THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO WI-FI IN RETAIL
Wi-Fi is changing the way that retailers operate and how consumers shop. A robust and high-performance Wi-Fi solution across your stores, warehouses and distribution centres allows you to run a leaner operation and deliver a better in-store customer experience. Executing a cohesive Wi-Fi strategy requires careful planning and teamwork. Operations, IT and marketing need to communicate and collaborate so that the proper infrastructure, applications and workflows are all in place to effectively deliver the desired outcomes. Poorly executed Wi-Fi can severely damage the customer experience and also runs the risk of damaging your brand along the way. Whilst delivering incredible digital experiences is no small task, if you are to compete in today’s tough retail market you need to work more efficiently, and turn customers into excited, loyal advocates that will return time and time again.
Retail Wi-Fi: Gathering Your Requirements
The first step of any wireless project is to understand the requirements (what the network needs to do) and the constraints (what the design needs to work around). Without those two things clear in everyone’s mind you will likely end up with a solution that will ruin the customer experience and damage your brand.
Ultimately the main objective of your project is liekly to help the bottom line by enabling staff in your stores, warehouses and distribution centres to work more effectively. You will almost certainly also be deploying guest Wi-Fi in your stores in order to drive sales by providing a great customer experience to promote brand loyalty and repeat business.
In each situation make sure you remember to put your stakeholders requirements at the centre of all your Wi-Fi design decisions.
Webinar: Retail Wi-Fi Essentials for Engineers
In this webinar, Stewart Goumans, a recognized expert in the field of Wi-Fi design and tuning, joins Jussi Kiviniemi from Ekahau to share his experiences, best practices and war stories with retail Wi-Fi.
Retail Wi-Fi: Choosing an Access Point
Your WLAN design will fail at the first hurdle if you don’t pick the right Access Point (AP) for the job. This is why it’s important to fully understand your network requirements and design constraints before selecting an AP model to design around.
Unfortunately, most Wireless Internet service providers (WISPs) tend to pick the AP vendor and models that they are most comfortable with, not necessarily the ones most suitable to the application. Important things to consider when selecting an AP are;
If you pick the cheapest possible hardware it will most likely buckle during peak hours when the density of clients is highest. On the other hand, large enterprise APs could be overkill, incurring additional up-front investment, and higher ongoing licensing costs for features that are never going to be used in practice.
Most AP deployments have a typical expected lifespan of 3-5 years. Therefore, it should be the future requirements, not today’s, which drive the selection of your access points.
Generally, aesthetic constraints will dictate the selection of an indoor AP with internal antennas, especially in high end stores. External antennas, however, offer additional flexibility for mounting, along with the ability to add 3rd party antennas with particular profiles for custom applications.
Access Point Performance
In high-density areas look for access points with MU-MIMO as this allows the AP to simultaneously communicate with multiple clients in the same environment (for client devices that support the technology). This gives you a denser utilization of the channel, thus increasing total potential channel capacity and throughput per client device. The more spatial streams per radio the higher the maximum data rate.
Controllers have a heavy hardware approach, which make growth difficult and upgrades even harder. Cloud-managed Wi-Fi reduces the manpower required to maintain a controller-based architecture, and also makes it easier to manage. If you are responsible for a very large campus, or multiple campuses it’s likely you will want a cloud-based architecture to provide centralized visibility and control.
New or refurbished buildings tend to present the opportunity to get the latest wiring and switches, however if you are upgrading APs in an existing building the current infrastructure can have a large influence on which APs you can use. For example, you will need to check if existing Ethernet switches support the model/s of access point and their Power over Ethernet (PoE) requirements.
Security and segregation will be another primary concern with sensitive corporate and customer data traversing the network. Some APs come equipped with a third radio, which is used as a dedicated security sensor for 24x7x365 scanning and automated over-the-air (OTA) prevention.
You might also want to look for APs with integrated Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) radios if you want to use customer wayfinding, an increasingly common feature in large shopping centres.
