Detecting & Correcting Gaps in Wireless Network Coverage

Instructor: Archna Khubchandani
This lesson explores what causes gaps in coverage and why unacceptable coverage in a wireless network should be remedied when it is encountered. You will also explore how to detect holes in coverage and remedy them.

Why Can't I Connect!

You might have experienced coverage holes while using your mobile device during transit. Moreover, we all have our favorite points at our home where we get uninterrupted connections as the signal strength is high. It is very disturbing when a call is involuntarily terminated as you move into a coverage gap while a call is in progress. Such a condition leads to user dissatisfaction and eventually loss of carrier revenue. Why does this happen? Let's find out!

Wireless-Dependent Technologies

Almost all technologies in some way or another rely on effective wireless networks. Two critical ones are:

  • Global Positioning System (GPS) technology is widely used in mobile assets for location services or in resource administration applications such as Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) and fleet management for the trucking industry.
  • Wireless Sensor Networks (WSN) are used in critical applications areas such as military procedures, environmental protection, industrial process monitoring, agriculture and farming methods, structural health monitoring and much more. These applications require reliable connectivity, which can only be guaranteed if the WSN contains no coverage holes.

Coverage Holes in Wireless Networks

Be it mobile or any other wireless service, coverage holes are areas where users can't receive a signal from a wireless access point (AP). The greater number of coverage holes in the wireless network, the more seamless roaming is inhibited. Coverage holes can occur anywhere within a geographical service area when an acceptable quality wireless link cannot be established between a mobile unit and a base station.

Coverage holes in wireless networks can be formed in many ways. Some of which are:

  • Intrusion
  • Explosion
  • Environmental factors (weather conditions & land topology)
  • Software bugs
  • Energy depletions (power of the antenna & draw from other resources)
  • Distance from base station

These holes harm network and device functionality or result in non-uniform sensor deployments. It is essential to detect and plug coverage holes in order to ensure full operability.

Detecting Coverage Holes

Significant resources are devoted by carriers to search for and identify coverage gaps. They are often identified by sending technicians out to the field at considerable expense. Gaps often result from local conditions such as the existence of barriers (i.e. buildings) causing signal shielding.

To help determine coverage gaps within a geographical area served by a wireless communication network, the following steps can be taken:

  1. Generate a location report from a range mobile units attached to the network.
  2. Store these location reports in a database.
  3. Search the database for positions within the geographical area where the quality of the wireless is not acceptable.

Unacceptable signal quality can result from 1) no reports being received from a device, 2) some but not all reports are received from a device or 3) reports that show weak signal strength.

A location report may typically contain:

  • A measured signal quality metric. This may be the signal strength of the wireless link.
  • A bit error rate of the wireless link.

Location reports may be displayed on a map to visually show coverage quality and gaps. Statistical and quantitative analysis can be applied on the signal quality metrics reported.

Correcting Coverage Holes

Identifying coverage holes helps us to know what measures need to be taken to remediate connection issues. There are many different steps that can be taken. Some of these are listed below.

Adding Access Points

In many cases, large gaps of coverage may be found on the network. If this is the case, additional access points can be strategically placed on the network to cover these gaps.

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