How Do I Get Better WiFi Coverage

One of the things we get asked most about, is “how do I get better wifi coverage”?  In order to implement and optimize wireless access points (WAP), start with the basics. The size of the space, the estimated user count (or number of devices on the network), and what the users will be doing on those devices.

To get an idea of the size of the space, start with a floor plan. This will allow you to understand the office layout and the usable square footage of the space you are trying to cover with wireless signals.  This will start to give you an idea of how to approach the physical installation.

Take these things into consideration when placing your wireless access points:

  • Placing a WAP behind furniture or in cabinets will greatly diminish wifi signal distance and quality
  • Try to mount the WAP in highest location possible, ceilings are best, if possible
  • Brick, cinderblock and wood have some of the highest RF absorption rates
  • One drywall wall will diminish the signal distance and strength by 2x

When working with clients who are looking for better wifi coverage in an existing office or looking for the best possible wifi in an office to be built, we like to have a map to see where we are going. To get a map, we take floor plans for the project and put them into our AI modeling software. Once the floor plans are imported into our software, we can build virtual walls, doors, windows, elevators and stairwells. In addition, we can add elevations, proposed density and proposed use. Finally, we tell the AI the make and model of the WAPs that we’ll be using in the project. The AI modeling will then determine the optimal locations for the WAPs based on the projected RF interference, density and locations of wi-fi users.  This modeling AI is remarkably accurate in predicting the locations of the WAPs for better wifi coverage.

get better wifi coverage

Once the physical aspects of the space have been properly assessed, the next step is to incorporate the “people aspects” (number of people that may be using the WAP and these people’s activities) before moving on to the design phase.

When it comes to wireless network design, better wi-fi coverage is dependent on several things:

  • The distance from the WAP to the device that will be using it
  • The end user density for the WAP
  • Type of use expected (low or high bandwidth use)

Knowing these factors will advance your network design process.

High Density Wifi Coverage For Businesses

Let’s start with density. Commercial WAPs can roughly cover 800-1,100 square feet.  However, this measuring wifi coverage in a wide-open space, i.e. there are no walls, pipes, masonry, or HVAC to interfere. A best-case scenario.

It’s a completely different story in home environments where three or four people are in different rooms of a house, all connecting to the internet using a consumer grade router located on the 1st floor, on a bookcase. Two of the people are streaming high definition movies on their mobile devices. When you consider a scenario like that, it’s easy to see how the environmental factors can affect the wifi performance.

TechNoir Solutions’ Director of Operations, Shawn Sumner, says, “people tend to think wireless internet is in the ether, an unlimited resource, like air. That’s just not the case – you can’t put 60 people, who are all streaming HD videos, around one wireless access point and expect it to work. Performance will suffer.

Your Business May Be Sharing Bandwidth

Wifi is a finite resource; when you are working from home, have you ever noticed your Zoom calls or Netflix streaming becomes fuzzy at certain times of the day? This is often a result of your neighbors putting a strain on pooled bandwidth resources from Comcast (or any residential ISP) resulting in “less internet to go around.”

How does this relate to business? Imagine a small business, in a 1400 square foot, open floor plan office. Add 15 people, using 30 total wireless devices. The WAP is located in a closet on one side of the office, where the internet service is located. In this scenario, the WAP will not have the capacity to provide sufficient service/bandwidth to support all the devices in the entire office.

To make this experiment more interesting, add some employees using high bandwidth applications like video conferencing. Wireless network performance grinds to a halt at this point. In this situation, the network design team should have changed the location of the WAP to reduce poor wifi performance (more on this design later).

Well-designed, Wi-Fi coverage for businesses takes into consideration the maximum seating capacity in community spaces and training rooms. If there is a space where wireless device count can double for an event or training, the network design should account for peak wifi usage when the space is fully occupied.

Questions to Assess Density:

  • How many employees will physically be in the office?
  • What locations will employees sit when they connect to the network?
  • How many employees will be in those locations?
  • Do any employees have more than one wireless device?
  • What are the employees using the internet for?
    • General connectivity (email, Microsoft Office, etc.)
    • High availability connectivity (streaming videos, video conferencing)
  • Do you host events where the number of people could dramatically increase?
  • Do you allow personal devices on your wifi network?

Know The Devices That Provide Better Wifi Coverage For Businesses

Designing better wifi coverage requires knowing the capabilities of the planned WAPs you will be using. In many projects, we have presented our client with a choice of a network designs:

  • A design using multiple lower-cost access points that have basic RF signal strength.
  • A design with a few, higher-cost, WAPs that broadcast several strong RF signals.

