A Tool’s Got To Know Its Limitation​s


One of the wonderful things about mobility and its related technologies is that, from the simple to the complex, you can learn something new everyday. In this post, I will address something that is relatively simple…
…virtual site surveys
For simple environments an engineer can get away with a virtual site survey. In some instances, a site inspection can be conducted as well. Many customers like virtual site surveys because it is low-cost and requires a small financial commitment (normally a couple hundred dollars). However, many buildings, especially older constructions, require a more detailed assessment with some type of physical site survey. A physical site survey can be expensive. Before understanding the price and before deciding to deploy a mobility solution, many customers reject the idea of spending upwards of a few thousands dollars to determine the price of deployment. In sticky situations like these a virtual site survey can bring the customer and you together. Remember, a virtual site survey is low-cost and if done properly, can provide a relatively accurate access point count. Based on a general access point count, the customer may decide to move forward. If so, the larger investment of physical site survey will dictate where access points should be installed.
Before using a site planning tool to conduct a virtual site survey, realize that the results generated from this tool are no substitute for an active site survey. Within complex environments the purpose of a virtual site survey are the following:
  • sets customer expectations
  • helps customer understand the required budget
  • helps customer understand the installation scope
  • helps customer save money
The virtual site survey also provides comparative data to the physical site survey. This becomes important for customers for hundreds of locations that require a mobility solution. The customer may be willing to pay for only ten to twenty physical site surveys and have an aggressive deployment deadline. Results from the comparative data may provide information that allows the engineer to successfully install the remaining sites with only a virtual site survey and an inspection. In order to do that, one must gather accurate information. That information must consists of the following:
Floor Plan Drawn to Scale
Think of the floor plan as the canvas and the results of the site survey as the painting. Without a floor plan drawn to scale you are working on a horrible canvas. …And when start with a horrible canvas, you get a horrible painting. In other words, a solid floor plan is a requirement and non-negotiable.
Coverage Area, Ceiling Height, and Dimensions
The customer must determine whether the entire property requires coverage or just an area that is critical to business (i.e. back-office, showroom, food court, etc.). The dimensions and ceiling height inform you of your horizontal and vertical boundaries. Together, this information helps predict how many access points may be required to cover an area at a certain signal strength.
Age of Structure
The age of a structure can provide insight into the signal propagation of each access point deployed. Newer structures tend to use newer materials that allow a signal to better propagate throughout a building. Similar to the usage of lead paint before 1977, older structures tend to have materials with higher attenuation values. As a result, when conducting a virtual site survey, I use standard attenuation values for more recent buildings. For older buildings that use concrete interior walls, I tend to adjust the attenuation value to a number higher within the range.
Overall WLAN Purpose
This information helps determine the access point that will be used to conduct the virtual site survey (and for that matter, the active site survey). Purposes such as general Internet access, line busting, VoWi-Fi, and Unified Communications will dictate whether an access point that supports 802.11g/n, 802.11a/n, or 802.11ac is included within the survey results.
Device Type, Version, Age, Density
Often overlooked, this device information is just as important as coverage area, ceiling height, and dimensions. It is not enough to focus on the access points sending the signal. With so many devices on a network, it is important to plan based on the lowest common denominator. For example, a customer may deploy an open Internet network and a back office that is primarily used for inventory. Most likely, there will be few laptops. However, there will be a range of old and new tablets, smart phones, and most importantly, scanners. Generally, scanners are sensitive to signal propagation. In areas furthest from an access point, other mobile devices may connect with ease. But scanners may not see the network at all. In such a situation, it is important to know the model of scanner being used and understand its signal threshold.
The overall device density may dictate that a different access point be used in a particular area. For example, access points that support more devices may be deployed in the banquet hall of a hotel, but access points that support a standard number of devices may be deployed throughout the remainder of the building. In addition, a mixture of mobile and stationary wireless devices may dictate final survey results.
With this information a relatively accurate virtual site survey can be conducted. But when conducting a virtual site survey, my final piece of advice is to use…
Regions with a Dash of Walls
When I initially began conducting virtual site survey I would spend an hour or more attempting to account for every wall, door and window within a floor plan. But within site planning tools, the region functionality creates a coverage area with the desired environment and wall type. Based on my assessment, using the region functionality has been more accurate than manually drawing the walls, doors, and windows.
As you can see, the information required to conduct a successful virtual site survey is similar to the information required for a successful physical site survey. In one instance, we must rely on the property manager or owner. In the other, we rely on the engineer to gather the information. Although a virtual site survey is not always appropriate, it can help mobility professionals deploy both complex and simple structures.

The Technology Is Right… Are You Right For the Technology​?

