Imagine you are in the middle of binge-watching your favorite Netflix show or trying to send an important work email when your Wi-Fi network suddenly starts buffering, leaving you to pull your hair out in frustration. There is a multitude of causes behind signal degradation, but one way to avoid any hiccups during network consumption is to have a heat map of your Wi-Fi network handy at all times. A heatmap is simply a graphical representation that showcases the wireless signal coverage in and around your house, office building, or any other locations.
How does a WiFi heat map work?
The most prominent reasons for having a heat map include locating dead Wi-Fi zones, adjusting Access Points, troubleshooting sluggish speeds, eliminating the guesswork out of your infrastructure, and capacity planning for your Wi-Fi signal evaluation process.
By using typical color schemes of red, yellow, and green, a heat map conveys the signal peaks and lagging points in your network. The initial point of network triage and troubleshooting always involves studying a heatmap to diagnose the weakest links in your network. Once the problem areas are diagnosed, it becomes easier to get to the root of the problem.
NetSpot, a leading network wireless assessment tool, offers a detailed WiFi heat map software for your entire network spectrum.
How to create a WiFi heat map
Heatmap is an actual map of your house or building with an overlay of Wi-Fi spots that have either weak or strong signals. Creating a heatmap is not only beneficial but quite easy. Before you start the actual heat map creation, it is important to have the following:
A WiFi heat map software: A heat map software is used for collecting data and creating a heat map for your Wi-Fi network. Luckily, there is a variety of heat map software options available these days, depending on your requirements.
A WiFi-enabled device: Any laptop, smartphone, or tablet that has Wi-Fi access.
A sketch or blueprint of your network: A hand-drawn sketch with reference points. A professional blueprint of your home or office that can be uploaded to the heat map software.
Now that you are ready to impart on your heat map creation journey, consider NetSpot as it is one of the best apps for creating a heat map. It not only provides an easy-to-use app with an intuitive user interface but is also compatible with most operating systems and devices.
After downloading a heatmap software app like the one offered by NetSpot, heat maps can be created easily in two different ways depending on whether you are doing an active or a passive survey of your Wi-Fi signal strength.
While doing an active survey, all you need is a heat map software that is installed on a device that is connected to your Wi-Fi network. You then walk around your network vicinity – your house, rooms, office building, or any location for which you want the heat map to be created. As you move around from one spot to another, you keep clicking on the software to notate where you are and the software, in turn, keeps recording the signal strength of each area. Once you have covered enough ground, the software renders a heat map for you.
If you would rather do a passive survey instead of walking around – in case of larger areas – then the software takes into account the floor plan of your network. You fill in all the data like drawing the walls, the construction material being used, etc. These answers give the software a clue at signal attenuation. You also have to specify the type and locations of the Access points in your network so the software can understand the antenna pattern. After all this information is provided to the software, it assesses the signal propagation and comes up with a heat map. Keep in mind though, that this is only a predictive heat-map and not as efficient as an active heat map. Once you click the stop button, complete visualization of your heat map will be displayed.
In the case of using NetSpot, the process is pretty straightforward. After starting the survey, just upload or sketch your floor plan and set reference points by clicking two spots on the map and recording the distance between them. Once you walk around and tap at the reference point of your standing, the software will take the measurements and a green signal will appear. You can then walk over to the next area and repeat the process until the entire network is covered and a heat map visualization is provided by the software.
How to interpret a WiFi heat map
Now that you have the visual heat map of your coverage, it is time to read and interpret the results. Luckily, most heat mapping software is quite intuitive and comes with easy to follow instructions on how to both set up and interpret the results of your heat map. NetSpot also provides an online guide on how to set up and interpret your heat map results.
Most heat mapping software use a color-coding scheme to interpret the Wi-Fi signal strength. In the case of NetSpot, the dark red color indicates the peak of a signal strength whereas blue is an indicator of weak signals.
When interpreting a heat map, it is important to also look at the following thresholds:
Signal level: Check the heat map to see what the expected RSSI (Received Signal Strength Intensity) of an area is. An acceptable RSSI is -75dBm, while a good one is considered to be at -65dBm. If the heat map shows any areas with RSSI below these points, then consider distributing and re-arranging your APs.
Number of APs: This parameter shows the total number of APs available in each zone that falls under the acceptable RSSI range. To attain a good Wi-Fi signal at least two available APs should be present within the area of concern with an acceptable RSSI range.
Access Point coverage: This option visually shows the signal areas covered by each AP and if any of the APs are underutilized. Once the underutilized APs are recognized, they can be re-arranged to achieve the maximum return on signal strength.
Channel coverage: Studying your heat map to understand the channel coverage is important when trying to avoid interferences. Those zones that are in near proximity of other channels are bound to face signal interference causing your Wi-Fi network to degrade. The wider the channel width used in networks, the higher the amount of separation required between channels. As an example, a network with a 20Mhz channel width will require at least five channels to operate without any interference.
Signal-to-interference ratio: To avoid signal degradation, APs have to be placed with ample separation between channels. This reduces communication overlap and interference. Most heat map results will show the areas with the highest and lowest levels of AP interferences by way of color-coding or graphing.
Sometimes, creating multiple maps also helps as you can compare the before and after scenarios once Wi-Fi signal improvements are made. They also help you pinpoint how certain conditions change consistently due to external factors.
An optimized network is crucial for the success of any business. To meet the ever-growing data consumption needs, it is imperative to have a strong Wi-Fi signal at all times. A Wi-Fi heat map can truly give your network an edge by tweaking the problem areas and accelerating your signal strength.