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.