere, reducing the signal and range significantly. It’s recommended to place APs directly in offices or workspaces that need them.

Consider ceiling vs. wall placement

APs are commonly mounted on walls just below the ceiling or hanging below the ceiling to avoid interference from materials such as ducts or pipes. A facility with tall ceilings such as a warehouse or a stadium might need to mount APs to the wall so the signal will reach the floor, or use a directional antenna to overcome the distance.

Cable placement is key

Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as finding an open spot on the wall and mounting an AP there. Cables need to run from each AP back to the telecom room. If internal materials or building design prohibits cables from reaching an AP, that location isn’t going to work.

Building materials and signal interference

Certain materials affect signals in different ways, so it’s important to know the construction of the building before deciding where to put access points. Brick, metal, and concrete usually cause the most issues, blocking signals and reducing range. But even glass and drywall can be troublesome depending on the thickness.

Consider coverage overlap

There should be some coverage overlap in the design, especially in high-use areas or locations surrounded by the materials mentioned above. However, too much overlap can lead to interference.

Mapping out the design in advance will help IT teams see how much overlap is likely before putting APs in place. APs in adjacent rooms or multi-story buildings should be staggered and placed strategically to optimize coverage while minimizing overlap.

Are indoor and outdoor coverage needed?

If coverage is only required indoors, APs are typically placed on interior walls. Placing them too close to exterior walls could push half of the cell coverage outdoors, wasting signal. It also poses a potential security risk, as anyone with access to that area outside could potentially gain access to the network.

If coverage is needed outdoors, there are weather-resistant APs to solve that issue. These outdoor APs also have a use in facilities that are exposed to extreme elements such as refrigeration, heat, and condensation.

Why access point design matters

A well-designed access point map can completely change the operation of the business. Coverage will improve, employees will be more efficient, and the company as a whole can move faster with fewer interruptions.

Of course, once the installation is complete, the maintenance phase begins. 7SIGNAL offers wireless network monitoring through a cloud-based platform to test for performance and notify businesses of potential issues. This gives the network admin a live view of Wi-Fi health and performance across the board, so they can anticipate and react immediately—before the end-users experience a problem.

7SIGNAL® is a leader in enterprise Wireless Network Monitoring. The 7SIGNAL platform is a cloud-based Wireless Network Monitoring (WNM) solution that continuously troubleshoots the wireless network for performance issues – maximizing network uptime, device connectivity, and network ROI. The platform was designed for the world’s most innovative organizations, educational institutions, hospitals, and government agencies and is currently deployed at Booz Allen Hamilton, IBM, Kaiser Permanente, Walgreens, Microsoft, and many others. 7SIGNAL continuously monitors the connectivity of over 4 million global devices. Learn more at www.7signal.com.