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A Guide to Proper Access Point Placement

Date posted: 15 December 2020  –   Category: Wi-Fi Services

Placing access points is more than just installing them where users and end devices are the densest. There are many factors that go into a good access point placement plan, such as office layout and the type of work you’ll be doing.

Location is key, but it’s not the only variable at play. Where, how many, and what kind of access points you use can spell the difference between blazing speeds and hundreds of work hours lost to a lousy connection.

Below, we’ve listed a few things to consider when creating a network design for your office.

Choose Open Areas

WiFi’s biggest advantage over Ethernet connections–untethered accessibility–is also its greatest weakness. While signals can technically pass through walls and obstacles, everything standing between you and an access point degrades the connection, including other people in the office.

Attenuation isn’t as much of a challenge for open floor plan offices. Access points are often mounted on the ceiling near the middle of the room, instead of on walls. This maximises the reach of each device, as well as prevents anyone outside your office from gaining access to your network.

Take Into Account Physical Materials

Signals interact differently with common building materials. Generally they can pass more easily through porous materials, such as drywall. Glass also registers barely any signal attenuation, but could present more of an obstacle if they’re treated to deflect light. Metal, brick, and concrete are where things start to get patchy. Concrete is possibly the worst conductor for WiFi signals. Brick can knock down signal strength by as much as -28db.

The age of a building also factors into signal attenuation. Older concrete may show lower attenuation levels than fresh concrete, especially if it’s reinforced with metal. Taking these factors into consideration helps businesses avoid any blind spots.

More Does Not Always Mean Fast

Overlapping is the practice of putting multiple points within transmitting distance of each other. This helps magnify throughput–yet only if they transmit at different channels. Two nodes that use the same channel within the 2.4Ghz frequency within “hearing” distance of one another will only create congestion.

On average, a standard indoor router covers an area of 45 metres. Several factors, such as the layout of a room or how a hallway curves can effectively reduce this distance. Businesses will want to use tools such as RF heatmaps to accurately map coverage areas, reducing or increasing overlap where needed.

Work Within Network Requirements

Location is important, but it’s not everything. Seeing every inch of your coverage heatmap in green doesn’t guarantee users have stable access to WiFi. Employees near a meeting room where video conferences are held regularly will experience poor connectivity, no matter how closely they’re seated to an access point.

Understanding the demands of your network is key for optimal placement. Places where power users will be using VoIP or bandwidth-heavy software like cloud-enabled BI tools may need dedicated access points that can transmit at 5Ghz, which allow for higher throughput yet don’t travel as far as signals using a 2.4Ghz channel.

Identify Interference Points

An office is a noisy hive of signals, most of which interact with the same channels your data uses to travel from node to user devices. Anything from microwave ovens to fluorescent lights can impact the strength of your connection.

Mapping proper placement through this busy highway of radio waves is impossible through naked sight. That’s where WiFi site surveys come in. Surveyors use a spectrometer analyser to identify sources of interference in your office, and let you make informed decisions about access point placement.

Consider Device Density

Modern devices transmit and connect to the WiFi using an invisible highway of radio frequency waves. Too many devices trying to broadcast across the same frequency is akin to two cars trying to merge into the same spot simultaneously. Either one car waits for the other to merge, or no one goes anywhere.

Alleviating congestion doesn’t automatically mean you have to cut the number of devices on your network. Use peak hour traffic to guide how many routers you put within a space. You can prioritise specific types of traffic through Quality of Life (QoL) settings on your routers. Alternatively, you can also set varying transmission strengths for your access points, which reduces the chance of data streams elbowing for the same space.

Know Your Devices

The capacity of a device to transmit and receive signals is dictated by input and output technology. Older devices can only parse data on a first-come, first-serve basis. A Multi-User, Multiple Input, Multiple Output (MU-MIMO) device with thrice or quadruple the number of antennas can capture data coming in at different times and directions to stabilise throughput, like a more effective air traffic controller.

Routers with fewer antennas are cheaper, although you’ll need more of them to get the same performance as a single MU-MIMO-enabled router like the Synology RT2600AC. Older computers or smartphones may also not support MU-MIMO technology.

Optimising an unseen yet finite resource like WiFi can be puzzling. Fortunately for businesses, access point placement is an exact science. Armed with the proper mapping tools and a good understanding of their own network’s parameters, anyone can build a stable and fast wireless network.

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