When I began writing the outline for this post, I thought that I would discuss the roles and responsibilities within an organization’s mobility team. I wanted to further describe how, when done properly, an organization gets mobility right. Then I realized that the roles and responsibilities that I have defined may not be within other organizations and, for the purpose of this post, are irrelevant. As a result, I decided to blog about what an organization must do to get mobility right. Given the audience I imagine that we all know how to properly deploy a wireless network. So, in addition to designing, deploying, and supporting the right wireless network, getting mobility right requires that you perform the following:

Get Educated On Mobility Services, Not Just Wireless Networking.
More and more businesses require that the service do more than just provide Internet access. With every service that is provided, businesses are trying to find ways to attract more people, connect the customer with the brand, create and control the experience, and develop customer loyalty. These steps can, in turn, generate more revenue. By itself, the right mobility solution cannot accomplish this. However, the right mobility solution can be a key component to achieving success. Your knowledge of the mobility component of the overall plan is where you add our value.
Get Educated On WAN Technologies. (“My wireless is slow.”)
Mobility services and WAN services work hand-in-hand. Today it is rare that a customer wants a closed wireless network. Most customers want secure, not closed, access. That secure access allows them to safely utilize the Internet as an extended resource. That secure access is only viable if users can access those Internet resources within a reasonable amount of time. Given the overall requirements and [potential] mobile device count, build a network – wireless and wide-area, that meets the customer’s needs. Furthermore, many customers do not separate the access point’s device density from the wireless LAN from the wide-area network. Have you noticed that when connected to a wired network people are likely to state that the computer OR the network is slow? However, when connected to a wireless network almost all complaints regarding performance relate solely to the speed of the wireless network. Our customers associate the WAN with the wireless network. So should you.
Understand The Short-, Long-Term Benefits of a Mobility Deployment.
Many customers see mobility as an added expense with no added value. It is important that you educate customers on what seems obvious to us. For example, mobility deployments and upgrades are less expensive than comparable wired deployments. For the purpose of servicing patrons, wireless networks are more scalable that wired networks. Wireless network provide access to information and additional mobility services from anywhere coverage is provided. This access empowers both the patron (limitless information) and the customer (visibility and control).
Recognize Mobility Opportunities.
Recognize and understand a customer’s cues as it relates to mobility. A customer may not know that a mobility solution is best suited to solve the problem. All a customer may do is present you with his end-game and give you the responsibility to help him meet that goal. That is your cue to step in and propose a mobility solution that is right for that opportunity. For example, if a customer states that he wants patrons to have access throughout the building, strategically placed wireless kiosks may solve the immediate problem. But what if this initiative is very successful? The kiosk solution will not scale. Present the customer with the idea of turning every patrons’ smart phone and tablet into a mobile kiosk. This way he will never run out of kiosks and the solution will scale more easily. The next phase of the service may only consist of a WAN upgrade and not finding space for more kiosks.
Understand Your Customer.
Without understanding what your customer does, the problem that has been identified, how much they are willing to spend, etc. you cannot attempt to offer any type of solution. You are wasting your time. I will give you an example.
Last year I had the opportunity to provide a wireless network to a customer that wanted to generate more revenue. The customer thought that a wireless network with Internet access would get people into the stores. Once in the stores, patrons would comparison shop and realize that this store offered the best price. In turn, patrons would buy more products. I thought that this was the perfect customer. He knew what he wanted and knew that it would work. I never thought to inquire about the validity of the customer’s game plan or end game. I thought that my job started and stopped with the wireless deployment.
In hindsight, it is obvious that I was wrong. The customer did not properly market the availability of the service. When you couple that with the fact the company’s website did not have a shopping component to it, patrons had no reason to use the Internet access as a tool to comparison shop. Patrons used the network to browse the Internet, read e-mail, and update mobile apps. Had I taken some time to ask the right questions, I would have been able to tell the customer that in order to achieve the success he wants, a mobility strategy is required. This is not the Field of Dreams. If you make it they will not necessarily come.
Know The Tools At Your Disposal.
Similar to wireless and wide-area networks, knowing your offerings goes hand-in-hand with understanding your customer. You must first understand if the solution you offer meets the needs of the market. Otherwise, you are wasting everyone’s time. Based on my experience, the last thing you want to do is provide the wrong solution to any customer. Providing the wrong solution is like buying a car that is classified as a lemon. No matter how many times you put it in the shop, it will never run in the intended manner. Your best option is get rid of it and start anew.
As you perform the above you may realize that you must shut the door on many opportunities or shut the doors entirely. But acting on the answer may open doors to not just new opportunities, but new “real” business and “real” deployments. However, in order to maximize your time and resources, a tough decision must be made.