What is a WiFi Survey and Who Needs One?

By Mark Bartley
June 28, 2024

From homes to offices, schools to public venues, WiFi allows us to connect to the internet without the constraints of cables. This technology supports everything from casual browsing and streaming to critical business operations and remote learning. Its presence is vital for the smooth functioning of countless personal and professional activities.

The rapid rise of devices and applications has heightened the demand for robust, high-performance WiFi networks. With an increasing number of smartphones, tablets, laptops, smart home devices, and IoT gadgets competing for bandwidth, ensuring that your WiFi network can handle the load is more important than ever. Reliable WiFi is not just a convenience but a necessity, enabling seamless communication, entertainment, work, and access to information.

That's where WiFi surveys come in. Despite the critical role of WiFi, many users experience frustrating issues such as weak signals, slow speeds, and frequent disconnections. These problems can stem from various factors, including interference, poor network design, and inadequate coverage. 

A WiFi survey is a systematic evaluation of a wireless network’s performance within a specific area. By using specialised tools and techniques, a WiFi survey assesses key metrics like signal strength, signal-to-noise ratio, and interference levels. The goal is to identify any issues affecting the network’s performance and to provide actionable recommendations for improvement.

What is a WiFi Survey?

A WiFi survey is a comprehensive analysis of a wireless network’s performance and coverage within a specific area. It involves using specialised tools to measure various parameters such as signal strength, signal-to-noise ratio, and interference levels. The primary purpose of a WiFi survey is to identify and diagnose issues that may affect the network’s efficiency and reliability, and to provide recommendations for optimising the network setup to ensure optimal performance.

Type of WiFi Survey

There are three main types of WiFi surveys: Passive Surveys, Active Surveys, and Predictive Surveys. Each type serves a specific purpose and is used in different scenarios depending on the requirements of the network.

Passive Surveys

Passive surveys involve passively listening to the WiFi signals from access points (APs) without connecting to the network. During a passive survey, a surveyor uses a laptop or mobile device equipped with surveying software to collect data on signal strength, noise levels, and interference from other devices. This type of survey provides a detailed map of WiFi coverage and helps identify areas with weak signals or excessive interference.

Active Surveys

Active surveys require connecting to the WiFi network to measure performance metrics such as data transfer rates, latency, packet loss, and connectivity stability. By actively interacting with the network, this type of survey offers insights into the actual user experience. Active surveys are particularly useful for assessing how well the network supports various applications and for identifying issues that might affect user satisfaction.

Predictive Surveys

Predictive surveys, also known as simulation-based surveys, use software to create a virtual model of the wireless environment based on the physical layout of the space. By inputting details such as building materials, dimensions, and expected usage patterns, the software predicts the performance of the WiFi network. Predictive surveys are often used during the planning phase of a new network installation or major upgrade to estimate coverage and performance before any hardware is deployed.

Why Are WiFi Surveys Important?

WiFi surveys play a crucial role in ensuring the optimal performance of a wireless network. Here are some key reasons why a WiFi survey could be important to your business:

  • Identification of Coverage Gaps: WiFi surveys help identify areas with weak or no signal coverage, known as dead zones, allowing for adjustments to ensure consistent connectivity throughout the area.
  • Detection of Interference: By measuring interference from other electronic devices and neighbouring networks, surveys can pinpoint sources of signal disruption and suggest mitigation strategies.
  • Optimisation of Network Design: Surveys provide data that helps in designing a network layout that maximises coverage and performance, ensuring that access points are placed in optimal locations.
  • Improvement of User Experience: By addressing issues such as slow speeds, frequent disconnects, and poor signal quality, WiFi surveys enhance the overall user experience, making the network more reliable and efficient.
  • Cost Efficiency: By identifying and resolving issues early, WiFi surveys help avoid costly troubleshooting and network downtime, ultimately saving money and resources.

How Does a WiFi Survey Work?

WiFi surveys rely on specialised tools and software to gather and analyse data about the wireless network. Commonly used tools include WiFi analysers, spectrum analysers, and site survey software such as Ekahau, NetSpot, and AirMagnet. These tools help surveyors measure signal strength, detect interference, and map out the coverage areas. Laptops, tablets, or smartphones equipped with these tools are used to move around the survey area, collecting data at various points.

