Ekahau Mobile Survey for Android Troubleshoots WiFi Networks

Ekahau Mobile Survey delivers a promising WiFi survey tool to Android smartphones and tablets but is limited by the available pool of hardware on which to use it.

Ekahau Mobile Survey for Android-based smartphones and tablets delivers a promising foundation for an easy-to-use WiFi troubleshooting, assessment and planning tool. However, current limitations in the pool of hardware on which it can be used, and feature dependencies on more expensive Ekahau products, could limit the appeal of the product.

Indeed, in my tests, I found Mobile Survey best at identifying the weakest points in a network, alerting on places lacking coverage up to snuff with the network's design objectives, while not the best choice for obtaining a complete picture of the highs and lows of network coverage and performance.

According to Ekahau representatives, Android was the only feasible choice on which to deliver their new mobile-device-borne WiFi assessment tool, with lots of devices on the market and lots of consumer uptake. Meanwhile, the iPhone WiFi API was not open or accessible for application development and BlackBerry's market potential seemed too much on the decline. Additionally, the Windows mobile story is in too much flux with Windows Mobile all but disappeared from the market, and Windows Phone not yet proven to have legs or consumer appeal.

Mobile Survey, which is shipping now for $299, is not available for purchase through the Android Market. Instead, users will need to configure the phone to accept software from non-Market sources, then purchase and download the code from https://shop.ekahau.com.

I tested Mobile Survey on a Samsung Vibrant for T-Mobile. Mobile Survey should work on most Android devices running Android OS 2.1 or higher, but the experience is optimized for devices with at least a 480 by 800 pixel resolution screen. However, Ekahau's Website explicitly warns that Android devices for AT&T won't work with Mobile Site Survey due to the carrier's requirement to block non-Market application sources. The full list of currently supported devices can be found at http://www.ekahau.com/products/ekahau-mobile-survey/mobile-survey-supported-devices.html.

Mobile Survey conducts both active and passive WiFi surveys, conducting the active assessment against the connected WiFi network as configured in Android's WiFi Settings tool. There's no link between the application and the WiFi Settings tool, making it a bit annoying to reconfigure the device to survey a different network.

The results of a passive survey-shown on the AP (access point) tab-shows the MAC addresses, network name, channel, detected signal strength and wireless security protocol used for each detected network, features common to most free or cheap WiFi stumbling tools. When used in conjunction with an active scan to a configured network, Mobile Survey does try to classify rogue APs. Mobile Survey shows the associated and therefore trusted network in green, with other SSIDs sourced to the same MAC address as the trusted network shown in black. All other detected networks are considered rogue and shown in red. With no network connection for active survey, all detected networks are then considered rogue.

The active survey functionality offers a little more utility for the buck, periodically sampling the associated network to present signal strength, data rate, packet loss, round trip delay and detected rogue signal strength. On the Test tab, the detected levels are then compared against baselines for each of those metrics as defined in a Requirement Profile, which allowed me to easily see how the performance of a real device in the field compares to the design objectives for the network in question. Performance violations against the baselines are noted on screen on the Test tab and recorded within the log tab as well, for later analysis.

Mobile Survey comes with five preset Requirement Profiles-Basic Connectivity, Web/E-mail, Voice over WiFi, High Speed Connectivity and Location Tracking. By default, the Voice over WiFi profile is less forgiving of packet loss and delay, while the High Speed profile looks for higher data rates, and I could fine-tune the parameters for each criteria in any profile to better meet my network design objectives.

Data rate assessments provided by Mobile Survey do need to be taken with a grain of salt, as the measurements will show best effort of the client used in the Survey rather than the possible rates delivered by the network. This is because the typical Android phone offers a minimal 802.11n design. For instance, my Vibrant supports a single stream for a maximum data rate of 65M bps (MCS 7).

Also, for the bulk of potential users, Mobile Survey will only pull in information about the 2.4 GHz band, simply because the majority of Android devices don't yet support 5 GHz. Ekahau representatives say this limitation isn't on the software side, and if the hardware supports 5 GHz-such as with the Samsung Galaxy Tab-then Mobile Survey will, too.

Mobile Survey can conduct scans while the application is in the background on Android, as I could easily trigger a background scan by pressing the Play icon on the Test tab before switching to a different application. Mobile Survey also delivers an Android Widget that can be used to start background scanning from the operating system's home screen, and the nifty widget also shows the connected AP, along with the detected signal strength and data rate for the connected network.

Mobile Survey can present network maps as well, but only through integration with Ekahau's Site Survey software for PCs. Once users copy over Site Survey-generated ESX files to Android via a MicroSD card, they should be able to view the floor plan along with access-point placement, with the ability to tap on AP to see hardware and configuration information, along with detected WiFi survey results for that device. However, I didn't have a copy of Site Survey on hand, and was therefore unable to verify that functionality.

To help customers extract the maximum benefit from Mobile Survey, Ekahau offers slightly discounted bundles of Mobile Survey and Site Survey Professional for the much weightier price of $4,695.