Review: Ekahau Mobile Survey for Android

By Lisa Phifer

December 07, 2010

If you've been depending on a cheap smart phone stumbler and shying away from pricier dedicated survey hardware, Ekahau's Android-based site survey tool takes a little from both in terms of convenience and functionality.

Full Product Name, Model: Ekahau Mobile Survey
Manufacturer's URL: http://www.ekahau.com/
List Price: $299
Pros: Turns smartphone into real-time monitor, at-a-glance status, ESS integration
Cons: Map and rogue ACLs require ESS, screen size limitations, pricey for standalone use

Wireless LAN administrators often need to monitor RF activity for purposes of security auditing, performance analysis and operational trouble-shooting. To accomplish this, most admins carry at least a couple of "net stumblers" -- basic (usually free) programs that run on Wi-Fi enabled laptops and mobile devices, ranging from WinCE to iPhone.

But few sophisticated commercial WLAN monitoring and analysis tools have been released for mobile devices. 802.11n has been slow to emerge on mobile devices, mobile SDK APIs have been a moving target, and graphics have been hampered by limited real estate. As a result, products in this arena have tended to be dedicated or purpose-built devices -- such as Fluke's AirCheck tester and BVS' YellowJacket-BANG analyzer.

This week, Ekahau decided to take a crack at this market by releasing Ekahau Mobile Survey ($299), a commercial toolkit for Android-based smartphones (and soon tablets). Supported devices include the Samsung Galaxy S, Google Nexus One, HTC Desire/Desire HD/Desire Z, HTC Evo 4G and MyTouch 4G, and Motorola Droid X/2/original -- essentially, any phone or tablet running Android 2.1 or later with at least 480x800 screen resolution.

WLAN survey pocket power

To be truly useful for busy WLAN admins, a toolkit like Mobile Survey must be easy to install and use. After using it for a few days, we conclude that Ekahau largely achieved these goals.

We installed Mobile Survey by downloading the v1.0.5 APK file from Ekahau's website onto a HTC Droid Eris running Android 2.1. Customers can buy a program license from Ekahau itself or through Ekahau distributors and resellers. Although Android Marketplace sales might be a nice addition, we believe that Mobile Survey will appeal largely to Ekahau Site Survey (ESS) customers and may end up being purchased in product bundles.

After installation, Mobile Survey can be launched directly from the Android programs menu, or by tapping the supplied Mobile Survey widget. The widget (below) is surprisingly handy, offering at-a-glance signal strength, data rate, and association status. This info is paired with play/pause buttons that control the program's real-time monitoring feature. Here we found a small pre-release bug - play/pause buttons did not become active until the phone was restarted.

Ekahau's Wi-Fi survey app on an Android phone

If you plan to use active monitoring, connect to the desired WLAN (SSID and perhaps AP) before running Mobile Survey. This is necessary because Mobile Survey does not provide an embedded link to (or direct control over) the Android phone's Wi-Fi settings. Integrated Wi-Fi connection control would be a nice addition - especially because admins often want active measurements to be taken when associated to a specified AP.

Under the covers with Mobile Survey

Upon program launch, Mobile Survey displays a series of tabs: Test, Map, APs, Log, and Configuration (below).

Ekahau's Wi-Fi survey shows a series of tabs

The APs Tab offers results similar to many basic "net stumblers": a scrollable list of discovered APs, identified by MAC , ESSID, channel, security mode, and SNR . But Mobile Survey goes further by classifying APs: green for associated, red for suspected rogue, black for everything else. For ESS customers, AP classification is based on the Access Control List (ACL) contained in an imported Site Survey Project file -- we expect admins would find this filtering very useful. However, for non-ESS-customers, Mobile Survey uses AP MAC and ESSID to guess possible rogues. We had variable results with the latter -- mostly dead-on but occasionally not. If desired, rogue alarms can be disabled using the Configuration/Requirement Profile menu.

If the APs Tab and a status widget were all that Mobile Survey offered, we would be hard-pressed to pay $29 for this program - much less $299. Fortunately, that is most definitely NOT the case.

Take the Map Tab. ESS customers can upload an ESX (Site Survey Project Export) file to the phone's root directory, then tap this screen to import a site map, complete with AP locations. Mobile Survey color-codes nearby authorized APs: green connected, blue visible, grey for everything else. Tap on any individual AP to view MAC, SSID, channel, security mode, and SNR.

A map makes it easier to visualize what might otherwise be a lengthy AP list and of course find them when walking a facility. While this map is not a heatmap or real-time rogue locator, it does put monitored AP metrics into very helpful context. This is particularly useful in a mobile tool where one needs to zero in on target APs quickly and accurately.

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