Coverage planning is one of the key design requirements we cover in the 3 Steps to Great Wi-Fi Every Day Guide, and one of the most fundamental considerations for designing Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi coverage is all about ensuring your Wi-Fi-enabled devices have sufficient signal strength in all of the places your users need to connect to the Wi-Fi. But before you start plastering the ceiling with access points (APs), remember that installing Too Many APs is just as bad as Too Few.
Luckily, the right tools make it easy to identify the right number and the right locations for your APs to get the best Wi-Fi for your specific needs. Wi-Fi design tools like Ekahau AI Pro provide a clear idea of coverage and signal strength allowing you to modify AP locations and configurations on the fly and visualize exactly how those modifications can impact coverage in the environment.
In this guide, we’ll cover:
What is Primary Wi-Fi Coverage?
Wi-Fi Coverage is a wireless network design requirement detailing all of the areas you want or need wireless connectivity. Primary Coverage is all about optimizing the distance around your wireless access points (APs) to ensure there is sufficient signal strength for Wi-Fi-enabled devices to properly operate. For many devices, a signal strength of -67 dBm represents the lower limit of a healthy signal. This wall-to-wall green primary coverage heatmap is really just a visualization of at least -67 dBm everywhere on the floorplan.
Think of primary Wi-Fi coverage like paint coverage in a room. You buy enough paint to ensure your walls are sufficiently covered from corner to corner, and you exclude special areas like windows and doorways from your coverage area so you don’t waste money on unnecessary paint. Not enough paint leads to splotchy coverage, too much paint and you either waste it in the can or you can even get inferior results by introducing drip marks from too much saturation. Bonus points if you use green paint.
Primary Coverage vs. Secondary Coverage
To meet the needs of a high-performing wireless network, you can’t just stop at primary coverage. Secondary coverage is critical to ensure you have great roaming between APs and redundancy in the event an AP has a failure.
How to Design Wi-Fi Coverage in Ekahau Pro
Here’s a quick overview of how to place wireless access points (APs) for perfect Wi-Fi coverage using Ekahau AI Pro.
5 steps to Perfect Wi-Fi Coverage Planning
1. Import & Scale Floor Plan – Just import your CAD or image file and set the scale. Predictive designs model coverage based on the actual dimensions of your building’s footprint, so it’s important to be as accurate as possible when scaling your floor plan. Most CAD files will be scaled automatically based on metadata contained within the file. For other image file types, we recommend setting the scale using the longest possible measurement. Being a few inches or centimeters off along the length of a building is much less prone to accuracy issues than being the same amount off on a smaller measurement like the width of a door opening.
2. Draw Walls – Once again, CAD files benefit from automatically importing this information for you, but image files are easy enough to add walls and assign attenuation values with a few clicks. We’ve created a full walkthrough detailing How to Measure Wall Attenuation For Spotless Wi-Fi Network Designs.
3. Select AP Model – Ekahau Pro has thousands of AP models and antenna configurations to choose from, including the most up-to-date coverage patterns from Cisco, Aruba, Ruckus, Aerohive, Xirrus, Extreme, Siemens, Adtran, Avaya, D-Link, Meru / Fortinet, Mist, Lancom, Meraki, Netgear, Samsung, Ubiquiti, Zebra, and Zyxel just to name a few. By creating a predictive design using the exact AP model you plan to deploy, you’re able to have the most accurate and reliable design possible.
4. Place APs for Primary Coverage – Use the Ekahau Coverage Planning Tool to see a clear picture of your network’s coverage and signal strength and freely modify AP locations and configurations on the fly to visualize exactly how those modifications can impact coverage in the environment.
5. Place APs for Secondary Coverage – Switch to the secondary coverage visualization and easily spot gaps in coverage that require additional APs to ensure smooth roaming behavior and provide redundancy in case of failure.
Best Practices for Where to Place Access Points
Placing Access Points in Rooms vs. Hallways
In a typical office environment, Wi-Fi is primarily used in rooms like offices or meeting rooms. An easy-to-remember tip for placing access points (APs) is to always try to locate them as close to the users as possible. But that’s not to say mobile client devices (like phones) don’t need hallway coverage. Luckily, placing APs in rooms is also better when it comes to device roaming. Coverage patterns from hallway mounted APs are notorious for having sharp declines in coverage as a user rounds a corner. In this example, you can see the signal strength drop from a very healthy -58dBm to a call-dropping -85dBm in a single step.
Now let’s switch to our room-mounted access point example. Here you can see a much more gradual decline in signal that can give your roaming device time to recognize the drop in signal and connect to another AP well before the call drops out. Hospitals represent a great use case for mission-critical client devices that are constantly on the move and require great secondary coverage for seamless roaming.
Want to learn more?
For even more tips on AP placement best practices, check out the on-demand webinar recording, “Demystifying Wi-Fi: Coverage Planning Made Simple.” In the webinar, hosts Matt Starling & Mac Deryng walk through coverage planning examples for 3 unique floorplan scenarios, including:
- Wi-Fi coverage planning in an office environment balancing AP placement for both primary and secondary coverage
- Wi-Fi converge planning in a hospitality setting featuring a unique AP type that is great for hospitality or university dorm rooms
- Wi-Fi coverage planning for warehouses and how to use antennas to extend coverage in difficult to access locations