Why mobile site surveys have dramatically changed

April 2021

“Accurate site surveys are pivotal to planning, designing, commissioning and maintaining a robust communications network, yet the majority of businesses don’t carry them out due to cost and complexity”, says Stuart Waine of Spry Fox Networks

Central to any business is the need to communicate effectively. Whether you’re relocating to new or refurbished premises, or switching providers, it is vital to ensure your communications networks are up to the job in terms of performance and reliability.

Not only is this required to support conventional telecoms and OTT services, it is key to smart building and smart infrastructure applications. Connectivity should not be limited to Wi-Fi either. Businesses are increasingly pushing mobile-only strategies and landlines are fast becoming obsolete in the workplace. PwC, for example, removed all landlines from their offices back in 2018 and many other organisations have since followed suit, with smartphones providing a single point of contact for all voice and internet connectivity, as well as being used as resilient IT infrastructure.

Why survey?

How can a business know how well their communications networks perform? The answer is to carry out a mobile survey to measure the mobile signal and the performance offered. There are several scenarios where this is essential:

- Moving to new, or renovated, premises to understand which providers offer the best service for the business, or which have the best quality outdoor coverage to determine the best approach to improve the mobile coverage within the building
- Replacing, or expanding existing wired backhaul connectivity with new mobile-based backhaul solutions, taking advantage of the cost and flexibility benefits that it can provide
- Before switching providers to help identify those with the best levels of coverage and voice & data service performance, or to measure the signal strength and service performance of existing provider(s) to ensure they are meeting agreed metrics
- Pre/post network migration to the cloud; essential to certify those cloud services and communications networks are working as they should to ensure performance metrics are met
- Expanding nationally & internationally, to provide upfront insights into mobile network performance and reliability at the different locations

Mobile phone signals, because of their physical attributes, are weakened when received indoors. By how much will depend on a variety of reasons including location, terrain, topography, the MNO provider and population density. A mobile coverage survey must therefore consider a property’s immediate surroundings because the type of system needed to ensure seamless indoor voice and data coverage will, to a large extent, be determined by the outside signal quality of the different MNOs.

Type of survey

Over the last 12 months, mobile site surveys have been transformed to keep pace with Covid-19 and guidelines. Additionally, many businesses are continuing to undergo rapid corporate restructures, resulting in them increasingly moving away from the single centralised office concept and relocating to smaller, geographically dispersed premises to support flexible and agile working. Reliable communications networks are integral to the smooth running of these new working practices and the need for longer-term, or even 24x7, surveying has become much more important so potential issues can be quickly identified and dealt with before they impact productivity.

The current gold standard is to automate the mobile site survey process and remotely survey the comms networks at the different locations, not only for service assurance purposes, but to limit unnecessary in-person contact. The days of a surveyor going to site and spending a few hours there are well and truly over.

Things to consider

Location, location, location
Mobile signal strength and service performance can vary dramatically depending on the location and moving offices or switching providers can throw up all kinds of unforeseen challenges. This uncertainty is often perceived as a blocker, preventing such changes taking place, even if they would be beneficial.

Carrying out a mobile site survey would remove this uncertainty, and with affordable next-generation remote survey tools now available, such concerns need no longer need to be a showstopper.

Timing is everything
How long should a mobile survey last? Mobile signals and performance fluctuate over time and are affected by adverse weather conditions, network load from other users at different times of the day, and even the seasons. Therefore, a one-shot survey for a few hours on a single day gives very little insight into the mobile coverage situation.

A longer survey is far more beneficial, because it ascertains how signals and performance change over the working week. It is now even possible to run around the clock network survey, so you always know the status of your chosen provider.

The right methodology
It is critical that any mobile survey is carried out using the same device(s) as those used by the end-users. If those users have a smartphone or tablet, then the survey should be carried out using these devices also.

Measuring mobile signal strength using specialist engineering equipment, such as a spectrum analyser, will only confirm the mobile signal strength at a given frequency. No information is provided about signal performance or the quality of voice and data services at device level.

Moreover, mobile networks are highly complex, with each provider broadcasting 5G and 4G (as well as legacy 3G and 2G) signals over different frequencies, in different locations. The type of signal a handset is receiving and using at a given time and location is determined by parameters stipulated by the provider. This must be taken into account to obtain a true reflection of what the end user will experience. Most surveys fail to deliver this in-depth insight rendering their results useless.

Remote access
Going to a site, especially in a post-pandemic world, is not always feasible, possible or desirable. There needs to be an easy means to remotely measure and analyse mobile signal strength, quality and performance to reduce unnecessary person-to-person contact. This is also required to facilitate continual dynamic network monitoring for service assurance and business continuity purposes and few survey solutions offer this capability. Mobile conditions are constantly changing and will continue to do so as 5G goes mainstream.

The answer is to have a remotely managed, long-term survey solution on site.

Free surveys
Beware of offers of free surveys! Nothing in business is free, and invariably, such a survey will ‘discover’ issues that can only be resolved with expensive solutions that include the cost of the survey. Can you be sure any solution truly reflects your long term business objectives?

Get it right first time, every time

The outcome of your mobile site survey will provide, and continue to provide, the foundations needed to develop an in-building mobile strategy that not only meets current requirements but is future-ready to support 5G.

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