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Trade Talk: Analysing and Testing Wireless Signal Paths (4/1/2010)

By Claire Scholes, LairdKing

Happy new year to you all, and I hope you've enjoyed the holidays! The Christmas break is traditionally when we go through our budgeting for the coming year. We compile our lists for the tools and equipment we want for the year and we then decide where our priorities lie.

Last year there was a sea change for us. The lists we compile act as a good thermometer as to the technical state of our industry. So, new for this year are analysers. It's not that we don't have any, rather we don't have enough wireless analysers in particular.

The justification for investing in this kit is the number of consumer manufacturers that now use ZigBee, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi etc in their equipment. As integrators, this is now firmly our territory and, just as in past years we bought LAN testers, cable TDRs (Time Domain Reflectometers), fibre optic testers and the like, we now need our team to have ready access to the whole range of diagnostic tools for wireless installations.

Bluetooth clashes

The main issue is with Bluetooth-based telephony clashing with Bluetooth wireless keyboards and mice, AV controllers, and PS3. In the past, we would send an engineer to diagnose a possible wiring trauma, but now they must also diagnose the wireless environment. Being budget conscious, we don't want them to have to do the trip twice, so now they all get the testing kit to carry around. Two of our preferred manufacturers are Wi-Spy and YellowJacket.

We traditionally use Wi-Spy to take a reading of the environment surrounding a new project at the time of the equipment proposal. It marks a line in the sand, and lays the template for the design proposal. It produces a picture which our clients appreciate without having to understand in too much detail what the base line means. They get two more pictures throughout the project, one when the first fix is finished (yes, we still fully wire all properties) and the final one on project completion.

The MetaGeek Wi-Spy DBx package that monitors all RF activity affecting a network.

The second picture allows us to confirm the purchase of the equipment and make amendments if the environment has changed. The final picture is obviously for documentation. As part of our standard maintenance agreements, we now include site surveys once a quarter. These pictures always tells a thousand words, especially to our clients.

Wi-Fi everywhere

The Yellowjacket analyser is a package that bolts onto an existing Internet and LAN logistics package. It tells the story of all of the ports, SSIDs etc of the wireless environment. With most of the top-end integrated controller manufacturers bringing out more and more Wi-Fi handsets and screens, our IT analysis gets ever more intricate.

The Berkley Varitronics Systems Yellowjacket 802.11B/A/N/G Wi-Fi analyser.

Regarding IR diagnostics, albeit slightly off-topic, you might like to check out the Inframetrics ThermaCAM IR analyser. It was in its embryonic development when we all had plasma infrared issues, but now it is more grown up, and is a great help in dealing the issues caused by many of our clients abroad, and even in the UK, living in glass houses with white walls and sunshine. We are also considering hiring a test system to document our HVAC and energy conservation designs.

The Inframetrics ThermaCAM PM390 Imaging Radiometer.


The current focus in our integration for automation projects is analysing and testing the signal paths for new products. This thorough testing for future equipment is what sets the custom installation industry apart, and provides all of us custom installers with a tangible service to promote.

Oh... and one analyser we have rejected is specifically for Telluric waves. These indicate the existence of ley lines (something we know a lot about in Cornwall), so if you are interested in the paranormal meeting the physical body of our world, then there's your own new year's research sorted out!

Claire Scholes is Managing Director of LairdKing. LairdKing provides complete building automation systems from design and specification to installation and programming.


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