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Crash Course: Wireless Site Surveys

Before setting up your wireless LAN, you must map it out. But as WLANs become more complex, so do those pesky wireless site surveys. We give you a rundown of

Heavy Lifting

High-powered wireless site-survey tools--full-blown modeling applications, such as Motorola's Wireless Valley and AirTight Networks' Planner--let you model the entire WLAN. They will cost you a little more too, from $4,000 to $6,000. They import your floor plan and "model" the environment with details such as building materials and precise distances. You get an accuracy of 85 percent out of the box with a 2 dB to 3 dB standard deviation. These tools are best for large, complicated WLAN environments, if you're planning a repeatable WLAN design or if you want to test "what-if" scenarios.

Trapeze's Ringmaster is an integrated tool that models the RF environment and automatically adjusts APs as needed. Once you've imported your floor plan, you can customize it with specifics such as drywall, cement wall, metal studs and so on. APs can be moved or added virtually, and walls can be torn down to test and plan alternative WLAN designs.

AirTight also offers a site-survey planning service ($500 per 50,000 feet) where it models your WLAN so you don't need to purchase the vendor's modeling application (which costs $4,000). And the company includes a one-time offer of free planning services with the purchase of its AirTight wireless IDS starter kit. Motorola's Wireless Valley LAN Planner, meanwhile, is a component of Wireless Valley, a suite of RF design tools that let you model different types of RF systems.

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