Deploying and maintaining a rock solid Warehouse Wi-Fi Network can be challenging for many different reasons. We’ve taken a look at some of the most common issues, and what you can do to rectify them.
1. Access Point Power Settings
Turning up access point power levels to try resolve poor coverage or poor performance is unfortunately unlikely to solve the problem, and is more than likely going to make matters worse which can result in a slower Wi-Fi experience for all users and devices on your network.
By doing this (maxing out AP power levels), you can create an environment where client devices are able to hear distant access points, (perhaps one that is on the complete other side of the warehouse) and assuming that the signal quality meets it's threshold for a "happy association", will remain connected to that far access point instead of roaming to a more appropriate AP in closer proximity to the device.
As a rule of thumb, start with access point power levels around 50% and gradually increase until full coverage is met warehouse wide.
2. Antenna Types & Directions
There are 2 primary types of Wi-Fi Antenna generally deployed into warehouse environments, directional and omni-directional. Directional antennas are specifically designed to focus their coverage cell to specific areas (like a cone), while omni-directional provide a full 360 degrees of cell coverage (kind of like a donut)
A common mistake we see is the over deployment of omni-directional (360 degree) access point/ antennas where a directional option would be far better suited for the environment, in particular when AP's are being mounted at height.
Having a directional antenna aimed towards the ground with the cell focused down a racking isle from above is often a good solution for providing a wide range of coverage while reducing the risk of introducing other issues such as co-channel interference.
3. Outdated Firmware
Updated and new device firmwares will contain bug fixes, optimisation for new standards and other enhancements that can help access clients communicate better with your wireless infrastructure and vice versa. Outdated firmware can also often contain bugs that can slow or stop a smooth connection and transition between access points resulting in something we refer to as "sticky client" behaviour from your devices.
A simple fix for this is to ensure your client device firmware is checked and updated regularly to make sure you have the latest features, optimisations and upgrades from your device manufacturer.
Ps. The same rule applies to your access points and wireless controllers, always check and ensure you're not running out of date versions.
4. RF Interference
There is a number of different factors that could cause RF interference in a warehouse environment, from incorrectly configured/ deployed omni-directional access points, to warehouse stock pickers, fork lifts and other wireless transmitting devices.
In a lot of cases we see forklifts, pickers and other mobile equipment used in warehousing tend to be fitted with their own small wireless device used for communication, location tracking or other purposes. Generally speaking, these devices are installed within a metal cage which protects the operator but also ensures the device is not exposed to accidental damage during frequent movement throughout the warehouse.
Not only do these cages create a physical barrier, but they also tend to create an RF barrier known as a "Faraday Cage" which can inhibit or potentially prevent proper RF communication between the device and the network.
A simple solution to this is to look at placing the device antenna outside of the cage to allow for proper, uninhibited RF communication with access points.
5. Inventory and Stock Levels
This is one of the most commonly overlooked items with Wi-Fi in a warehouse. Without proper planning and careful consideration into the effect of what is actually being stocked on the shelves, Wi-Fi performance could be impacted greatly.
As an example, if your warehouse is full of pillows and blankets, this will have a very different density to a shelving rack full of bottled water. The first may have minimal/ limited Wi-Fi impact, and the latter will likely have much greater impact on coverage and potentially, performance.
Not only do we need to consider the physical materials being stocked, but we also need to account for fluctuations in levels of what is being stored. The nature of warehousing means stock comes in and stock goes out... and it isn't necessarily going to be the same materials being stocked day to day or even being stocked in the same place.
Any changes to the physical make up of the environment can have an impact on Wi-Fi performance so ensuring your network has had a proper site audit and Wi-Fi design which takes into account this transient type environment will go a long way in avoiding future issues.
The Wrap Up...
If you are regularly experiencing issues with warehouse wireless or are looking at a future upgrade of your current infrastructure, now would be a good time to have a wireless site survey performed.
A quality wireless site survey can not identify and help resolve issues you are currently experiencing but can also uncover optimisations that can increase your user experience, and ultimately, warehouse teams productivity now and into the future.
Get in touch with us today to discuss a wireless survey of your warehouse, firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information on Wi-Fi Best Practises in Industrial and Warehouse environments, check out this white-paper from the team at Ekahau below.