The Term “Survey”: Thoughts from a WiFi + Non-WiFi VAR Engineer

The dictionary defines survey as “examine and record the area and features of (an area of land) so as to construct a map, plan, or description”.

Some WiFi engineers have monopolized the word “survey” to mean performing a RF survey (with something like Ekahau, AirMagnet, etc). I have always used the word “survey” to mean “a site visit to gather and record data”. This data can be for a design, for a deployment, or for troubleshooting. A “Design Survey” is a visit to the site to gather and record data in order to develop and deliver a design. A “Deployment Survey” is a visit to the site to gather and record data on how everything was installed and document and changes or tweaks that have to be made. A “Troubleshooting Survey” is a visit to the site to gather and record data on the issues they are having in order to document the fixes that need to be made. A “RF Survey” can be a part of any one of those surveys. This is because surveying RF is a very specific task and only part of what you are doing when surveying the actual site.

For the past few years, I have worked at a VAR that does WiFi as well as PTP, PMP, tower construction, 900 MHz SCADA, wired network deployments, among other things. When surveying a site for a tower build, you look at the land, the soil, look for power lines, airports, roads, perform FAA coordination, etc. When surveying for a PTP, you are looking at trees, tower load, tower space, LoS,  performing FCC coordination, etc. The bulk of the surveys we performed did not require site survey software and walking around placing dots on a map.

I know this is only supposed to be about WiFi, but a lot of the companies out there that provide WiFi services also provided non-WiFi services. So, the terms they use (especially one as commonly used as “survey”) need to be able to translate from WiFi to other area as well.

So, a RF survey can be part can be part of a survey. However, it is by no means the only kind of survey you can do. Also, a RF survey for WiFi can be broken down into two categories: an Active RF Survey or a Passive RF Survey. An Active RF Survey is done while your device is actively connected to the SSID when performing the survey. A Passive RF Survey is done while you are not connected to a SSID. Both have their uses, but that is another blog post. Please note that both of these require you to be on-site! There is no such thing as a Predictive Survey – it doesn’t exist. You can do some Predictive Modeling, but any sort of survey requires you to be on-site.

Questions or comments? Leave them below and/or find me on twitter @mattbfrederick

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