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  • Wendy

Should You Gamble with a Free Predictive Wi-Fi Network Design?

My mom’s happy place was Reno, to say she loved to gamble would be an understatement. Slots were her favorite. My parents went to Reno several times a year, always lured by the “free” room the casino gave them for being loyal customers. I’d roll my eyes every time they told me they were going. Then we would discuss how much their “free” weekend was going to cost them. Sometimes they would come back ahead, but more often than not, they would come home having more than paid for the “free” room. The house always wins.

Speaking of Lady Luck, let’s assume the stars aligned and your finance department finally has the budget to refresh the Wi-Fi network. Because it was such a struggle to get the money released and, more importantly, you are conscious of the precious budget, you set out to maximize every dollar spent.

Your vendor knows your budget is tight, so they throw the design in for free. You are excited because now you are going to look great for saving the company some money by getting design work for free. After sending the vendor your floor plans, they send back a design with the number of access points and where they are to be installed. With the free design in hand, there should be nothing to worry about, right? Wrong.

Do you know how the saying “there is no such thing a free lunch” came about? The saying is believed to come from enterprising saloon owners who would give out free lunches with the purchases of drinks. What was the catch? The “free” food was laden with salt, which made the patrons thirsty. To quench their thirst, they would buy more, higher profit drinks. Why should you care about free design? For starters, it could very well have you buying more than you need.

But the problem goes far beyond just buying extra hardware you don’t need. To be fair, the free network design will do an okay job. However, given your reputation could be on the line, is “just okay” good enough? It is essential to point out all designs are not created equal. The reason why free designs are sub-par is because the vendor did not come on-site to develop it. We call this a predictive design. Predictive designs are great for a starting point; however, they are rarely production worthy.

Why should you not go live with the predictive design? Even though the design was based on your floor plan, it doesn’t give any details about what the walls are made of, the physical objects in the space, and the RF environment, all of which significantly impact design. Unlike wired networks that enjoy the luxury of operating in a defined environment, wireless operates through frequencies in the air, also known as spectrum. Wi-Fi, in particular, works on unlicensed spectrum, which means devices other than wireless access points also transmit signals that interfere with the performance of the network. The access points can even interfere with themselves! [Stay tuned for an upcoming tutorial on that!]

Different building materials attenuate signal differently, so knowing what the walls and other physical obstacles are made of combined with an understanding of how the radio frequency can be affected is critical to the design. It also determines where the AP’s are placed. A predictive design does not have the intelligence to know all of these values without taking measurements and sampling on-site. And without those real-world measurements taken into consideration, the design will suffer significant flaws, and you could be left with a sub-par network.

An few examples of what this could look like when deployed would be an oversubscription of AP’s in an area, say in a high user density part of the building. Or in a warehouse, the design may not account for the height of the racks, or the density of the material in those racks, or how forklifts maneuver throughout the space. With mistakes like these baked into the design, the network can’t reach its full potential. This could set you up for significant expenses to remediate the network to achieve the quality of service needed to support your business.

These mistakes can be avoided with an on-site survey. With the use of measurement devices, specialized software, and Wi-Fi know-how, the wireless engineer can get an accurate picture of the environment and factor it all into the design. Everything is taken into consideration, and nothing is skipped. Just the right amount of hardware is used to create an optimal performing network.

Designs derived from on-site surveys result in optimal coverage, ideal installation points, performance and reliability you can count on. You might be thinking, is all this worth the trouble? We think so. This critical step in the design of the network gives us the confidence to guarantee our Wi-Fi network design will meet your business needs. We call it the Kahuna-Fi 5D guarantee. Before you say yes to free design, ask your vendor if they will guarantee it will meet the demands of your business. My guess is they won’t put any chips down because doing so would be like betting against the house.

(photo credit: Steve Sawusch)


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