This is the 3rd part in our series on Meraki WLAN deployment tips. The first article covered some helpful hints for assigning IP addressing to your Meraki access points. The second post had tips for AP naming, tagging, and the important of installation photos.
In this final part in the series, we will discuss adding a floor plan to your Meraki WLAN deployment. Why do we need to do this? What value does it provide? What cool things can we do once we have a floor plan in our deployment? Read on to find out!
To start with, let’s cover a basic fact: Adding floor plans to your Meraki WLAN deployment is completely optional. And there are at least a few cases where they are unnecessary. For example, if your deployment is covering a large outdoor space, the default Google Maps satellite view will work fine. Or if you have a small remote office with a single access point, there’s not a ton of value in having a floor plan imported. However, if your deployment involves multiple access points in the interior of a building, then adding a floor plan gives you some nice benefits.
First, a populated floor plan lets you easily see AP locations and some quick stats of those APs. Take, for example, this floor plan display from the H.A. office in Audubon, PA:
This screen is found at the Wireless > Map & floor plan menu item. As you can see, we can easily identify where our APs are physically located. Each AP also has a number overlaid on it. This is the current number of wireless clients associated with that access point. This can be useful for gauging client density, although there is a better tool for that which we will explore later.
Mousing over one of the APs brings up a link to that AP’s Dashboard page, like this:
Clicking the PA-AP07 link will take me to the details page for that AP.
Likewise, if I want to see where a specific AP is physically deployed, I can go to that AP’s details page in Dashboard, and then go to the Location tab. The AP will be displayed on the supplied floor plan. In this example, we can easily find that PA-AP03 is the one in our reception area. If notes or tags were not added when APs were deployed, this can be very helpful!
OK, so we can locate an AP on the map. That’s handy. What else? Well, what if we want to locate a client device within our environment? That’s easy too, once floor plans are deployed. Simply navigate to a client’s details page by going to Network wide > Clients, and then clicking on a wireless client in the list. The client detail page will be displayed, and the users most-likely location will be indicated on the floor plan:
In this case, the user’s iPhone is believed to most likely be at the location of the blue dot. The light blue circle is the circle of uncertainty, this is the total area that the client could be in, but the system thinks the location of the blue spot is most likely. If the system can get a tighter triangulation on the user, the circle of uncertainty will get smaller to indicate higher confidence. In this eample, I know the location the device is indicated as being is exactly where this user’s cubicle is, so the system has located this user’s phone with a high degree of accuracy. This can be convenient if you need to hunt down a device/user/guest that isn’t behaving well, or if you’re asked to help locate a missing device.
Locating a device in this way isn’t always perfect, but it gives you a good place to start if you’re trying to locate someone/something.
Another useful thing you can do with the floor plan is see your wireless channel settings visually. If you navigate to Wireless > Radio settings, you will see a list of all access points and their assigned channels for the current network. If you hit the “Map” toggle, you will see the APs on the floor plan with their assigned channels as labels, like this:
This can be helpful for manual channel planning to ensure you’ve got the maximum possible separation between APs on the same channel or adjacent channels, or even to review automatic channel assignments to ensure the system is not making a bad choice in assigning APs to certain channels.
Now, one of my favorite uses of the floor plan: the location heatmap. This feature, which is found at Wireless > Location heatmap in the Dashboard, shows you a color-coded heatmap of where wireless clients are physically located in your environment.
What can we use this for? It’s a nice real-time display of how many devices are in certain areas of your environment. It can be used to see where high-density regions might be, or if an unusual congregation of devices (and thus people) has popped up. And notice the “Play” button and timeline slider in the upper-left corner of the screen? That lets you play back an hour-by-hour view of the heatmap to see how client density has changed over time. For an office setting, that’s nifty. In a retail or industrial setting, this can be highly valuable business intelligence, letting you see where customers tend to spend time in a retail store, or by seeing patterns in movement of fork trucks in a warehouse during shifts.
As you can see, taking advantage of the Dashboard features that can utilize floor plans can give you some nice perks in your Meraki deployment.
Now that you have some idea of why you want floor plans configured in your Meraki WLAN networks, how do you set them up? Fortunately Meraki has already documented that procedure better than I could (with animated GIFs and everything!), so head on over to their site for the how-to.
If you’re interested in a Meraki-based WLAN deployment, or need help tuning an existing deployment to get the most out of it, reach out to your High Availability Account Manager today. We’d be happy to help you!