Key Metrics Measured During a WiFi Survey

A WiFi survey measures several critical metrics that provide insights into the network’s performance:

  • Signal Strength: This metric indicates how strong the WiFi signal is at different locations within the survey area. Adequate signal strength ensures that devices can connect reliably and maintain a stable connection.
  • Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR): SNR compares the level of the WiFi signal to the level of background noise. A higher SNR means a clearer signal, which is crucial for maintaining high data transfer rates and reducing errors.
  • Interference: This metric measures the impact of other electronic devices and neighbouring WiFi networks on the signal. Interference can cause slow speeds and dropped connections, so identifying and mitigating interference sources is essential.
  • Data Rates: This metric reflects the speed at which data is transmitted over the network. Higher data rates indicate better performance, which is particularly important for bandwidth-intensive applications like video streaming and online gaming.

The Process of Carrying Out a WiFi Survey

Carrying out a WiFi survey involves a structured process to ensure comprehensive data collection and accurate analysis. The main steps include:

  • Planning: The survey begins with planning, where the surveyor defines the objectives, scope, and methodology of the survey. This phase involves understanding the physical layout of the area, identifying potential sources of interference, and determining the locations where data will be collected.
  • Data Collection: During this phase, the surveyor uses the tools and software to collect data at various points throughout the survey area. This involves walking around with the equipment, taking measurements at regular intervals, and ensuring coverage of all critical areas.
  • Analysis: After data collection, the surveyor analyses the gathered data to identify patterns, detect issues, and evaluate the overall performance of the network. This step involves using software to create visual representations such as heat maps that show signal strength, coverage areas, and interference levels.
  • Reporting: The final step is reporting, where the surveyor compiles the findings into a detailed report. This report includes visual maps, identified issues, and recommendations for improving the network’s performance. The report serves as a guide for making informed decisions about network adjustments and upgrades.

Who Needs a WiFi Survey?

WiFi surveys are beneficial for a wide range of settings, ensuring that wireless networks are reliable, efficient, and capable of meeting user demands. Here are some specific scenarios where a WiFi survey can be particularly valuable:

Businesses and Organisations

Offices, retail stores, and warehouses require robust WiFi networks to support a multitude of applications and devices. In an office setting, employees depend on stable WiFi for tasks such as video conferencing, cloud-based applications, and communication tools. Retail stores use WiFi for point-of-sale systems, inventory management, and customer services like in-store WiFi. Warehouses need reliable connectivity for logistics, inventory tracking, and automated systems. A WiFi survey helps these businesses ensure that their network can handle the specific demands of their operations, reducing downtime and improving efficiency.

Educational Institutions

Schools and universities increasingly rely on WiFi for both educational and administrative functions. Students and teachers use wireless networks for accessing online learning platforms, digital resources, and collaborative tools. Administrative staff require reliable WiFi for managing records, communication, and operations. A WiFi survey ensures that educational institutions have the coverage and capacity needed to support a large number of simultaneous connections and bandwidth-intensive activities, creating an optimal learning environment.

Public Venues

Stadiums, airports, convention centers, and other public venues must provide seamless connectivity to thousands of users simultaneously. In these settings, WiFi supports not only the visitors’ personal devices but also critical operations such as ticketing, security, and communication systems. A WiFi survey helps identify and address challenges like high user density, interference, and the need for wide coverage areas, ensuring that visitors have a positive experience and that operations run smoothly.

Residential Settings

Apartment complexes can suffer from dead zones, interference, and varying signal strengths due to their size and construction materials. In homes, reliable WiFi is essential for activities like streaming, gaming, remote work, and smart home devices. Apartment complexes need to provide strong, consistent WiFi to multiple units, often within a challenging environment with many competing networks. Conducting a WiFi survey in these residential settings helps identify problem areas and optimise the network for consistent, high-quality coverage, enhancing the living experience for all residents.

What Are The Benefits of a WiFi Survey?

