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In this day of cell phones and data usage, being able to use our phones wherever we go is increasingly important. However, cell signal quality can vary greatly from one location to another, from outdoors to indoors, and even from one room to another.
If you are an installer, a site survey can save time and accurately prepare for a cell signal booster installation. Knowing the layout of the building and existing cell signals can also prepare you to speak with the customer about why their calls are dropping and illustrate your plans to fix the problem.
In this post, we’ll discuss what a site survey is, why it matters, and how to conduct a survey prior to installation.
What is a site survey?
A site survey refers to the preparatory work needed prior to installing a cell signal booster. A site survey accurately determines the source of the strongest cell signal, which shows providers where to install the donor antenna. A survey also indicates the areas inside the building with the strongest and weakest signals, which can indicate best installation points for indoor antennas. A survey also gives the installer a sense of how much cable will be required and which splitters, filters, or other accessories are needed.
A site survey can show the customer an accurate representation of their existing signal coverage, along with any problem areas. This can help start a dialog about product options and installation solutions.
How to use a signal meter to check signal strength
Although it is possible to check cell signal strength using your phone in test mode, this isn’t the most reliable way to perform a site survey. Cell phones can take some time to update with signal information, and the data isn’t always precise.
To do a site survey properly, you’ll need a signal meter. This professional handheld device detects and displays signal frequency, bandwidth, and strength with total certainty. It also updates in real time so you’ll never have to wait for the accurate signal readings. Signal meters read the signal level for all frequency ranges and bands so you can test for any carrier to make sure you get a signal that will work for anyone. This is especially important in a commercial setting.
How to perform a site survey during a booster installation
Start the process by looking at a floor plan. This will help you familiarize yourself with the site before you even arrive, and more easily map out the signal once you’re there.
When looking at the floor plan, consider the square footage of the structure. This will help you know which antennas to use, how many antennas you need, and where to place them. Make sure you have a handle on the broadcast patterns of various antennas available before you begin.
The floorplan will also help guide you in terms of the number of amplifiers you’ll need, as well as the length of cable, number of splitters, and any other accessories.
If you don’t have access to the building’s floor plan, sketch out your own on a piece of paper or draw it digitally on a tablet.
Once on-site, begin the survey on the roof. Using your signal meter and a notepad, walk around to the different sides of the building and note the signal reading on each side. Record the readings for all channels and frequencies each time.
Once you’ve found the location of best signal, slowly swivel 360 degrees, using your signal meter to find the source of the signal. Once you find it, note the direction it came from. This tells you the direction of the nearest cell tower, and the right direction to aim the donor antenna.
While on the roof, take some time to locate a point of entry for the interior cable. Note any nearby vents or existing conduits. If none exist, you may need to drill a hole for cable access.
Mount the donor antenna. If possible, mount the donor antenna to an existing rooftop vent pipe or post. If there’s not one available, you will need to create a mounting point. A mounting kit works well to attach a donor antenna to the eaves. Otherwise, you may need to get creative and install your own mount, depending on the design of the rooftop and direction of the signal.
Assess the signal strength inside the building. Walk from room to room and note the signal level in each room, being aware that the signal strength may vary within large rooms. Mark your floor plan to show the areas of signal strength and weakness so that you can design your antenna layout based on this information.
As you walk around, find out which materials make up the building’s construction, since different materials can affect the signal’s performance and range. For instance, drywall has less effect on signal strength, while concrete walls can block signal completely. These factors can affect how many broadcast antennas you need and where they’ll go.
Determine where to install the broadcast antennas. Think about whether a wall mount or ceiling mount would work best in the building, and ask the customer if they prefer the antennas to be hidden completely from view. Consider the antennas’ strengths, limitations, and coverage ranges in order to maximize the booster system’s efficacy.
Find a location for the booster(s). Boosters, also called amplifiers, need adequate ventilation and access to power. Depending on the model, you can permanently mount them to a wall or place them on a shelf or a server rack.
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 site signal survey is the first step in performing an accurate and quality cell signal booster installation. Be sure to take the necessary time to properly review the floor plan, test the incoming signal, and examine the building itself before starting any install. This will make you better prepared to answer your customer’s questions and present a long-lasting solution.