Wireless Deployments: The Cost Question?

Radio Frequency engineers have a peculiar dilemma when it comes to standing up new deployments at facilities that are looking to implement Wi-Fi services. A frequent dilemma centers on the customer’s request for a pricing quote prior to securing professional services for installation of a wireless network.

Radio Frequency Engineers however, think in terms of stability and functionality, not price. So typically our response to the question of “How much will this cost?” is simply, “It depends.” This is also generally the response that causes sales personnel to begin dry heaving and management to seriously consider the sanity of said engineer.

Let’s take a quick look at “It Depends.”

Wireless solutions are developed on methodologies that are particular to the environment in which the solution is getting deployed. The number of access points and antennas in an IEEE 802.11 solution is the primary driver of cost. Amongst a myriad of factors, the following are some high level attributes that radio frequency engineers look for in order to determine the amount of access points required for a given project.

  • The amount of clients connecting to the Wi-Fi (Client Density)
  • Access Point Mounting Location (Height, Angle, Aesthetic Requirements)
  • Radio Frequency Environment – Spectrum Analysis (Co-Channel, Interference, Interferer Duty Cycles, Presence of Radar)
  • Client Roaming Requirements and Mobility (Desktop, Laptop, iPad)
  • Anticipated Client Traffic (Data, Voice, Video)
  • Cost Concerns

Did you catch that last bullet? Many engineers will scoff at the fact that cost actually does come into play when scoping a wireless deployment. The unfortunate truth is that cost is a factor. Although cost is considered, it should not be the only factor; and from an engineering viewpoint, we treat all aspects of the overall delivery with the appropriate due diligence. Cost should never be the primary cause driving the technical approach of a wireless solution as this may doom a deployment to have sub optimal operation over its lifetime.

It is true however, that in recent years, many of the wireless industry’s top vendors have adjusted their go-to-market product strategy to account for the proverbial “cost” elephant in the room. Cisco has been leading the charge with presenting multiple series of access points that are not only meeting the customer site’s physical environmental requirements, but also are customized for varying radio frequency environments. This gives the RF engineer a toolset that can in fact limit the cost of a deployment while maintaining the validity of the technical design.

IEEE 802.11ac has arrived and wireless modernization is on the public forefront. Evidence of this points to the fact that New York City is debating an initiative that will replace pay phone terminals with wireless hubs. Wireless is becoming the new “it” technology and many manufacturers are pushing the development of personalized solutions. Cisco has recently released the Aironet 1700 series access point as well as the Aironet 2700 Series access points to compliment the industry-leading advanced Aironet 3700 series access points. These indoor access points cater to different deployment demographics. The features of each access point are tuned specifically to address the details of a solution which we mentioned above, with the added benefit of each model having variable cost. Access points can also be deployed in varying ways, having multiple models in one deployment. This allows an RF engineer to be flexible with the overall design. The chart below references some key features of each access point:

“How do we determine which access points to use?”

Naturally, this is the follow up question. The only true answer is a wireless survey. If you are unfamiliar with a wireless survey check out this article in InformationWeek. A survey is how we would really determine the answer to the “How much will this cost?” challenge. Yet, a survey does in fact require a financial commitment.

Cisco has doubled down on the cost conundrum by introducing a radio frequency planner tool which is currently in beta version. The tool gives engineers the ability to analyze a customer environment and directly associate the create design with the Cisco Commerce Workspace which presents predictive pricing.

Force 3 engineers have previewed the planning tool and our initial reaction is very optimistic. The feature set of the Cisco RF planner is not currently synonymous with industry leading RF planning tools such as Air Magnet and Ekahau. It is also true that other vendors have similar planning offerings, but the integration with Cisco Commerce Workspace and the inevitable Prime Infrastructure combination, Cisco may be able to create an end to end continuum from presales, to design, through deployment that is unmatched by its competitors.

We believe that with the addition of the RF planning tool and the robust access point portfolio Cisco has begun the process of answering “How much will this cost?” dilemma in a really effective manner. Stay tuned for a follow up blog post comparing the RF planning capabilities of Airmagnet, Ekahau, Aruba, and Cisco RF Planner.

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