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The Basics of Wi-Fi Network Design

Factors to consider when designing a Wi-Fi network

Having a high-quality Wi-Fi network is no longer an option for businesses. Wi-Fi accessibility is an absolute necessity whether the company is a cafe in a strip mall or it’s a multi-billion dollar corporation in Silicon Valley.

Most people don’t realize the amount of work required to plan, design, implement, and maintain a network. Many individuals only experience the maintenance phase of this process. They watch the IT guy go into the server room a few times a week to do whatever it is he does, and just expect the Wi-Fi to work precisely the way they need it to.

However, the design phase of this process is just as critical for effective deployment. As with most things in life, planning and thoughtful implementation are the keys to success.

There are many things to consider when designing a network, but executing this part of the process well sets the network and the company up for success down the road.

Wi-Fi network design considerations

Here are some fundamental things to keep in mind while planning and designing a network.

Evaluate the physical space and conduct a site survey

The type of space will determine a lot of the initial decisions in the design process. Hospitals, offices, schools, and stadiums all have vastly different network needs and challenges to address. Conducting a site survey is critical. Larger spaces require a more extensive evaluation that includes both predictive and manual surveys to ensure complete coverage.

Predictive surveys use data and a forecasting model to make initial estimates about coverage. This is usually followed by a manual survey to confirm those predictions and gather additional information. Smaller spaces often only need a manual survey.

This survey takes into account the overall size and layout of the space, as well as the building materials and construction. Certain materials can block signals and cause interference. Likewise, having multiple floors and outdoor spaces will certainly affect the design of the network.

Part of the survey process also includes understanding the expectations and needs of the business. Surveyors may conduct interviews with employees and management to get a better understanding of how they’ll be using the network and how they need it to perform.

Get a grip on the number and type of devices accessing the network

The number of users and devices informs the number of access points needed to build a Wi-Fi network. Between laptops, tablets, and smartphones, engineers usually estimate between three to five devices per person. This is also a reasonable estimate of the number of applications running at any one given time—a better indicator of how much the network will be expected to perform at its peak.

This gets a little more complicated with businesses that have a constantly changing number of devices on their network. A hospital, for example, has hundreds of family members, patients, and employees coming in and out of the site every day with varying numbers of smartphones, tablets, laptops, and wearables. Designing a network for this type of environment requires more planning and support than a small office that maintains the same number of employees every day.

Just accounting for the number of users and devices isn’t enough, however. Engineers have to consider the floor plan of the space to give enhanced support to places where people are bound to congregate in larger groups. These are usually meeting spaces such as conference rooms and auditoriums.

Engineers also need to know the types of devices connecting to the network. Phones, tablets, and laptops all have different capabilities and functionalities that need to meet individual network requirements. Designing a system with this in mind will mitigate issues down the road.

Understand how the business intends to use the network

Some businesses need more out of a network than others. Coffee shops and small retail spaces might not need much bandwidth to run basic e-commerce software and allow customers to check email and watch videos. Other businesses like graphic design agencies or research firms have higher demands to handle monstrous files and workflows.

Businesses with a BYOD policy or a fluctuating number of IoT devices have to make decisions about structure for both the performance and security of the network. Many organizations maintain two networks: a private one for critical business systems and processes, and a public one for visitors, vendors, and customers.

Establish expectations about cost and performance

For any project to succeed, there has to be a foundational understanding between both parties to establish expectations. Conducting a site survey and meeting with the business’s leadership in person is the best way to do this. Engage in an honest dialogue to manage their expectations and give them the best possible solution.

Part of this certainly revolves around cost. Engineers often work with businesses that have a skewed understanding of what Wi-Fi network design and installation entail, which means they also have a skewed perception of how much it costs. Discussing this early is the only way to avoid headaches down the road. Engineers may have to make adjustments that depend on the budget.

Maintaining and monitoring your W-Fi network

There is still plenty of work to be done after designing and installing your Wi-Fi network. What are your plans for securing the network and actively monitoring it to protect your business from security breaches and costly downtime?

7SIGNAL offers cloud-based software that continuously monitors the network for issues and measures network performance from the end-user perspective, so you get a better read on their experience. We understand how critical Wi-Fi is to your operation—whether it’s saving lives in a hospital or mapping out logistics in a manufacturing plant.

Contact us today to learn how you can manage, optimize, and maintain your wireless network with 7SIGNAL.

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.