For most retail applications, the Arista C-110 gives you high-performance and advanced features without the high costs on an enterprise grade AP. It also supports the iBeacon Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) standard and collects massive amounts of data to support immersive guest network experiences that develop and reinforce the relationship between the customer and your brand.
If you are putting APs into very high density locations like public areas in a busy shopping centre you may want to consider an AP more suited for high-capacity, such as the Arista C-130.
Case Study: JCT600 Significantly Reduces Time Spent on Network Management with Arista Networks Cognitive WiFi
From humble beginnings in 1946, JCT600 has grown into one of the UK’s largest and most highly respected motor retailers with 45 sites and 2,500 employees. With digital marketing being a clear strategy amongst the leading motor manufacturers, JCT600 quickly recognised the role Wi-Fi would play in improving its operational efficiency and unlocking their vision to be the best in the market. With only 9 people in the IT team, responsible for every element within the communications network infrastructure, this was going to be a challenge.
Retail Wi-Fi: Predictive Modelling
Once you have clear design requirements and know which AP you will be deploying make sure you use a professional software package such as Ekahau Pro to create a predictive model. This involves building a mathematical model of the building by loading in a floor plan, and drawing in the exterior and interior walls, windows and doors. You need to specify what they are made of so that the unique attenuation and reflectivity characteristics of the materials can be accounted for by the software. If a CAD drawing is available, the whole process becomes much easier because Ekahau Pro will automatically draw the walls for you.
Once you have completed drawing the walls you must then enter the performance and capacity requirements of the network. You can now place your access points (Ekahau Pro has a library of the antenna patterns for most common AP vendors and models) onto the floor plan in order to see how the signal will propagate and self-interfere. You can freely move APs around and change their individual channel and transmit power settings to see how it impacts the performance of the network. You can also get Ekahau Pro to automatically place the APs and optimise the channel plan to minimize co-channel interference based upon the performance and capacity requirements you entered.
The main advantage of predictive modelling is that it’s fairly straightforward and inexpensive to do and doesn’t require a site visit. The down-side is that it uses simplified assumptions, so if the floor plan is inaccurate, or the actual building materials behave differently in the real world, the resulting design will be incorrect. However, we still recommend them because they are extremely useful when creating an initial estimate on the quantity, location, and channel and transmit power settings of your APs.
Ekahau Pro shows you where to place and how to configure your access points by accurately predicting network coverage, performance and capacity. The Ekahau Pro Auto-Planner designs the network according to your capacity requirements. Ekahau Pro also shows the overloaded APs and areas of excessive voice calls.
Case Study: Using Ekahau Site Survey to Provide Shoppers with Reliable Wi-Fi
Read how an leading provider of IT Managed Services used Ekahau Site Survey to provide one of their biggest retail clients with a review of their wireless networks, recommend areas for improvement, and implement a Wi-Fi based real-time locating system (RTLS).
Retail Wi-Fi: Pre-deployment Survey
This is an on-site survey (sometimes called an AP on a Stick survey) where an access point is temporarily positioned in the environment, using a wireless site survey kit such as the HiveRadar. You would normally place the AP in the same locations as on your predictive model because you can then use your actual attenuation measurements to refine the model.
If your store is in a shopping centre you will most likely find third party Wi-Fi and non-Wi-Fi devices in the area which may conflict with your proposed channel plan. Your findings can then be used to amend your design to avoid this interference.
Tools like Ekahau Pro and the Ekahau Sidekick are specifically designed for these types of measurements, though keep in mind they only offer a snapshot in time. Therefore, the survey may not be accurate if construction changes are made to the environment or if new neighbouring Wi-Fi or other RF systems are installed after the survey is done.
HiveRadar Wireless Site Survey Kit (WSSK)
The HiveRadar Wireless Site Survey Kit (WSSK) is a compact and rugged case loaded with all the tools you need including a custom battery with power cables, AP mounting pole, laser distance measure, LED flashlight, and multi-tool.
Ask an Expert
Our experts are on hand to provide you with any knowledge or technical information that you require about our Wi-Fi solutions or Retail Wi-Fi as a whole.
