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Predictive Survey

Designing even a moderately complex WiFi network involves a lot of variables that must be accounted for to determine the most optimal number, placement, and configuration of access points. One technique used to account for these variables is called a predictive site survey.
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In many cases, a predictive survey can entirely replace a physical site survey.

What Is a Predictive Site Survey?

Let’s say you’re tasked with designing a WiFi network for a small office building. How would you approach this task to deliver on the promise of fast, stable WiFi?

A predictive site survey can significantly lower the installation effort

You could, of course, install a WiFi access point, measure its coverage and capacity and use the gathered information to install additional access points if needed or move the original access point to a different location. Depending on your access to WiFi equipment and the building itself, this could greatly prolong the time it takes you to complete the installation of the WiFi network. A predictive site survey can significantly lower the installation effort by using facility blueprints and other available information to determine the ideal placement of wireless access points with the help of predictive site survey software.

Pros and Cons of Predictive Site Surveys

Predictive site surveys don’t require physical access to the surveyed area. This can be a huge advantage in situations where access to the surveyed area is limited. For example, some businesses can’t afford any disruption to their operation because they have tight deadlines to meet and ambitious financial targets to hit.

Because predictive site surveys can be performed anywhere and at any time, they are usually much quicker than physical site surveys, and also far less expensive since time is money.

Modern WiFi predictive survey tools are surprisingly accurate

Modern WiFi predictive survey tools are surprisingly accurate, with their margin for error rarely exceeding 10 percent. That said, even the best WiFi predictive survey tool is only as accurate as the data it works with. Working with a blueprint that doesn’t accurately represent the present state of the surveyed area is guaranteed to lead to very bad results.

Perhaps the biggest downside of predictive site surveys is the need to perform a final physical survey to confirm the placement, number, and configuration of installed access points. However, it’s also possible to skip this step and wait for users to provide their feedback. If the users don’t find any issues with the setup and are satisfied with the performance of their wireless connections, a physical survey is not necessary.

Predictive Wireless Site Survey Prerequisites

To successfully perform a predictive site survey, it’s necessary to provide certain basic information:

  • Floor plan or area map: A predictive wireless site survey simulates how radio waves would propagate through the survey area from individual access points, overlaying the results on a floor plan or area map. A plan or map that doesn’t represent the real location can jeopardize the entire survey.

WiFi heat map with NetSpot
  • Construction materials: Wireless signals are absorbed by different building materials at various rates. For example, a 2.4 GHz WiFi signal passing through heavy concrete can experience a transmission loss of around 23 dB, while a 5 GHz WiFi signal passing through the same wall can lose up to 45 dB. Brick and lumber don’t affect wireless signals nearly as much, but their effect is still not negligible and should be accounted for during every predictive wireless site survey.

Signal level
  • Appliances and other sources of RF interference: In addition to walls and other solid obstacles, wireless signals are also affected by various sources of radio frequency interference, such as Bluetooth devices, cordless phones, remote mice and slide advancers, wireless doorbells, baby monitors, microwave ovens, and electronics with a switching load above 2 A.
  • The number of wireless users: When conducting any kind of WiFi survey, it’s important to realistically estimate how many wireless clients will be accessing the WiFi network simultaneously and provide sufficient capacity by ensuring a sufficient density of wireless access points. There are many places, such as schools and hospitals, where the concentration of wireless devices is much higher compared with the average building.
  • Desired coverage: It’s not always necessary or even desirable to cover the entire surveyed area with a strong signal. A business may want to limit its main WiFi network to its premises for security reasons or set up multiple wireless networks for different departments, minimizing their overlap to reduce co-channel and adjacent-channel interference.

WiFi Predictive Site Survey Software Tools

A WiFi predictive site survey software tool can make it much easier to complete a predictive site survey, but not all survey software tools are created equal. Most are severely limited in terms of usability because of their outdated, clunky user interfaces that make them unintuitive and difficult to use.

NetSpot 3 will feature support for predictive site surveys

The good news is that NetSpot 3 will feature support for predictive site surveys, combining its signature ease of use with the ability to accurately predict the propagation of WiFi signals in any environment to deliver a complete WiFi site survey solution intended for professionals and amateurs alike.

In addition to the new predictive site survey mode, NetSpot 3 will feature improved versions of its two signature modes: Survey and Discover.

NetSpot Discover Mode

With Survey mode, in-depth physical site surveys can be performed with absolute ease, and the gathered data can be transformed into interactive color-coded heatmaps. Discover mode instantly collects heaps of information about surrounding WiFi networks and presents wireless data as an interactive table.

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Wi-Fi Site Surveys, Analysis, Troubleshooting runs on a MacBook (macOS 10.10+) or any laptop (Windows 7/8/10) with a standard 802.11a/b/g/n/ac wireless network adapter.
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Conclusion

Predictive site surveys complement physical site surveys by providing accurate information about the expected propagation of wireless signals in the surveyed environment. They can be greatly beneficial in situations where it’s not feasible or practical to be physically present on the location prior to the actual installation of wireless equipment. With WiFi predictive site survey software tools like NetSpot 3, predictive site surveys are accessible to anyone.

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Read next in All about Wi-Fi

If you want to dive deeper into this Wi-Fi thing, check out the following articles about Wi-Fi security, the best apps for wireless networking, inflight WiFi, etc.
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Wi-Fi Site Surveys, Analysis, Troubleshooting runs on a MacBook (macOS 10.10+) or any laptop (Windows 7/8/10) with a standard 802.11a/b/g/n/ac wireless network adapter.