Conducting a WiFi survey offers numerous benefits that enhance the performance, reliability, and efficiency of your wireless network. Here are some key advantages:

Improved Network Performance and Reliability

A WiFi survey helps identify and resolve issues that can affect the performance and reliability of your network. By analysing signal strength, interference, and data rates, the survey provides actionable insights that enable you to optimise your network settings. This leads to a more stable and faster connection, reducing downtime and enhancing overall productivity.

Enhanced User Experience

Users depend on a reliable WiFi connection for various tasks, from streaming videos and online gaming to remote work and virtual meetings. A WiFi survey ensures that the network meets the needs of its users by providing strong, consistent coverage and minimising connectivity issues. This results in a better user experience, with fewer disruptions and higher satisfaction.

Identification and Resolution of Dead Zones and Interference

Dead zones and interference are common issues that can degrade WiFi performance. A WiFi survey helps identify areas with weak or no signal, as well as sources of interference from other electronic devices or neighbouring networks. By pinpointing these problem areas, you can take targeted actions to eliminate dead zones and reduce interference, ensuring comprehensive and robust coverage.

Optimisation of Network Infrastructure Investment

Investing in network infrastructure can be costly, so it’s essential to ensure that resources are used effectively. A WiFi survey provides detailed data that helps you make informed decisions about where to place access points, how to configure the network, and what equipment to invest in. This optimisation ensures that you get the best possible performance and return on investment from your network infrastructure.

Future-Proofing the Network for New Technologies and Increased Demand

The demand for WiFi connectivity continues to grow, with more devices and applications requiring reliable access. A WiFi survey helps future-proof your network by identifying potential bottlenecks and areas for improvement. By addressing these issues proactively, you can ensure that your network is ready to handle new technologies and increased demand, providing a seamless experience for users as their needs evolve.

How Much Does a WiFi Survey Cost?

The costs associated with a WiFi survey can vary widely depending on several factors, including the size of the area being surveyed, the complexity of the network, and whether you choose to conduct the survey yourself or hire a professional.

Factors Influencing the Cost of a WiFi Survey

  1. Size of the Area:
    • Larger areas, such as corporate campuses or large public venues, will typically require more time and resources to survey, leading to higher costs.
    • Smaller spaces, like individual homes or small offices, generally incur lower costs due to the reduced scope of the survey.
  2. Complexity of the Network:
    • Networks with numerous access points, varying environmental conditions, and high user density require more detailed analysis and thus higher costs.
    • Simpler networks with fewer access points and straightforward layouts are less costly to survey.
  3. Type of Survey:
    • DIY Surveys: Conducting a WiFi survey yourself using software tools can be more cost-effective. The primary expenses include the cost of the software and any required hardware, such as laptops or WiFi analysers. These tools can range from free basic versions to several hundred pounds for more advanced options.
    • Professional Surveys: Hiring a professional service typically incurs higher costs due to the expertise and specialised equipment they bring. Professional surveys can range from a few hundred to several thousand pounds, depending on the scope and complexity of the project.
  4. Frequency of Surveys:
    • Regular surveys may be necessary to maintain optimal performance, particularly in environments with changing conditions or high user turnover. The cost will accumulate based on how frequently the surveys are conducted.
  5. Additional Services:
    • Some surveys might include additional services such as network optimisation, equipment installation, and post-survey support, which can add to the overall cost.

Balancing Cost and Benefit

While the costs associated with a WiFi survey can be significant, it’s important to weigh these against the benefits. A well-conducted survey can lead to improved network performance, enhanced user satisfaction, and reduced downtime, potentially saving money in the long run by preventing costly troubleshooting and network upgrades. Investing in a professional survey may also provide more comprehensive insights and long-term solutions, making it a worthwhile consideration for larger or more complex networks.

How Often Should a WiFi Survey Be Carried Out?

The frequency of conducting a WiFi survey depends on several factors, including the nature of the environment, the rate of technological changes, and the specific needs of the network. Here are some guidelines to help determine how often a WiFi survey should be conducted:

Initial Installation

When a new WiFi network is being set up, conducting a thorough initial survey is crucial. This ensures optimal placement of access points and the best possible coverage and performance from the outset.

