Review: Ekahau Mobile Survey for Android - Page 2

By Lisa Phifer

December 07, 2010

Real-time results

Unlike the Map Tab, which applies only to ESS customers, the Test Tab delivers valuable results of interest to just about any admin. Using a requirements profile, the Test Tab (below) presents real-time active or passive test results in a very easy-to-consume way. Moreover, those results represent in-situ experience of a real Wi-Fi client device (albeit an Android phone that is probably less powerful than most laptop Wi-Fi clients).

Ekahau's Wi-Fi survey app performing a test.

Side-by-side columns display SNR, data rate, packet loss, roundtrip delay, and rogue presence, updated in real-time and/or at monitoring intervals. By comparing current status (Now) to profiled requirements (Limit), each metric is color coded to highlight problems. An overall Network Status clearly indicates whether any metric is out-of-spec. This makes it easy to see whether a particular type of Wi-Fi user would likely experience trouble when associated to the same AP from the same location as the smartphone running Mobile Survey.

However, what makes this monitoring feature really zip are configurable requirements profiles. Simply use the Configuration Tab to select from a list of built-in profiles: Basic Connectivity, Email/Web, High Speed Connectivity, Voice, or RTLS. If no profile represents a target constituency, just modify the underlying criteria: minimum signal strength/data rate and maximum round trip delay/packet loss. This Tab can also be used to specify a host to ping for delay/loss (by default the nearest gateway) and monitoring frequency (by default 120 seconds).

These metrics are not terribly abstract - for example, Mobile Survey isn't going to monitor Voice support by sending VoIP protocols or measuring MOS score. However, they do make Mobile Survey more flexible than a basic net stumbler or ping tool. Combining them with scheduled measurement makes for an automated tool that generates alarms whenever requirements are not met. Those alarms can be viewed using the Log Tab or emailed upon request. Drill down on any alarm to see additional detail or add tester annotations (a handy feature).

Handy helper

During our Mobile Survey monitoring, we encountered just one real hiccup: our Droid Eris is slightly smaller than the minimum screen size, preventing us from turning monitoring off within the program itself. Fortunately, we could still use the widget to start/pause monitoring, which we found important to preserve our phone's battery life. (After all, a key benefit of Ekahau's approach is that the Android phone used to run Mobile Survey is still usable as a phone!)

Mobile Survey clearly provided more insight than readily-available free/inexpensive Android (or iPhone or WinCE) "stumblers" or ping tools. More importantly, it supplied this insight in an easily-consumable form. This is a critical factor in any mobile tool, where testing is somewhat ad hoc and useful results are needed quickly, with minimal user input. ESS customers will definitely get more from Mobile Survey due to ESX file integration for maps and rogue ACLs.

However, our brief test drive with Mobile Survey left us wanting more. At $299, Mobile Survey costs far less than a dedicated hardware tester. But, even at this price, we'd have to think twice about purchasing Mobile Survey for stand-alone (non-ESS-integrated) use. On our wish list: clients associated to each AP, ability to send configurable kinds of test traffic, and ability to save periodic monitor results to a file for future use.

Overall, we found Mobile Survey a promising foundation -- and a very positive indication about the role that Android (and other mobile devices) can play in sophisticated mobile WLAN analysis and trouble-shooting. We hope to see Ekahau continue to extend Mobile Survey for stand-alone use -- and perhaps offer attractively-priced bundles to ESS customers.

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