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Monitoring WLAN coverage within steel/metallic superstructure buildings

Can you please offer some advice on improving or monitoring WLAN coverage within steel/metallic superstructure buildings? Without consistent coverage our systems are ineffective.

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One of the most critical problems involving in-building wireless is consistent and reliable coverage throughout a building -- especially when you are dealing with older structures and offices that are situated on multiple floors. Unfortunately, most users do not spend enough time carefully mapping out wireless access points, a situation that is amplified by vendors who think that over-saturating a site with access points will eliminate the problem -- not true, and in most cases this will create a whole new set of problems because of signal collisions and conflicts.

And even if you do develop what seems to be a reliable layout of wireless resources, there is really no way to monitor and tweak signals and eradicate dead spots unless you have a visual representation of these multiple signals areas. While 802.11 wireless is capable of transmitting data within a 300 foot bubble on a very good day, odds are this signal bubble will shrink and warp as the RF signals bounce of metal struts, concrete walls and even leaky microwave ovens in the office kitchen.

One solution is to use currently-available tools that allow you to visually monitor the RF signals that emanate from each wireless access point in your building. By using such tools, you can shift your AP resources around to make allowances for a chimney or metal structure -- adjusting coverage and transmission much like a Wi-Fi air traffic controller. Wireless visualization will be taken a step further next year when leading wireless hardware vendors begin using a technology developed by Propagate Networks that not only let's you see what is happening at each access point in your network, but is designed to actually shift and balance wireless resources to overcome weak or dead zones and compensate for architectural challenges. This technology can also be used to limit wireless access to a particular area of a building, or momentarily turn down the power on a single access point that senses an unauthorized intrusion.

This was first published in December 2003

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