A Checklist of Expenses for your WiFi project

Looking to install new WiFi infrastructure or upgrade your current system? Wondering what costs are involved for your project? Here is something that might help. Having worked on multiple WiFi projects ranging from tens of access points (APs) to thousands of access points, I thought it might be a good idea to have a checklist of costs involved in these projects. To keep things simple, costs can be categorized into one of 1. Materials and 2. Time.

Let’s take a look at the materials cost first. This will comprise of hardware, software and other miscellaneous expenses. At a basic level, this will include cost of access points and corresponding licenses. Depending on the choice of vendor solution, a controller (physical or virtual machine) or a subscription (for cloud solutions) will have to be purchased for network management. In general, licenses are sold for 1, 3 and 5 year terms. Latest WiFi products are not expected to be End of Life for 5 years from their release date but I have seen companies preferring a 3 year refresh cycle to be able to take advantage of the latest protocols. Depending on the appetite for future upgrades the licenses can be purchased accordingly. For some vendor solutions, a separate support contract might have to be purchased for troubleshooting help and RMA purposes. These contracts are available with different SLAs and can be chosen appropriately. The next material expense is cabling. If you already have wireless infrastructure in place, additional cabling might be required for APs that may have to be added or existing cabling might need an upgrade to Cat 6 cables. Another expense is the need for switching infrastructure. If you already have POE+ capable switches with enough available ports and power budgets on each one, this may not be required. Additional racks might be required to accommodate the new switches. Most access points today require POE+ but there are also some that can fully operate with POE. If buying new switches with these capabilities is not an option, an alternative is to use POE/POE+ injectors. Assessing the existing environment is critical in determining the cabling and switching costs. If the environment primarily consists of a typical grid style drop ceiling , in most cases the mounts included in the access point package should work. Other wise, additional mounting hardware might have to be purchased. If the environment has areas with high density of users, wireless engineer could recommend using access points with external (directional) antennae. It is worth keeping the mounting hardware for these antennae in the checklist as well. Additionally conduits and electrical boxes might be required for mounting access points for certain ceiling types. NEMA enclosures might be required to protect the access point for outdoor installations . If there is no in-house engineering/cabling/project management resources, consultants might have to be hired. So it is important to keep in mind the travel costs that may include flights, rental cars, hotel and food expenses for these consultants. With hiring consulting companies, a maintenance contract might also have to purchased with them for ongoing support post implementation. To summarize, here is a checklist of material expenses involved in a WiFi project:

  1. Access Points
  2. Controllers
  3. Licenses
  4. Vendor Support contracts
  5. Cables
  6. Switches
  7. Racking for switches
  8. POE/POE+ injectors
  9. Antennae
  10. Mounting Equipment for Access Points & Antennae
  11. Conduits
  12. Electrical boxes
  13. NEMA enclosures
  14. Consultant travel related expenses
  15. Consultancy maintenance agreement

Moving on to the time costs. This category will primarily include expenses on engineering & project management along cable technicians. Provided the project involves more than a couple of access points, it will need a minimum of a wireless engineer and a cable technician. If you do not have an IT team with resources capable of performing wireless design, implementation and validation, it is recommended to hire consultants to do these tasks. Each of these steps is critical to providing better performance. A network engineer might be required to configure the switching and routing aspects of the network but, in a lot of cases a wireless engineer will have the skills to do these tasks. Cable technicians need to be hired for cabling and installers for access point installation. Resources for cabling usually can also install the access points. If there is a business requirement to provide outdoor coverage, a certified electrician might have to be hired to drill on the external walls. A lot of small scale projects (< 50 APs) wouldn’t need a dedicated project manager but the larger the project gets the higher the benefits of having project management resources. A systems engineer may also be required for installing/configuring servers for services such RADIUS, Active Directory, LDAP etc if they don’t already exist in the environment. To summarize the time costs, here is a check list:

  1. Wireless Engineer
  2. Network Engineer
  3. Cabling Technician
  4. Access Point Installer
  5. Project Manager
  6. Systems Engineer

The estimates for the costs vary depending on a lot of factors including but not limited to choice of vendor, scale of the project, reseller discounts etc. The goal of this blog post was to provide a checklist of expenses rather than an estimate of expenses and I hope it can be of good help for your project.

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