A WiFi site survey is the process of assessing a specific area to plan or optimize a wireless network capable of covering the entire area with a strong, reliable signal.
The typical WiFi site survey is concerned with the following:
The complexity of WiFi networks is constantly growing, and so does our reliance on them. A WiFi site survey can help you ensure that your WiFi network is in top condition, ready to support your personal or business needs.
According to Gartner, the average cost of IT downtime is $5,600 per minute. That’s a huge number, and all businesses that rely on WiFi internet access should remember it because it makes the cost of wireless site survey software seem utterly insignificant, especially considering that free survey software is often enough to optimize a WiFi network and reduce downtime.
Without a WiFi site survey, it’s very difficult — if not impossible — to know that you have sufficient WiFi coverage and capacity to meet your needs. Insufficient coverage means that not all clients will be able to roam freely and connect to the internet from anywhere. And if your WiFi network doesn’t meet your capacity needs in peak locations, you may deal with disconnected clients and slow speeds.
Designing a WiFi network without wireless site survey software is akin to building a house without a plan. If you’re experienced enough and luck is on your side, you might end up with something that satisfies your needs, but it’s very unlikely that there wasn’t a better way how to complete the project. By performing a WiFi site survey prior to deployment, you can ensure that you’re deploying the right number of access points in the right locations to keep your costs down.
When employees have access to a fast and stable internet, they become more productive, and the same is true for home users. The difference between a website loading in one second and two seconds may not seem significant, but that’s only until you multiply the time saved by the total number of internet users and look a year into the future.
Wireless site survey software can reveal rogue access points set up by malicious hackers to steal personal information from unsuspecting users. It can also help you limit the reach of your wireless network to ensure that it doesn’t leave your building and allow someone who you can’t even see to breach it.
Your choice of wireless site survey software should depend on the type of site survey you want to perform:
Passive and active surveys require a compatible off-the-shelf WiFi adapter, but no additional hardware is required. Predictive surveys can be performed even on a computer that doesn’t connect to WiFi.
Instead of using a different software tool for each type of site survey, it’s much better to select wireless site survey software capable of performing passive, active, and predictive surveys. The software you select should support all WiFi standards, including WiFi 6 and run on both Windows and Mac computers. It should also be intuitive and make the process as simple as possible so that you’re encouraged to use it.
Performing a WiFi site survey is always much easier when you have the right tool for the job. Today, both home users and professionals can choose from such a wide range of WiFi site survey software tools that the sheer number of tools available can be overwhelming. To help you separate the wheat from the chaff, here’s our selection of the top 5 best WiFi site survey software tools.
What home users and professionals have in common is a strong preference for easy-to-use software applications that don’t require a lengthy manual to deliver outstanding results. NetSpot is the best WiFi site survey software tool because it’s the only professional solution available that even home users without any expert knowledge can use to optimize WiFi networks.
With NetSpot, visualizing, managing, troubleshooting, auditing, planning, and deploying wireless networks is as easy as clicking on a button. Depending on what information you want to gather, you can either generate a real-time view of surrounding Wi-Fi networks using Discover Mode or switch to Survey Mode and outline a WiFi network on an interactive map. The data you collect can be exported in PDF or CSV for further analysis or sharing.
The current version of NetSpot offers over 15 heatmap visualizations, allowing you to see everything from noise level to frequency band coverage to signal-to-interference ratio. In the near future, NetSpot will include support for predictive surveys. Once this feature is implemented, NetSpot users will be able to plan new networks without visiting the designated area.
Developed by AZO Technologies, VisiWave Site Survey is a proprietary WiFi site survey software tool with GPS support and extensive reporting capabilities. It provides three different WiFi site survey methods. You can manually collect data one point at a time, continuously walk through the surveyed area, or use GPS positioning to automate large-scale outdoor surveys.
The Pro version of VisiWave Site Survey includes support for predictive surveys, allowing you to create a realistic model of the survey area and simulate the interaction of radio waves with walls and other objects in the area. The result of this effort is a heatmap that clearly visualizes how signals from one or multiple sources will likely propagate through the area.
This WiFi site survey software tool boasts the ability to analyze 802.11ax networks, as well as 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n, and 802.11ac networks. The tool is available in two versions, and both versions cost over $1,000. The more expensive version of TomoGraph Site Survey adds support of access point simulation and predictive modeling of signal propagation.
Included in TomoGraph Site Survey is a powerful spectrum analyzer capable of detecting and identifying non-Wi-Fi sources of RF signals, such as wireless video cameras, microwave ovens, or cordless phones. This feature is intended to work with Wi-Spy, which is a compact 2.4 and 5 GHz spectrum analyzer that connects to the USB port.
Aimed at professional users, iBwave Wi-Fi is a feature-packed WiFi site survey software suite that delivers a unique cloud-based user experience. You can start a WiFi survey on a tablet, save all your files to the cloud, and open the files on a desktop computer to create a highly accurate 3D model of the surveyed area. Customers and stakeholders can then view the model, as well as all gathered data, using iBwave Viewer, a free, read-only version of iBwave Wi-Fi.
To justify its steep price, iBwave Wi-Fi includes many enterprise-oriented features, such as a complete bill of materials, smart antenna contouring, automatic cable routing alignment, and others. Customers can watch videos of iBwave Wi-Fi online or order a live product demonstration.
Ekahau HeatMapper is a simplified version of Ekahau Pro. Unlike its big brother, Ekahau HeatMapper runs only on Windows, and it’s aimed at home users who need only basic functionality and wouldn’t have any use for enterprise-oriented features and advanced reporting. Because of its modest hardware requirements, this WiFi site survey software tool can run even on old and low-end laptops without any problems.
You can use Ekahau HeatMapper to see WiFi coverage on a map and find all available networks in the surveyed area. Ekahau Pro adds 3D mapping capabilities that take into account wall materials, floor materials, antenna direction and up/downtilt , and a whole host of other factors.
One wireless site survey software tool that meets all these criteria is NetSpot. This professional app for wireless site surveys, WiFi analysis, and troubleshooting supports passive and active surveys (predictive surveys will be supported with the release of the next major version), and runs on any MacBook (macOS 10.10+) or PC (Windows 7/8/10/11) with a standard 802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax wireless network adapter.
NetSpot has two major modes of operation, called Discover and Survey. Using the former mode, you can instantly gather discover all WiFi networks in your area and obtain all important information about them, including their names, channels, signal level, interference, noise, and more. The latter mode allows you to create interactive color-coded WiFi heatmaps with detailed information on all surveyed wireless networks in every point of the map.
Regardless of which of the two major modes of operation you select, you can always save all collected data as a CSV file. Heatmaps can be saved as PNG files, and active visualization can be exported into the PDF file format.
To perform a WiFi site survey using NetSpot:
When you finish your survey, NetSpot will automatically generate heatmap visualizations, so that the only thing left for you to do is analyze them.