How NOT to Install Wireless Access Points in Your Business

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We interact with many small businesses in Arizona and see how “IT guys” and other IT companies install network equipment.

We’re calling out a pattern we’ve seen repeatedly — Wireless Access Points (WAPs) incorrectly inside the drop ceiling on top of the ceiling tiles. 

Not only is this a bad practice, but it’s also against the fire code in most instances.

Bad WAP, Good WAP

Why are IT people installing Wireless Access Points like this?

Our best guess is the IT guys are trying to cut corners or the client is putting aesthetics over functionality and safety. This is where knowledgeable and experienced IT companies need to explain to the customer why WAPs should be installed outside the ceiling tiles and aimed at the people trying to use WiFi.

Why is this bad?

1) It is never OK to rest equipment on top of ceiling tiles. National Fire Protection Association’s National Electric Code (NEC) Article 300.23 states equipment must be arranged and secure so that the panels can be removed. Additionally, your ceiling tile burn ratings (how long the ceiling is expected to tolerate exposure to flame) may be compromised if you allow equipment to rest on them from an improper WAP  installation.

Only a special fire-resistant class of plenum-rated WAPs is permitted if your office has plenum space. FYI the low-cost Ubiquiti UniFi Wireless Access Points are NOT plenum rated. Nearly all WAPs we find hidden in the ceiling have been manufactured by Ubiquiti. 

2) It’s typically against the manufacturer’s instructions and best practices. Things like acoustic ceiling tiles (that intentionally block signals), recessed fixtures, fluorescent lighting, and HVAC components can conflict with the frequencies WAPs use. Why reduce the functionality of your WiFi and cause headaches for your staff when you don’t have to?

3) It causes frustrations and additional work to manage, troubleshoot, maintain, and replace WAPs installed this way over time. This reason alone is enough to avoid this method. 

IT people will eventually have to find where they are in the ceiling to repair or replace them. The less-experienced IT Guys will probably be replaced sooner than the WAPs, leaving the hidden WAP hunting for the next IT Guy or, better yet, an experienced IT company that will install your network equipment correctly and safely. 

Disclaimer — there is a scenario where WAPs can be installed inside your drop-down ceiling. The exception is if the WAP is mounted correctly (not resting on top of a ceiling tile), aimed correctly (down towards the floor that needs WiFi coverage), and if the ceiling is classified as plenum, the WAP is plenum rated. However, in nearly every scenario short of physical limitations, you’re better off installing WAPs outside the ceiling tile facing the people who need WiFi.

Please reach out if you have any questions.