Review: A WiFi planning tool from Aerohive Networks helps determine where to place access points throughout a building, and it's free.
WiFi network design has become a lot easier lately. Aerohive Networks, a
company that sells a line of access points, is now offering a free,
easy-to-use, Web-based WiFi Planner that is available to anyone. During testing
I found that I could tell the Web-based software the characteristics of the
office environment I was planning to put WiFi in, and it would tell me where to
put the APs so that they would be most effective.
What was particularly nice was that I had complete control over nearly every
aspect of the design, from the type of access point to the quality of signal I
wanted to provide. And when I was done, the software provided me with the
design ready to print and use for installation or budgeting. This is a huge
change from the way things used to be.
Trying to figure out the best placement for your WiFi access point by
yourself used to be something of a black art. You had to put the devices in
places where you could run network cable, you made sure that you could get the
required signal strength everywhere in your office that you needed wireless
coverage, and you took into account different characteristics of the building
materials that made up the environment. In the past, the method for doing all
this consisted of a lot of guesswork, and not necessarily a lot of coverage.
Fortunately, WiFi design tools take most of the guesswork out of the
process. With the right tool, it becomes fairly easy for someone familiar with
the realities of an office and its network to pick spots for the access points,
and to be assured that everyone in the office who needs it will get adequate
coverage. Unfortunately, these tools have cost a lot, until now.
Aerohive, a company that makes a line of smart access points, is offering its
design service for free with its Online WiFi Planner. To use it, you need to
sign up for a demo account, but once you do that, you have access to a flexible
and powerful Web-based design tool that can give you everything you need to
design the WiFi environment for your company, regardless of the size or number
of office spaces you occupy. To get started, I went to the Aerohive Website,
clicked on the Demo button and filled in my contact information. The company
e-mailed a confirmation that included an individual URL and my credentials.
I started trying to design a WiFi installation immediately, but if you're
paying attention, you probably shouldn't do that. Before you actually jump
right into designing your WiFi environment, there are several steps to take to
keep from wasting a lot of time and effort. The first is to get a reasonably
detailed drawing of the floor plan in a JPEG or PNG
format to upload it to the tool. Doing it right requires information about the
material that the office walls are built out of, such as dry wall, concrete or
brick. The floor plan should reflect the position of any internal windows,
elevator shafts, firewalls and so on. Finally, cable runs in the office should
be indicated on the plans. If a floor plan in the required formats isn't
available, have one available on paper and use the planner to draw one out.
Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazine's Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.
He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.