What? Oh, That…
There’s been a some debate lately in the WLAN community about the way different terms are used, and whether or not they are being used correctly. I wanted to add my thoughts to the conversation. If you haven’t noticed it all, you can check out the links below (in chronological order) to catch up.
- Alan Blake’s webinar with iBWave, February 17th 2016
- Lee Badman’s #WIFIQ, February 18th 2016
- Matt Frederick’s blog post, February 25th 2016
- Glenn Cate’s Ten Talk on WiFi Terminology from #WLPC, February 25th 2016
I have a tendency to be a bit of a Grammarsaurus Rex. We all have terms and phrases that we use among family and close friends that mean a specific thing to that group, but something completely different to anyone outside said group. I have found this with my wife on many occasions; she will use a term that her family uses for one thing, but mine defines differently. A common example of this is the word “dinner“. Another is when she asks me how I like my new Mac PC… I have a canned response when she says “Well, you knew what I meant”. It goes along the lines of, “Yes, but nobody else would.”
Which brings me to my point: words have specific meanings that cannot be changed on the whim of Joe Marketer, or Betty Engineer, or Ivan Salesmanovich. As Glenn said in his Ten Talk, we as a community, nay industry, must agree on standardization of terminology. I’ve outlined my thoughts below. I’m going to start with the definitions of the words survey, design, and plan, as I believe they apply to the process of deploying a wireless LAN (definitions from dictionary.com).
survey (verb) – to view in detail, especially to inspect, examine, or appraise formally or officially in order to ascertain condition, value, etc.
survey (noun) – a formal or official examination of the particulars of something, made in order to ascertain condition, character, etc.
design (verb) – to prepare the preliminary sketch or the plans for (a work to be executed), especially to plan the form and structure of (the object).
design (noun) – an outline, sketch, or plan, as of the form and structure of a work of art, an edifice, or a machine to be executed or constructed.
plan (verb) – to arrange a method or scheme beforehand for (any work, enterprise, or proceeding)
plan (noun) – a scheme or method of acting, doing, proceeding, making, etc., developed in advance
I’m going to start with “survey”, because I think this is the term that is misused the most. To survey something means to view or observe something to determine certain conditions or characteristics. In the wireless world, there are a couple requirements to be met in order for something to be called a survey:
- You must be on-site – I come from a two-way radio and WISP background, where the first step of EVERY project was to get on site and familiarize yourself and your crew with the location, possible hazards, cable routes, power availability, and other site-specific characteristics. For Wi-Fi, you must confirm the floor plan is accurate, and determine what type of mounts will be required for the access points, among many other things.
- You must be gathering data or measuring something – Whether it be taking pictures, measuring attenuation, locating switch closets or server rooms, validating an install, looking for potential cable routes, or something else, you are recording specific information about the project.
I’m on the fence when it comes to gathering customer requirements – part of a survey, or in it’s own category, perhaps an interview?
In long-distance microwave networks, the process of determining tower location, antenna height, link distance, channel selection and size, etc, is typically referred to as “network planning”. I once interviewed for a job doing just that, of which the title was “Network Planner”. This terminology business really should be a simple thing… According to the definition above, the term “plan” is something we do before going about a task. In that spirit, should WLAN planning encompass the requirements gathering, pre-deployment survey and initial predictive design? IE, is everything we do before deployment part of planning the wireless network? What about after, is it part of the bigger design life cycle?
The term “design” has been used interchangeably with “survey” in the past. This must stop! We don’t do predictive surveys! We do predictive designs (or maybe models), based on the data gathered from a site survey. When a structural engineer designs a bridge, they do calculations based on data gathered from the potential site and the materials they will use. Do they call the results of those calculations a survey? NO! They call it a design! What comes to mind when someone says, “I saw some people outside surveying a road”? Do you think, oh, they were sitting on a park bench with laptops, designing a highway? I’d bet not. More likely, you associate surveying with the fine art of walking around with a pointy stick, using a transit to gather data about land or construction projects.
Based on the definitions above, maybe the terms “design” and “plan” can be used to mean the same thing?
The wireless LAN design (noun) is the all-encompassing life cycle consisting of many things, such as:
- access point placement including height
- access point and/or external antenna orientation
- channel plan
- transmit power levels
- mandatory/supported data rates
- SSIDs to be used
- Security methods to be implemented
- IP addressing schemes
- cable routes
The WLAN design (verb) is also an iterative process, in which there are some key steps:
- Gather customer requirements (interview?)
- Gather site data (pre-deployment site survey?)
- Implement data into planning software (predictive design?)
- Deploy network (deploy network?)
- Confirm network performance (validation survey?)
Clear as Mud
I’ll try to sum up my thoughts for how each term should be used. I think I asked myself more questions than I answered while drafting this post.
- To call something a survey, it must be performed on-site and it must result in some new information or data about the project.
- Surveys are a part (oft-repeated) of the iterative WLAN design process
- There are different types of surveys:
- pre-deployment – gathering site data such as wall attenuation values, ceiling heights, confirming floor plans,
- post-deployment or validation – confirming the network design has met requirements such as primary and secondary coverage, and co-channel interference,
- investigating user complaints or issues where improper channel planning or power levels may be suspected (not to be confused with packet captures! Site surveys are a Layer 1 thing. You might get to packet captures while troubleshooting),
- A predictive design IS NEVER A SURVEY! But, a good design requires data gathered during a survey.
- Planning vs. Design – do we need to use both terms? I think no, we don’t. They are basically synonyms, so should we pick one or just let it go?
So, “survey” is a term with a distinct meaning from “design” and “plan”, and it should be used correctly. One last time: a survey is NOT a design!
As for “design” and “plan”, well, maybe they can be used as if they are the same? I feel less strongly about these two.
Thanks for reading, please add your input by commenting!