Let’s start our complete guide to WiFi site surveys by answering the most important question you may have at this point: what is a WiFi site survey?
You can think of a WiFi site survey as an in-depth analysis of an area where a WiFi network is supposed to be deployed. The purpose of this analysis is to support informed decision-making during the network’s deployment and its configuration.
Typically, a WiFi site survey report will tell you the following information:
Once you’re equipped with this information, you can much better decide where you should place your router and which channel you should use, among other things.
WiFi site survey software presents the information it collects in the form of WiFi heatmaps, which are helpful visualization that overlay color-coded data on top of a map of the surveyed area. WiFi heatmaps are superior to graphs, charts, and tables because they locate data in physical space in an easy-to-read manner.
Contrary to what many people believe, WiFi site surveys don’t require any expert skills to create whatsoever — at least not if you choose the right WiFi site survey software. The little time and effort it takes to produce a WiFi heatmap can help you ensure the best wireless coverage possible, improve your download and upload speeds, and eliminate annoying connection drops caused by the so-called signal dead zones.
There are three main types of wireless site surveys you should know about:
Passive surveys can be performed at any time. In fact, it’s a good idea to perform them on a regular basis because the wireless environment, especially in densely populated areas, can change very quickly, with new networks not always being properly configured and causing unnecessary interference as a result.
Active surveys are typically performed right after deployment or when there are issues to troubleshoot, such as when connection attempts are timing out or when you’re struggling to achieve the speeds advertised by your internet service provider.
Predictive surveys are performed prior to deployment. When done correctly, they can save a lot of money that would otherwise be wasted on unnecessary access points. They can also considerably shorten the deployment time by eliminating, or at least greatly reducing, the need to optimize access point position and configuration.
As we’ve already explained, WiFi site surveys are performed using WiFi site survey software. Such software is available from a number of different vendors, and there are WiFi site survey tools for all major operating systems.
When selecting the best WiFi site survey software, we recommend you consider the following selection criteria:
One WiFi site survey software that delivers accurate results, has plenty of features to satisfy the needs of home and professional users alike, is easy to use, has received many raving reviews, and is priced affordably is NetSpot, and we talk more about it later in this article.
WiFi site survey Mac software is popular because MacBooks are great for collecting WiFi data in the field thanks to their reliability, excellent battery life, and bright screens that are easily readable even under direct sunlight.
Due to Apple’s restrictive policy, most WiFi site survey software for Mac is not available in the Mac App Store. Instead, vendors typically distribute installation files through their websites and provide a built-in update checking mechanism to keep their products up to date.
Given its market share, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there’s no shortage of WiFi site survey software Windows users can choose from. The available software ranges from simple utilities available in the Microsoft Store to professional applications distributed directly by their vendors.
As is the case with all Windows software, there are, unfortunately, also malicious WiFi site survey software tools available for download on all kinds of shady websites, so you need to avoid them at all costs.
Android devices are basically small computers running a Linux-based operating system. As such, they can be used for all kinds of tasks, including the creation of wireless site surveys.
WiFi site survey Android apps can be conveniently downloaded from the Google Play Store and used to collect far more information than the built-in Android WiFi discovery feature can provide.
Even though Apple’s mobile operating system greatly restricts what both users and developers are allowed to do, there are some WiFi survey iOS apps that have managed to work around the restrictions and deliver a fairly feature-complete experience.
NetSpot for iOS is a great example of a WiFi site survey app for iOS that leverages a third-party dual-band spectrum analyzer, the WiPry 2500x by Oscium, to collect WiFi data lesser apps can’t see.
Professional network administrators and technicians are frequently equipped with dedicated WiFi site survey hardware tools that provide improved accuracy, better range, and the ability to collect more information about WiFi networks.
For example, hardware spectrum analyzers are used to display the actual radio waves carrying WiFi data packets, and external WiFi adapters with removable antennas greatly enlarge the surveyable area.
The only problem with WiFi site survey hardware is that regular home users don’t have access to it. What sometimes happens as a result is that a technician equipped with a powerful external WiFi adapter performs a WiFi site survey and determines the coverage to be sufficient. But soon after the technician leaves, end-users discover that the coverage actually leaves a lot to be desired because their devices (laptops and smartphones) use weaker built-in WiFi adapters.
The solution? Perform a WiFi site survey using the same WiFi device that end users have, such as a regular laptop with a standard built-in WiFi adapter. To do that, all you need is a WiFi site survey software application like NetSpot, which doesn’t require any additional hardware to work (except for the iOS version of NetSpot).
Throughout this article, we’ve mentioned NetSpot several times, and for a good reason: it’s the best WiFi site survey software application for Windows and macOS, allowing you to visualize, manage, troubleshoot, audit, plan, and deploy WiFi networks using any MacBook running Mac OS X 10.10+ or any laptop with Windows 7/8/10.
NetSpot’s site survey feature can perform active and passive surveys, and it will soon gain the ability to perform predictive surveys as well, which will make it a complete solution suitable for anyone from inexperienced home users to demanding professionals.
Here’s how to perform a WiFi site survey using NetSpot:
NetSpot will then let you turn the gathered data into heatmaps, making it easy to spot areas of signal weakness and diagnose causes of WiFi problems.
Finally, you can export the generated WiFi site survey report, while given the option to select exactly what you want the report to contain.
A WiFi site survey tool is a software application whose purpose is to collect information about WiFi networks to help you with their deployment and optimization.
The cost of a wireless site survey can range greatly depending on whether you hire a professional and do it yourself. If you go with the DIY approach, then you can expect to pay around $100 for leading WiFi site survey software.
To survey WiFi coverage, you need a WiFi-equipped device, such as a laptop running Windows or macOS, and a WiFi site survey software application. From there, you simply launch the application and let it do the hard work as you methodically walk from one part of the surveyed area to another.
The purpose of a wireless site survey is to provide you with enough information so that you can achieve the desired coverage and throughput.
Wireless site surveys are done using wireless site survey software like NetSpot. The software automates the collection of data, and it makes it possible to turn it into easy-to-understand visualizations, heatmaps, and graphs with a few simple clicks.