WN Podcast 014 – WiFi Design for Retail

Welcome to our new WiFi Ninjas Podcast episode! We continue our Design Series with a discussion around WiFi Design for Retail.

Design recap (see episode 12):

  • Understand the purpose (data, high density, location, etc.)
  • Capture success criteria (capacity, coverage, other RF elements, roaming)
  • Always go on site before and after (attenuation, RF condition, interferers, DFS, visual check)

Retail design challenges:

  • Often very high ceilings
  • Often large open spaces (food court areas etc.) so not much to attenuate WiFi
  • A lot of 2.4GHz CCI/ ACI from there being so many wireless devices in every store or concession stand
  • pretty much guarantee that 2.4GHz spectrum is near enough unusable
  • Legacy guest devices
  • So retail providers usually want you to still support 2.4GHz
  • Large amount of devices
  • Can you bring concessions WiFi under yours by giving them an SSID and VLAN on your wireless network in a certain area controlled by AP Groups – reduce the amount of rogue WAPs and contention! 

Retail design essentials:

  • What is the wireless design for?
    • Data? Voice?
    • Guest Location Analytics
    • Anything else?
  • Who is it for?
    • Guest only
    • Guest & Corp
  • Capacity in different times of year – ever seen a popular mall over Christmas period?
  • Mobility is key but it’s challenging
  • Security vs compatibility vs user friendliness
    • P2P block
    • Onboarding must be easy
      • Ask too many questions and users won’t connect
      • Keep it simple – use Facebook, Instagram etc.
      • Stick to basic email form for users with no social media
  • Value of cutting edge WiFi without apps
    • Challenging to get users to install apps
    • Easier with WiFi than with BLE due to randomisation

Drivers behind having a sleek WiFi in retail:

  • Goal: increase sales
    • Understand the customers needs
    • Adjust the displays, stock, presentation, promotions, online presence, etc.
  • Customers expect proper connectivity
    • If mobile coverage drops, they will check WiFi out
    • If it’s not there, it’s bad. If it is there but it’s slow or user-unfriendly, it’s even worse
  • All things considered, WiFi is not the most expensive part of running a store, but it can massively help business:
    • Built email list (login via form)
    • Built demographic stats (login via social network)
    • Understand basic customers presence in store (zone based analytics)
    • Understand routes client take (basic location analytics with WiFi triangulation and presence)
    • Understand exact clients location behaviour with high tracking accuracy (hyperlocation, BLE, vBLE)
    • Chance to push loyalty apps
    • Wayfinding
    • Grabbing attendant attention
    • Users engagement
  • ‘physical’ stores experience tough times – use tech to steer users towards own online shops instead of closing businesses

Wireless Coverage Areas and different requirements?

  • Front of House
    • Areas where guests will be traversing through the centre
  • Back of House
    • Service corridors
    • Offices
    • Service yards
  • External
    • Outdoor shopping areas
    • Outdoor entertainment areas
  • Car Parks
    • People locating themselves back to where their car is parked

What Vendors for wireless analytics

  • Cisco + CMX + DNA Spaces
  • Meraki + Purple
  • Mist

Pick your AP wisely

  • Internal or external?
  • Needs more ruggedness?

Think about the config

  • Its hard to get to know the devices you design for as there could be any kind of legacy device a guest user could bring in – agree upfront with the retail management what the worst device you are willing to cater for.
  • Guest is usually open / open or open with captive portal
  • Can you / should you use just UNII1 and UNII2 channels?
  • Monitor mode WAPs
  • Watch the Tx power and data rates
  • Stick to 20Mhz wide channels
    • Bonded channels = more interference = lower SNR
    • Normally throughput is not a concern in retail
  • RX-SOP can mean drop offs mid roam for stickier
  • Devices might not like 802.11v – clients don’t like to be disassociated and v sends client a proposition to associate with other best AP, followed by a threat of disassociation if STA doesn’t jump on its own and a big chunk of clients don’t support it
  • Devices might not like 802.11r at all or some flavour of it

Mounting and positioning

  • Often very high
  • Concessions may not let you install WAPs in front of their shop fronts as it will not make it aesthetically pleasing
  • Most important after coverage is no CCI / ACI and fast roaming
  • Service yards – WAPs can get covered in a lot of crap quite easily so may need to consider IP rated boxes to protect them or external / ruggedized WAPs

Other standard considerations

  • Distance to the switch
  • PoE
  • Mounting restrictions
  • Obstructions, metal
  • Other networks
  • Interferers
  • Vendor choice
  • Architecture

Thanks for listening and please don’t hesitate to leave a comment, feedback, subscribe or follow us on social media!

Join us at Natilik HQ in London, where we’ll be hosting an 802.11ax focused event with juicy theory hands on demos. Drinks and food on us! Register here:



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This WiFi Ninjas Podcast archive consists of all the podcasts we have ever recorded!