A new version of the Survey planner tool from AirMagnet will let network designers networks include building plans, and then use the survey data to improve the coverage in the real world.

"Some other tools use detailed modelling, which may take weeks and weeks to set up model, using CAD drawings," said Wade Williamson, AirMagnet product manager. "Ours is definitely a more economical approach in time and money." Detailed modelling often creates plans that are flawed, while feeding in real survey data is more realistic, he explained.

AirMagnet has been expanding its Wi-Fi analysis tools for some years (read our reviews of its laptop analyser and its management system) and combined survey and analysis tools earlier this year.

Planning adds the ability to turn the data into a plan and print out a set of instructions for workers to install the final network. "You don't want to spend money on APs you don't need, or have dead spots. We model the APs including, channels, SSID, and antenna type," he said. The product includes the characteristics of 100 antenna types, and the ability to enter more antennas by measuring their characteristics.

For large installations, Google Earth could be a winner, said Williamson: "Customers who do large scale outdoor site surveys - like the City of San Francisco who we've been working with - can drive round with a GPS device and gather data, then export it to Google Earth." Google Earth allows planners to view different angles, and zoom in and out, he said: "It's not just magnifying. It's very different from a flat map."

Surveys made with version 4.0 of the product should be improved, thanks to a feature that takes into account the Wi-Fi adapter on the laptop being used to make the survey. A database will compensate for the relative willingness of adapters to roam - a feature that varies widely amongst adapters, explained Williamson. "This gives a more realistic view of where the roaming boundaries will eventually be in the final WLAN."