What Is a Site Survey—and Why Is It Important?
It’s hardly an understatement to say that we’ve become completely dependent on our smartphones. We carry them with us everywhere we go, and the momentary surge of panic of potentially having left it somewhere or lost it is universal. Cell phones are our technology BFF — but this friendship is only as strong as our wireless network. Cellular network quality is entirely dependent on where you are at any given moment. Signal strength is so varied geographically that service can differ even from room to room in the same building.
As an installer, a site survey is an essential tool to help you –– and your customers –– save time and resources. In addition to giving you a clear layout of the location, a site survey can identify where areas of weak signal exist. This will allow you to educate your clients on where and why their service is lacking, and provide supplemental information that will support your plans to address these issues when implementing their cell signal boosting solution.
Let’s discuss site surveys, why they matter, and how to conduct one successfully.
What is a site survey?
A site survey is the evaluation that needs to take place before the installation of a cell signal booster. During the survey, testers identify the strongest cell signal, which allows providers to determine where to install the booster. During the survey, you can gauge how much cable will be required and which splitters, filters, or other accessories are necessary.
A site survey can demonstrate existing signal coverage for your customers and draw attention to problem areas. This can help stimulate conversation about product options and installation solutions, and provide opportunities for sales conversion.
Signal meters and signal strength
Some might argue that a site survey is unnecessary given the ability to use your phone in test mode to check cell signal strength. However, this test method is far inferior to a site survey because results will not be as precise or accurate for a broader location as they would be with a survey.
To achieve the most accurate read possible, conduct your site survey using a signal meter, which detects and displays signal frequency, bandwidth, and strength, updating in real time to prevent inaccuracies. Signal meters are carrier-agnostic and can therefore detect frequency and signal compatibility with any carrier. This is especially important in a commercial setting, where users will subscribe to a variety of networks.
Performing a Site Survey: View From the Top
- Floor Plans. Before you even arrive at the site, spend time reviewing the floor plan. This will provide some allowance in mapping out the signal once you’re there. Pay attention to the square footage of the space—size will dictate which antennas to use and where to place them when installing.
The floorplan can help you decide which amplifiers you’ll need, confirm the appropriate length of cable and number of splitters, and determine any other potential accessory needs you may encounter. If access to the building’s floor plan isn’t possible, it might help you to sketch a rough outline of the space digitally or on paper for your own reference.
- Outdoor Signal Assessment. The survey begins on the roof of the structure. Using your signal meter, trace the perimeter of the building and record the signal reading on each side. Make sure to record the readings for all channels and frequencies each time. Being consistent will help prevent complications later.
- Signal Identification. Once you’ve compared the readings for all sides, identify the hyperlocation of the best signal. Slowly swivel 360 degrees in place, using the signal meter to find the source of the signal. Once that’s been identified, record the direction the signal came from. This information will help you locate the nearest cell tower and determine which way the booster antenna will need to face.
- Cable Access. During the survey, it’s essential to take note of any nearby vents or conduits, which can be used as a point of entry for the interior cable. If no natural points of entry exist, you will need to create an artificial opening for cable access.
- Mounting. Ideally, you’ll be able to mount the donor antenna to an existing vent pipe or post. Otherwise, you’ll need to create a mounting point using a mounting kit. Depending on the layout of the rooftop and direction of the signal, you may need to get creative and install your own mount for the antenna.
- Indoor Signal Assessment. Your next step is to assess the signal strength inside the building. As noted earlier, signal strength can vary tremendously from room to room on the same site, so it’s important to be thorough in your walkthrough. Use your physical floor plan as your guide, noting key areas of signal strength and weakness. This guide will be your friend as you begin to design the antenna layout for the space.
- Materials. During your inspection, pay special attention to site-specific building materials. Different materials can impact signal performance and range. While drywall has minimal effect on signal strength, concrete walls can completely block out existing signal. These factors will dictate what antennas you’ll need and where you’ll install them.
- Broadcast Antennas. When determining where to install the broadcast antennas, it’s essential to be both pragmatic and customer-facing. While you might have a perfectly logical location in mind for the antenna, your customer may want something completely hidden from view. Together, find a compromise that will maximize the booster system’s success.
- Boosters. Finding the location for the boosters is a less aesthetically based task, as this technology requires sufficient ventilation and access to power. Boosters, also called amplifiers, can be permanently mounted to a wall or placed conveniently on a shelf or a server rack.
- Cable Lengths. Finally, calculate the cable lengths needed for each run, using no more than you need between each component. Shorter cable runs means less signal loss and thus a stronger indoor signal.
A complete site survey will tell you everything you need to know in order to provide the best service and most effective signal boosting solution to your customers. Learn more about signal booster solutions for your customers’ needs and get a customized quote here.