Networks First were already working with the business when James Hall decided to build a new HQ comprising 3,000sq metres of office space as well as a vast new distribution warehouse - 385,000sq ft in size, or roughly the same area as seven football pitches!
Corporate Wireless LAN deal largely with a known set of metrics, the warehouse environment however had some unique difficulties. Because of the wireless voice-activated picking system which would be used in the warehouse, this enormous space required 100% wireless coverage so that staff could receive order information through their wireless headsets anywhere on the premises.
The engineers were aware that there would be lots of traffic flowing across the network, and not just data. The company’s CCTV, door entry systems and VoIP would all make use of the new network, adding extra load and making a resilient and application-aware network a high priority.
A further complication of working from plans arose from some of the construction materials used in the warehouse. Because James Hall and Co. deals with many frozen and perishable products, dual insulating layers of steel and foam were included in the walls to the chilled areas. The architects’ blueprints could not give any indication of how these walls would affect wireless signal.
Onsite testing wasn’t going to be an option as the building only existed on paper so Networks First used specialist planning software to predict the wireless coverage given various permutations of Access Point locations. Using this software the team planned the most effective positions for the WLAN Access Points, selecting the best combination of different models and antenna types to match specific requirements in different areas of the building. Such meticulous planning was necessary to achieve the 100% area coverage required.
“New build premises are something of a double-edged sword for network engineers, particularly in the case of wireless implementations,” explains Paul Lewis, Network’s First’s lead consultant on the project. “On the one hand it can be beneficial to start from scratch with design and implementation without any hangovers from legacy systems. But at the same time the building process can be unpredictable, and the lack of any physical premises to inspect can make planning and testing more difficult.”
Constant dialogue on every aspect of the marriage between the construction and IT implementation processes was required. James Hall & Co.’s IT director, Dominic Hall, comments: “Whilst a new build location offers advantages such as being able to specify where cabling will be routed, it also presents many challenges which require experience and rigorous planning and testing processes to solve. It was vital that our partners were willing to take a flexible and collaborative approach. The adaptability of Networks First and Amillan staff was key throughout the project from an IT perspective, and helped the construction of the building to run smoothly as well.”
All System Go
For a network-critical business like James Hall & Co., a long period of downtime during the changeover was simply not an option. For this reason, Networks First facilitated the parallel running of the old and new networks during the changeover period so that the business could continue to function as normal.
”Without a doubt, the network switchover was the smoothest part of the move to the new premises. There was the absolute minimum of downtime and fuss,” said Dominic Hall. “Now that we are in the new building the network is working faultlessly, and exactly as we specified.”
These days, James Hall and Co. now has a fully-functional LAN and WLAN operating throughout its new premises. In total there are 92 wireless access points and 1,200 ports on the wired network. There have been no reports of any wireless “blackspots” where coverage has been needed and not found.
“Throughout the project the attitude of the consultants was outstanding. When the building work got in the way or forced a change in the network design, Networks First’s flexibility was a real asset. Whatever the issue throughout the project I knew they would always provide me with solutions, not problems.”
Read the full case study here.