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Smartphone tools to keep your Wi-Fi network humming

Ekahau offers most comprehensive set of Wi-Fi site survey features in three-product test

By Eric Geier, Network World
February 11, 2013 06:06 AM ET

Network World - In the early days of Wi-Fi, site surveys were fairly basic and involved running around with a laptop looking at simple signal levels. The next step was mapped-based tools that provided a good visual of Wi-Fi coverage, but still involved carrying a bulky laptop around.

Today, we have map-based Wi-Fi surveying mobile apps you can run on your Android-powered smartphone or tablets. These allow you to create heat maps of Wi-Fi coverage using a small and lightweight device. And for those vendors that offer a laptop-based surveying product, the data can be exported there for further analysis.

We tested Fluke Networks' AirMagnet AirMapper, WolfWiFi Pro from Enterprising Apps, and Ekahau Mobile Survey.

WolfWiFi Pro, at a mere $50, is the least expensive but doesn't offer laptop-based software for further analysis. (Watch a slideshow version of this story.)

If you're planning to or already have purchased a laptop-based solution — typically offering more features and functionality than mobile apps — then consider AirMagnet or Ekahau. If throughput is crucial for your network, AirMagnet offers map-based throughput surveying.

[ALSO: 8 free Wi-Fi stumbling and surveying tools]

Ekahau Mobile Survey is great mobile surveying and testing solution, but it's by far the most expensive out of the three solutions we reviewed, when purchased separately. However, it offers better multi-floor support, flexible exporting and importing, and includes a useful network health monitoring and testing feature.

Though these mobile apps are great for lightweight surveying, do keep in mind that none of them provide signal-to-noise-ratio (SNR) values, since the Android platform doesn't provide RF noise levels. This is one of the drawbacks and why you still might consider having some other type of Wi-Fi analyzer around as well.

WiFi analyzers

Here are the individual reviews:

Fluke Networks' AirMagnet AirMapper App

Fluke Networks' AirMagnet AirMapper App offers a Wi-Fi surveying solution for Android devices, supporting the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. It's basically a simpler version of its Windows-based AirMagnet Survey software. A feature-limited demo version is offered free of charge while the Pro version is priced at $199; both downloadable from their website.

The demo version allows you to perform a full signal-based survey and shows coverage on a heat-map, but you're limited to saving a single project and exporting/reporting is disabled. The Pro version unlocks those features and also allows you to perform throughput surveys, showing data rates on the heat map.

When you open AirMapper for the first time you're greeted with a mini tutorial highlighting the main functions and then you're taken to the main page where you can create a new project or open an existing one. Right away we noticed the help shortcut in the upper right corner of the screen, which also appears elsewhere in the app offering a useful explanation of the settings and functions.

When creating a new project you must select an image or take a photo of the floor plan and calibrate it by selecting a given distance on the map and inputting its length. You're limited to inputting a single floor plan so you must create separate projects for multi-floor surveys.

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