As wireless demands continue to increase, the focus of wireless LAN design is shifting from coverage to capacity. In other words, simply providing basic coverage in a defined service area is no longer sufficient. Organizations need to ensure that their Wi-Fi supports the current and future capacity and performance levels required by an increasingly mobile workforce.
Traditional coverage-oriented design focuses on the placement of access points (APs) to provide adequate signal strength and ensure there are no dead spots in the area. However, organizations today must support more wireless users, devices and traffic than ever before — and they must be prepared for continued growth for the foreseeable future. Industry analysts anticipate that wireless data traffic will soon surpass that moving over wired networks.
It might seem like a simple matter of adding more APs — after all, the closer a wireless client is to an AP, the better the data rate. It stands to reason that more APs will increase the raw capacity of the WLAN by closing the distance between clients and APs.
It isn’t that simple, however. Too many APs will actually degrade WLAN performance by creating oversaturation. Wireless clients can become confused trying to access multiple APs with similar signal strength. The effect is similar to when a car radio picks up signals from multiple radio stations broadcasting on neighboring frequencies.
High-capacity Wi-Fi planning must also account for variables such as variations in traffic patterns, optimal use of the wireless spectrum, load balancing, Quality of Service and other factors. This involves careful planning in order to integrate the right number of APs to handle the increased usage without introducing interference.
A technology-neutral managed network services provider will typically begin the design process by interviewing stakeholders to learn the types and numbers of devices and applications that are being used. This helps in determining the aggregate bandwidth required in the coverage area to meet current demand.
The next step is a site survey, which involves physically walking around the site and measuring signal strength in various locations in order to build a coverage map. A sweep with a spectrum analyzer will also identify any sources of radiofrequency interference. Armed with detailed information about the site, the service provider can develop a design that optimizes both coverage and capacity.
Software-driven predictive site surveys now provide an even clearer picture by creating 3-D models of the environment with network simulations and heat maps that give a visual representation of anticipated signal strength and application throughput. A major benefit of predictive modeling is the ability to quickly simulate multiple deployment scenarios and narrow the possibilities to the most-promising alternatives.
Coverage-based WLAN designs were meant to accommodate the occasional wireless user, but they no longer meet modern demands. There are now more mobile devices in the world than there are people, and wireless networks carry more than 100,000 times the traffic they did in 2008. Businesses now rely upon devices and services that didn’t even exist 10 years ago.
Wireless directly impacts productivity, so it is important to get your WLAN design right. Verteks has invested in Wi-Fi design certifications, and we’ve developed a comprehensive WLAN planning service with specific staff expertise in site surveys and heat-mapping services. Whether you are looking to improve an existing WLAN or creating one from scratch, give us a call to discuss how to create a design that is suitable for your company’s physical environment and will deliver the operational benefits you desire.