You’ll need to plan for whatever combination of WAPs enables the maximum upload and download speeds for all devices accessing wifi in the space you are designing. Knowing and understanding the hardware specs leads to an informed decision. Sometimes finding a happy medium between budget and performance can be elusive.

Thin Ice And Better Speed

Let’s compare two commercial WAPs from Meraki, a  MR36 and a MR46.

MR36

    • Four radios: 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, dual-band WIDS/WIPS, Bluetooth Low Energy
    • 2×2:2 UL/DL MU-MIMO 802.11ax
    • One 1 Gbps Ethernet port
    • PoE: 802.3af

MR46

    • Four radios: 2.4 GHz, 5 Ghz, dual-band embedded WIDS/WIPS, & Bluetooth Low Energy
    • 4-stream UL/DL MU-MIMO 802.11ax
    • One 2.5 Gbps multigigabit Ethernet port
    • PoE: 802.3at

By comparing a few factors, we can determine that the MR36 won’t provide the same coverage and throughput as an MR46 will. The the MR46 has a 2.5Gbps multigig data port vs. the 1Gbps port on the MR36. This means the MR46 will allow over twice as much bandwidth to be transmitted to and from the antennas.

The MR46 has twice as many Multiple-Input Multiple-Output (MIMO) antennas than the MR36.  MIMO is a wireless technology that uses multiple transmitters and receivers to transfer more data at the same time. In this case, more is better.

A wireless access point with multiple antennas takes the pressure off each individual antenna, permitting more reliable connections.

While the range of both WAPs may still be the same, the speed and density will vary based on the number of antennas. Typically, WAP specifications list the optimal number of devices for the best performance. It is harder to quantify environmental factors that affect the radio signals in the space itself.

Use as Directed

In order to get better wifi coverage for your business, it’s crucial to follow the manufacturer’s installation guide.  These guides give more information than just how to attach the mount cradle and using the proper tools to hang the WAP. The network engineer should follow pre-installation steps beginning with configuring and preparing the network. Next, the engineer needs to check and upgrade the firmware. Then the engineer should check and configure the firewall. Finally, it’s time to assign the IP address to the device.

Proper Placement Means Better Wifi Coverage for Businesses

A common mistake IT companies make when installing wireless access points is to use the device’s coverage radius as the default measurement for spacing between the WAPs. What they don’t take into account are the numerous points of interference. Unless you’re dealing with an unobstructed, wide-open space, you’re not going to get the maximum square footage. Period. Building materials and WAP mounting location contribute to RF range and signal strength diffraction loss or attenuation.

Does the wifi signal need to penetrate brick, timber, or drywall? How about a steel girder, metal door, or filing cabinet? Kitchen cabinets and appliances? Regardless of WAP’s signal strength, materials that traditionally cause radio interference still must be considered in the WAP network design.

Another common mistake in wireless network design is to place the WAPs in hallways instead of the offices – the rationale being the signal will travel further and to more locations. While that is arguably the case for the hallways themselves, the RF signal strength will dwindle before it reaches the far end of the offices. This is the last place you want dead spots is where employees actually do work.

For ideal access point coverage, best practice dictates placing the WAPs in the center of the office – preferably in the center of where users and their devices will be located.

Questions to assess placement:

  • Do signals have to travel through any walls?
  • What are walls made of?
  • Does your office have open space or is it divided into offices?
  • Is the office area cluttered with large devices/filing cabinets? Large supporting columns? Tall dividers?

Location Is Vital To Get Better Wifi Coverage for Businesses

Moreover, the network engineer designing the wireless network should choose a WAP mounting location with a clear line of sight to the coverage area. By contrast, placing the AP in a high ceiling behind a timber rafter or exposed ducts will adversely impact the access point coverage. Think of the WAP as a camera: if the employees and their devices aren’t in the frame, they won’t be in “the picture.” This results in “path loss” of the wireless radio waves.

Ultimately, an effective wireless solution maximizes performance and coverage so every user on that network is happy (happiness is when all the wifi bars are lit)!

Taking a systematic approach with the wireless network design, one that considers distance, density and the office environment, means users won’t light up the support line. This is the end game for excellent Wi-Fi coverage for businesses.

For complex set-ups, conduct Wireless Heat Map Survey to determine optimal AP placement. TechNoir Solutions has the tools to provide you with informed decisions. Let’s talk!

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