I have been meaning to document the current setup I use for passive/active/spectrum surveys (not including AP-on-a-stick kit) for a while, so here it is!
I’ll list the components and then provide some explanations around my choice to use them.Microsoft Surface Pro (2017) Intel Core i7 / 512GB SSD / 16GB RAM
- Microsoft Surface Pen
- UAG Plasma Case for Surface Pro/Pro 4
- 4 port Sansai USB2.0 Hub (+ 3M Command wall strip adhesives)
- Ekahau Site Survey 9 + 2x Ekahau USB NIC-300 adapters + 1x Ekahau Spectrum Analyser Model III
- Additional Tools not pictured – Apple MacBook Air 11″, Wi-Fi Explorer, Metageek Eye P.A.
Microsoft Surface Pro
I’ve never been a fan of lugging a laptop, no matter how small, around for site surveys; though there are some tools to assist with strain and overuse such as the WLPC survey tray. Therefore my chosen form factor is a tablet.
I also chose my survey tablet to be my main workhorse hence the high spec of CPU and RAM to be able to work on large CAD files in Ekahau Site Survey, as well as perform all the other usual network engineer/consultant tasks in my job. I’ve always been a fan of the Microsoft Surface products, with my first tablet being a Surface Pro 3. It is great for surveying and taking to meetings.
I have used other tablets such as HP that also work well, each have their pros & cons.
A Surface keyboard is also a must for typing up notes in between surveys.
Microsoft Surface Pen
It is much easier using a touch pen to click on survey points as opposed to using a trackpad, and I choose not to carry the Surface keyboard around while I’m surveying (I usually keep it in my light backpack or nearby).
Using the Surface pen for adhoc drawings and markups, especially during presentations, is also handy.
UAG Plasma Case
I chose this case for 3 reasons: hand strap/shoulder strap for comfort and ease of holding the tablet on long surveys; it protects the tablet well; it provides a mounting surface for a USB hub (alternatively you can use other hub/adapter mounting options as outlined by Nick Turner in this great blog post).
Since using this case my surveys have been 200% more enjoyable and efficient (note: actual percentages of satisfaction and efficiency may vary from user-to-user)!
BONUS: The Ekahau Spectrum Analyser fits perfectly into the case’s Surface pen holder!
4 Port USB2.0 Hub
Why 4 ports? Well, it depends on how many USB survey adapters you intend to use. Personally I generally don’t use more than three at time. You need to consider the USB power capabilities of your chosen device: some laptops/tablets can’t provide enough juice to power more than 2-3 USB adapters.
Why USB2.0? To eliminate potential 2.4GHz interference experienced with many USB3.0 hubs. For further information please read Nolan Herring’s excellent post here; as well as additional details in this Intel whitepaper and this PC Mag article.
Why this Sansai hub? To be honest, this was about the fifth hub I had tried to get the right combination of mounting positioning, length of cable, and power handling (some hubs may have 4+ ports, doesn’t mean they can provide enough juice to all adapters). I found this hub at a discount store and gave it go; you may need to try a few options to suit your needs.
Why 3M Command strips? Well, you could choose another adhesive to attach your hub to your case or advice; however glue is not ideal due to its permanent nature and blutac/smart tac will eventually wear off (or not work due to the heat emitted from your device). So I use these strips as they are strong and also easy to remove.
Ekahau Site Survey Software + Adapters
Ekahau site survey has been the easiest survey software I’ve used, not only from operating it to plan AP placements for coverage and capacity, but also performing APoS and validation surveys. The customised reporting capabilities are just neat, being able to use custom tag codes to export your survey and AP data. I look forward to ongoing improvements to the features of this excellent product.
To go in hand with the software, the current survey hardware I use are 2x Ekahau USB NIC-300s wireless adapters (one for 2.4GHz and one for 5GHz generally) for signal surveying and 1x Ekahau Spectrum Analyser Model III (generally scanning 2.4GHz).
Should you have a requirement to scan both frequency bands you may require a second spectrum analyser, and you may require additional supported USB wireless adapters if you need to collect a lot of data on multiple channels simultaneously. See here for further information about the default channel scan time in ESS.
I’m sure you’re already aware how important it is to ensure your survey plans are accurately scaled. Which is why I use a laser measure to confirm distances on site to adjust the scale if needed. I use this model from Bosch, but there are other models to cover larger distances and better accuracies if needed.
Apple MacBook Air 11″
I bought a MacBook Air purely to take advantage of using Wi-Fi Explorer Pro and AirTool for easy packet captures and analysis, and the form factor is great because it is light and fits well in my bag along with my Surface.
I have also been using my MacBook as an iPerf3 server for wired & wireless throughput testing, which is great for active iPerf surveys in Ekahau Site Survey.
Metageek Eye P.A.
What better way to analyse your wireless environment by viewing packet overheads, retries, and distribution by having a visualisation tool? Enter Metageek Eye P.A. I used to use Acrylic Wi-Fi to capture packets in Windows, however now I use my MacBook Air and import the captures into Eye P.A. on my Surface.
Keep your eyes peeled for a future blog post on Eye P.A.!
So those are the main components of my survey tools. I have listed all of the pros of using them in the sections above.
Now for the cons…
Using this setup for a passive survey + active iPerf + spectrum analysis, I get about 3-4 hours battery time out of my Surface Pro – which is usually enough to do 5-8 floors of an office building depending on the size.
I then have to charge the battery, if I’m lucky a 2 hour charging time will give me enough juice to complete a survey of another couple of floors. It is never productive nor a good customer experience if you have to re-attend a site multiple times to complete surveys, not to mention potential changes in the RF environment between surveys.
If only there were another way, perhaps a dedicated survey device that contains greater capabilities as well as its own power source to give me a full day of surveying…
I hope you enjoyed reading this post and find some of my setup useful! Please contact me if you have any questions or ideas.
DISCLAIMER: All products, hardware and software outlined above have been purchased at full cost by myself (with the exception of Ekahau hardware and software which were provided by my employer). I have received no promotional consideration or sponsorship from any vendors.
As you mentioned the short battery time I want to present you the tablet we are using for our Site Surveys: The Lenovo Yoga X1 tablet, a tablet with internal AND external, exchangable battery. The only con is the unusual handling compared with other tablets due to the external battery, which also provides additional USB-ports.
Best regards from Germany
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