WiFi Access Point Placement Best Practices
Strategic placement of wireless access points ensures organizations get the most out of their WiFi networks.
Whether planning a new installation or upgrading existing network infrastructure, figuring out the optimal spatial configuration of your WiFi access points (APs) is one of the most crucial steps — and it’s one that all too often gets botched or even overlooked entirely. “Why isn’t the WiFi working” is a question whose answer all too often boils down to access point placement.
To get the most out of your APs, you’ll need to know how to strategically map out access points across your location in a way that promotes optimal coverage and capacity. The next generation of wireless APs offers a range of benefits — from load balancing and advanced analytics to ultra-low latency — but if they’re not placed properly, those advantages become secondary considerations.
Consider these best practices when planning the layout of your wireless network:
Install APs Close to Points of Use
There’s a lot of conflicting information out there regarding where to put multiple APs in order to provide adequate coverage. While the exact placement of these devices will obviously differ from one facility to the next, it’s always a good idea to install APs close to their intended point of use. Installing APs on the ceiling of a 40’ warehouse isn’t going to be a particularly good strategy for this reason.
Placing APs inside offices and conference rooms and near open-plan areas like cubicles and workstations is better than installing them in hallways. While hallways might seem like a smart central location from which signals can radiate outward, walls and other barriers might mean that signals are weaker than expected in the areas where people will actually need to access the network.
Take Planned Usage into Account
Whether you’re still shopping for the right APs for your organization or you’re preparing to install them, remember to factor planned usage into the installation process. If you know team members like to congregate and work together in certain common areas at certain times of day, for example, you should place multiple APs there to ensure adequate coverage and bandwidth.
Similarly, you’ll need to ensure that APs are configured for the types of devices that people will be using to access your network. This is especially important with the rise of BYOD policies in the workplace. Accordingly, ensure that your APs are set up in such a way that personal devices such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops can readily connect.
Evaluate Your Facility’s Physical Restrictions
Every office is different, which means that your IT team will need to consider the unique specifics of your facility’s physical restrictions as they map out proper AP placement. Thick structures and building materials such as walls, cinder blocks, and cement can block signals and minimize their range, so you’ll need to work around them to ensure that offices and conference rooms have adequate signal. In the same vein, metal objects such as HVAC ducts, steel beams, and wire mesh can actively interfere with signals, which means you generally shouldn’t place APs too close to them if it can be avoided.
Manage Overlap Proactively
It’s unavoidable in most office setups that your AP placement will lead to signal overlap to some extent. Generally speaking, some overlap is a good thing; it ensures that critical areas have plenty of coverage to account for user needs and can help overcome physical barriers.
However, too much overlap can be a problem, potentially causing interference for APs operating on the same channel. Thus, IT teams will need to map out exactly how much overlap proposed AP placements will create. With multi-level buildings, overlap between floors should be accounted for; a well-planned multi-level wireless access point layout won’t have APs in the same location on every floor — they’ll be strategically staggered for optimal coverage.
Monitor Signal Strength Before Installation
This may seem like a no-brainer, but try to test signal strength before final AP installation. This can be accomplished by using tools that monitor wireless speeds at given distances from network assets or by testing performance from connected devices as they try to carry out normal daily functions. By doing so, you won’t have to waste time with ineffective placement and you won’t be drilling unnecessary holes you’ll just have to patch up later.
Work with a Managed Services Provider
Whether you don’t have a dedicated IT team of your own or your IT team lacks the requisite skills to manage AP installation independently, working with a managed services provider (MSP) can help you get the most out of your network. From AP placement and configuration to cybersecurity management, the right MSP will be able to partner with you every step of the way.
With three decades of experience in the networking space, Turn-key Technologies (TTI) has the resources you need to add real value to your organization. Our team is ready to help enterprises achieve their full digital potential from network design and implementation to ongoing network management solutions. We usually start with a wireless site survey in order to get a full understanding of the RF environment into which the network is being deployed. If your team could use expert support in bringing your IT environment up to speed, get in touch with the WiFi experts at TTI.
By Tony Ridzyowski