Retail Wi-Fi: Post-deployment Survey
After the network is installed a post-deployment survey is essential to validate that your SLAs are being achieved. In the same way that if you wanted gigabit to the desktop and purchase Cat5e ethernet cable, you don’t know for sure if it will carry gigabit traffic until you validate it and prove it meets your specific requirements. Don’t simply trust the install worked as you planned – test your network before you get called back to fix it later.
Tools like Ekahau Pro and the Ekahau Sidekick allow you to perform this post validation survey and ‘prove’ your installed systems meet or exceed your WLAN requirements. It’s likely that the results will highlight some that some final adjustments to the settings on your APs are required.
Again, keep in mind that any site survey measurements are a snapshot in time and may not reflect WLAN performance into the future.
The Ekahau Sidekick is an all-in-one measurement device housing two enterprise-grade 802.11ac adapters and an ultra-high resolution spectrum analyser to dramatically streamline the site survey process whilst providing greater reliability, accuracy and convenience.
Blog: Value of a Post-Installation Wi-Fi Site Survey
In the Wi-Fi industry we have been throwing around the word ‘survey’ for a long time. Many use it incorrectly and it has taken on many meanings over the years. This is the fault of those inside the industry as well as those just trying to talk like they know what they are doing.
Retail Wi-Fi: Building a Captive Portal
A captive portal is the web page displayed to the user of a public Wi-Fi network before they can use the internet freely. Effectively the user is “captive” until they have completed the actions required, which is normally some sort of authentication.
Captive portals are great for marketing and commercial communication purposes but can also be huge momentum killers if done incorrectly. Seconds count and anything that unduly impedes your customers’ ability to get connected is likely to discourage them. To build a captive portal that delights your customers make sure you follow these ten rules.
Arista Network Guest Manager
With Arista Networks Guest Manager it’s easy to extend your secure, high-performance, Wi-Fi network to guests, customers and visitors. Deliver a personalized experience aligned with your business and marketing objectives to increase customer satisfaction, revenue growth and build brand loyalty.
Webinar: Make a Splash with Arista Canvas
With Arista (formerly Mojo) Canvas you can create beautiful splash pages in just minutes without any web experience. Watch this webinar to learn how to personalise your loyalty program using the extensive built-in reports or by API to feed Wi-Fi guest analytics into your CRM to create brand ambassadors and increase revenue per visit.
Whitepaper: Grow Revenue and Build your Brand with Guest Wi-Fi Access
Guest Wi-Fi access is the perfect opportunity to meet visitors at the intersection of physical and digital to engage with them in new ways to grow revenue and build your brand. Read this whitepaper to learn how to use your guest Wi-Fi network to reach, interact, and engage with your customers.
Retail Wi-Fi: Performance Monitoring
In a retail environment reliable Wi-Fi connectivity and high performance levels are essential in delivering a great customer experience and in supporting associates perform real-time critical processes. A wireless network outage creates potentially severe monetary and reputational costs, which is why a method of monitoring the performance of your wireless network is important.
Whilst WLAN access points can collect some data, they don’t collect enough in order to accurately diagnose Wi-Fi performance issues. And without the data, there is little hope for Wi-Fi optimization or long term Wi-Fi assurance. Handheld tools such as the Ekahau Sidekick are excellent at troubleshooting persistent issues, but a disparate network of geographically dispersed stores and distribution centres make it difficult to tackle intermittent Wi-Fi problems that may impact workflows and the customer experience.
This is where an independent wireless performance monitoring solution like 7SIGNAL is worth considering. They provide a comprehensive system for continually monitoring the performance of Wi-Fi networks and wireless experiences across your entire estate. They proactively identify issues and alert you so that you can remediate performance issues before they adversely impact brand loyalty.
Sapphire Eye 2200
7SIGNAL’s patented Wi-Fi sensor called Sapphire Eye™ acts like a high-performance client and benchmarks the Wi-Fi performance with around-the-clock user experience testing and passive scanning of the 2.4 and 5GHz frequency bands. They go beyond data provided by AP vendors and are completely agnostic, working with all industry-standard wireless access points, regardless of whether they are controller or cloud managed.