My father was a general contractor. He used his hands and a myriad of tools to turn piles of wood, steel and concrete into structures that were transformed into homes and businesses. I learned some things from him over the years, and a few more as an adult, three of which I’ll share with you now.
- I did not inherit his skills with tools. (Seriously, when it comes to construction, I wouldn’t know where to begin!)
- Having and using great quality tools is important.
- There are no shortcuts.
As much time as Ruckus engineers like me spend in buildings under construction and facilities in various stages of renovation, we’re obviously not contractors. We’re engineers who design and implement wireless networks. Still, great tools are critical to our success.
In Part 1 of this series, we’ll begin our discussion with some of the problems encountered by radio frequency (RF) engineers engaged in Wi-Fi implementations. In Part 2, we’ll talk about what it takes to make Wi-Fi installations go more smoothly.
But before we do that, here’s a brief overview of Ekahau Site Survey (ESS) an essential Wi-Fi planning and design tool developed by a company called Ekahau, which was founded in 2000 with a focus on Real Time Location Services (RTLS). Over the past 17 years, ESS has quietly become the go-to tool for radio frequency (RF) engineers looking to deliver the best possible results when designing and deploying wireless. It’s a crowded field with offerings that include AirMagnet, Tamograph and iBWave, but ESS endures with its ease of use, cost effectiveness and versatility, making it the clear leader. More on Ekahau later. Let’s take a look at some of the key issues engineers wrestle with on a regular basis.
Wi-Fi Engineering Problems
For integrators of wireless technologies, time is a consistent problem. Customers are generally unwilling to pay for things they don’t understand or think they need. That leaves you spending time you’re not technically getting “paid” for on things that might seem extraneous on the surface. Too often, the solution ends up as cut corners, a rushed project and Wi-Fi that is less than optimal – even though you may be working with a great Wi-Fi vendor.
Radio frequencies are invisible. The reality is that if we can’t see something, we’ll just imagine it. This is where “heat maps” became a thing. I put them in quotations because there is actually a technical term that describes the function. It’s called predictive analysis. Predictive analysis provides a visual representation of Wi-Fi coverage in a building in the form of a colored map that gives the customer an idea of where areas of excellent coverage will be if the organization buys your stuff. In the real world, if you don’t take the time to do it properly, predictive analysis comes closer to taking a crayon and coloring in the lines if you don’t take the time to prepare and do it properly.
Predictions are on my list of problems because they’re too often treated as the solution to the problem instead of a step along the way. As a field systems engineer, I have encountered literally hundreds of sites installed from a bill of materials (BOM) generated from a prediction “site unseen.” In one instance, the sales engineer I accompanied to the site was frustrated, short on time and embarrassed that problems arose. Only when we re-deployed our trusty ESS tool did we find the real culprit. In this case, the cause of the problem was too many APs in an area, causing major interference and connectivity issues. The walls were inaccurately labeled, creating a prediction that was wildly different than reality.
Predictive analysis is, at best, an inaccurate science. Why? It’s only as good as the information you put into it. When completing a prediction, one of the variable factors is the attenuation value of a given wall. Attenuation is defined as “the reduction in amplitude of a given signal, current or oscillation.” It could also be referred to as a reduction in power.
When a signal passes through the wall, the strength of that signal drops commensurate with the attenuation value of the substance it passes through. In other words, different walls affect Wi-Fi very differently. From tinted windows to plaster walls and water pipes – it’s hardly ever the same. When a customer sends a floor plan for a facility, they rarely include information on what the walls are made of, on how thick they are or on historical data such as additions. This leaves us doing a very dangerous thing – guessing.
Customer expectations are a big problem when you’re pitted against a competitor and are being asked for help. There are times when you know the other individual is taking chances you wouldn’t take, or – even worse – that he or she is simply wrong. Competition means some customers will get varying approaches to solving their problems, and some of those approaches will be far less diligent than the ones I’ll be addressing in Part 2 of this blog. In those cases you’ve got to make a decision: Do it right, or take a chance? (Hint: The answer usually falls somewhere in the middle.)
To get a taste of what’s to come in Part 2, watch this webcast– delivered by Ruckus Networks and Ekahau – on site surveys and key features of ESS. I hope you enjoy learning about this valuable tool and our partnership.