By Andrew Garcia  |  Posted 2006-05-08 Print this article Print

AirMagnets Survey Pro 3.0 is a useful site survey tool that allows wireless LAN administrators and consultants to provide on-the-spot planning, maintenance and troubleshooting of Wi-Fi network coverage and performance.

eWEEK Labs tested Build 5613 of Survey Pro 3.0, which started shipping in March. Version 3.0 adds a number of new tools to help administrators plan network capacity and identify potential security or performance limitations throughout the wireless network, including insight into the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands above and beyond Wi-Fi-specific transmissions. Survey Pro 3.0 also integrates with AirMagnets Spectrum Analyzer 2.0, enables GPS-guided outdoor surveys in conjunction with Microsoft MapPoint and offers multifloor displays for customers in high-rise office buildings.

Survey Pro 3.0 costs $3,665 per license. Customers can opt to tie the license to one computer or to a specific wireless adapter if multiple administrators plan to share the software. Customers can also purchase a bundle of Survey Pro 3.0 with Spectrum Analyzer 2.0 for $6,995.

eWEEK Labs tested 802.11n using AirMagnets Spectrum Analyzer 2.0, among other tools. Click here to read more. A stripped-down version called Survey Standard 3.0 is available for $1,995 but does not include most of what makes the Pro version cool—such as the MapPoint and Spectrum Analyzer integrations or the multifloor analysis.

To collect data, eWeek Labs walked the halls of our office building, periodically marking our location on a floor-plan diagram we imported into Survey Pro 3.0. Survey Pro 3.0 scans the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands (presuming the monitor adapter supports both networks), cycling through all the relevant channels sequentially at periodic, user-definable intervals. AirMagnets algorithms correlated captured data with physical location according to the spots we tapped on the map, but we needed to maintain a consistent gait during the scans for more accurate results.

Survey Pro 3.0 offers two survey modes. Passive Mode scans the airwaves to identify all transmitting access points, collecting measurements of signal strength, noise and signal-to-noise ratio in the process. Active Mode, on the other hand, associates to either a single access point or a wireless network. Using the latter mode, we could track other relevant metrics of the wireless client experience—including link speed, retry rate and loss rate—to better understand what a real wireless client device could experience.

Survey Pro 3.0 displays are highly understandable and configurable. We could easily pull up heat maps that showed signal strength, noise or signal-to-noise ratio—with the flexibility to zoom in on any part of the map for closer investigation. This data is also available via a number of canned reports that can be exported to numerous formats.

By default, Survey Pro 3.0 presents the data from all detected networks and access points, which can result in a somewhat confusing picture. However, we could easily drill down to only the devices or networks that mattered to us, and we could also create a filter to perform this step automatically.

We liked that we could merge data from multiple collection sessions, allowing us to augment incomplete surveys with more detailed data while maintaining the flexibility to investigate separate collections to identify trends in the environment. We could also merge Active Mode and Passive Mode surveys to provide a more complete picture of our network and the Wi-Fi environment on the whole.

Survey Pro 3.0s multifloor feature allowed us to examine the impact of access points on adjoining floors in a building. In our tests, we found that an upstairs access point provided decent coverage downstairs while actually causing co-channel interference with a downstairs access point.

Survey Pro 3.0 can simulate how configuration changes will affect the wireless network. In areas in which we found co-channel interference, we used these tools to predict what the effects would be if we altered the channel or adjusted the transmit power. Unfortunately, the simulation feature does not extend to the multifloor analysis tools, so we could not use it to solve our cross-floor overlap issues.

Unlike competing products from Ekahau or Helium Networks, Survey Pro 3.0 provides spectrum analysis through integration with AirMagnets Spectrum Analyzer 2.0. This allows Survey Pro 3.0 to identify potential sources of interference due to non-Wi-Fi devices such as microwave ovens or cordless phones. With the Spectrum Analyzer PC Card adapter (based on the same technology as Cognios Spectrum Expert for Wi-Fi) installed in our laptop, Survey Pro 3.0 collected spectrum data from the 2.4GHz, 4.9GHz and 5GHz bands.

Survey Pro 3.0 does not attempt to predict spectrum data, but it did allow us to correlate detected data with a location—something not possible with Spectrum Analyzer 2.0 (or Cognios software) alone. We could view spectrum information by clicking on a specific point along the path we walked, identifying what channels may be affected by non-Wi-Fi interference. To help identify the type of device that caused the interference, however, we still needed to fire up Spectrum Analyzer 2.0.

Survey Pro 3.0 also includes a number of other useful tools. With AirWise, we could configure a policy to delineate functional requirements for our wireless networks and get automatically notified in the AirWise interface when our settings were not being met. We also appreciated the multipath detector and the milliwatt-to-dBm conversion calculator.

As with the latest iteration of AirMagnets Laptop Analyzer, Survey Pro 3.0 now supports Intel Centrino-based radios for WLAN (wireless LAN) detection, obviating the need for a separate detection card. With this new support for integrated Wi-Fi radios, customers can use their precious PCMCIA slots for a separate Spectrum Analysis card. Survey Pro 3.0 supports both the 2200BG and 2915ABG Centrino adapters, but not the newer 2945ABG adapters that come with the latest Intel Core Duo-enabled laptops.

Unfortunately, we found AirMagnets Centrino drivers somewhat limited when compared with those for other supported adapters. For example, we could not conduct active scans on networks using WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) or WPA2-based encryption, as the driver allowed us to only associate to unencrypted or WEP-"protected" networks. For this reason alone, customers using modern wireless security will need to keep a supported external adapter on hand, which will make licensing by adapter more problematic.

Next Page: Evaluation Shortlist

Andrew cut his teeth as a systems administrator at the University of California, learning the ins and outs of server migration, Windows desktop management, Unix and Novell administration. After a tour of duty as a team leader for PC Magazine's Labs, Andrew turned to system integration - providing network, server, and desktop consulting services for small businesses throughout the Bay Area. With eWEEK Labs since 2003, Andrew concentrates on wireless networking technologies while moonlighting with Microsoft Windows, mobile devices and management, and unified communications. He produces product reviews, technology analysis and opinion pieces for eWEEK.com, eWEEK magazine, and the Labs' Release Notes blog. Follow Andrew on Twitter at andrewrgarcia, or reach him by email at agarcia@eweek.com.

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