Periodic Surveys

For most environments, it is advisable to conduct a WiFi survey at regular intervals, typically every 1 to 2 years. This helps to ensure that the network remains efficient and can adapt to any changes in usage patterns or environmental conditions.

After Major Changes

  • Network Upgrades: Whenever there are significant changes to the network infrastructure, such as adding new access points, upgrading equipment, or expanding the coverage area, a WiFi survey should be conducted to assess the impact of these changes and ensure continued optimal performance.
  • Environmental Changes: Changes in the physical environment, such as new walls, furniture rearrangements, or significant structural modifications, can affect WiFi signal propagation. A survey helps to identify and address any resulting issues.

Performance Issues

  • User Complaints: If users report frequent connectivity issues, slow speeds, or dead zones, a WiFi survey can help diagnose and resolve these problems by identifying their root causes.
  • Unexpected Performance Drops: Sudden and unexplained drops in network performance should prompt an immediate survey to quickly address and mitigate any issues.

High-Density Environments

In environments with high user density and fluctuating usage patterns, such as conference centres, stadiums, or large office buildings, more frequent surveys may be necessary. These environments can experience rapid changes in network demand and interference, requiring more regular assessments to maintain optimal performance.

Technological Advancements

As new WiFi technologies and standards (such as WiFi 6 or upcoming standards) become available, conducting a survey can help integrate these advancements into the existing network. This ensures that the network benefits from improved performance, capacity, and efficiency.

Who Should Carry Out Your WiFi Survey?

When considering a WiFi survey, you might wonder whether you can conduct it yourself or if you should hire a professional. While DIY surveys can be cost-effective and offer flexibility, hiring a professional company to conduct the survey provides significant advantages that ensure the best outcomes for your network.

Professional WiFi Surveys

Professionals bring extensive experience and specialised knowledge to the table. Their expertise ensures a thorough and accurate assessment of your network, identifying and resolving issues that might be overlooked in a DIY survey. They are also adept at interpreting complex data and can provide nuanced insights that go beyond basic metrics. This expertise leads to more effective and targeted solutions.

Advanced Tools and Technology

  • Specialised Equipment: Professional surveyors use high-end, specialised equipment and software that offer more detailed and comprehensive analysis than consumer-grade tools. This includes spectrum analysers and enterprise-grade survey software that can detect subtle issues and provide precise data.
  • Cutting-Edge Techniques: Professionals employ the latest techniques and methodologies, ensuring that the survey is conducted using the best practices in the industry.

Comprehensive Services

  • Holistic Approach: Professional services typically include passive, active, and predictive surveys, providing a complete picture of your network’s performance. This holistic approach ensures that all aspects of your network are thoroughly evaluated.
  • Tailored Solutions: Professionals can customise their approach to meet your specific needs, addressing unique challenges and requirements with precision.
  • Detailed Reporting: You receive detailed reports with actionable recommendations, helping you implement effective solutions to optimise your network. These reports are invaluable for making informed decisions about network upgrades and changes.

Ongoing Support

  • Continuous Assistance: Many professional services offer ongoing support and consultation, ensuring that your network remains optimal over time. This support can include regular check-ups, troubleshooting, and updates based on new developments in WiFi technology.
  • Proactive Monitoring: Professionals can provide proactive monitoring and maintenance services, identifying potential issues before they become major problems.

DIY WiFi Surveys

Conducting a WiFi survey yourself requires a solid understanding of networking concepts and WiFi performance metrics. Without this expertise, you may miss critical issues or misinterpret data. While there are user-friendly software options available, they often lack the advanced features and accuracy of professional-grade tools. This limitation can result in less reliable data and suboptimal network performance.

Making the Decision

Hiring a professional company to conduct your WiFi survey is often the best choice for ensuring optimal network performance and reliability. The benefits of professional expertise, advanced tools, comprehensive services, and ongoing support far outweigh the initial cost. By investing in a professional survey, you ensure that your network is thoroughly evaluated and optimised, providing a seamless and efficient wireless experience for all users.

Mark Bartley