Must-have tools for setting up a Wi-Fi net

AirMagnet, Ekahau and TamoGraph simplify Wi-Fi planning and surveying.

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  • Associated Access Point
  • Capacity Clients per AP
  • Capacity Health
  • Channel Bandwidth
  • Channel Coverage
  • Channel Overlap
  • Data Rate
  • Difference in Interference
  • Difference in Number of APs
  • Difference in Signal Strength
  • Interference / Noise
  • Network Health
  • Network Issues
  • Number of Access Points
  • Per-Channel View
  • Signal Strength
  • Signal-to-Noise Ratio
  • Strongest Access Point
  • Throughput (Max)

The following visualizations are shown for active surveys:

  • Network Health
  • Network Issues
  • Ping / Round Trip Time
  • Ping Packet Loss
  • Throughput (Max)

ESS is the only survey tool to provide functionality designed specifically for surveying environments utilizing real-time location system (RTLS). When enabled, it gives you another tab on the main interface where you can define rails, open spaces, zones, and location beacons, and it offers the following visualizations:

  • Calibration Quality
  • Location Accuracy
  • Locations Coverage
  • Location Quality
  • Number of APs
  • Signal Strength
  • Zone Accuracy
  • Zone Similarity

Like the other tools, the planning features of ESS allow you to create fully simulated Wi-Fi environments from scratch. But we found it isn't easy to add additional wall types, like the cinder block that was in our test building, during the planning phase.

Like AirMagnet, you can specify desired coverage areas so the Auto-Planner feature can automatically place access points on the map based upon the environment, access point antennas, and your requirements. But unique to ESS is a convenient feature called Channel Planner. It can automatically assign optimum channels to simulated access points you manually create.

Overall Ekahau Site Survey (ESS) is a great tool with a solid GUI. Though I’d like to see improvements to the active surveying and spectrum integration, I’d still recommend it for general surveying and especially if RTLS is being deployed. I liked that it offered many different visualizations, various preconfigured network requirements, and supported a wide variety of client simulations. One relatively small but very useful feature I enjoyed is Channel Planner.

TamoGraph Site Survey

TamoGraph Site Survey is offered in a Standard edition ($749), providing basic survey functionality and then a Pro edition ($999), adding simulation features, GPS support, and report customization. For our review we evaluated the Pro edition. They offer a free 30-day trial with stringent limitations: surveys limited to 10 minutes, predictive planning five minutes, watermarks on the visualizations, and no saving of projects or reports.

TamoGraph Site Survey runs on any Windows edition from XP to 8.1. Like with ESS, any Wi-Fi adapter can be used for active surveying. For passive surveying it supports plenty of wireless adapters, including many for 802.11ac and two 802.11n adapters that support three spatial streams.

We found the GUI of TamoGraph Site Survey to be attractive and user-friendly. You'll find one floor map display area where you can see real survey results and also perform simulation. On the left of the map window is a pane with the SSID list, showing real SSIDs from surveys and any SSIDs of virtual access points you place on the map.

On the right of the map window is a pane that has three tabs for accessing various settings. The Plans and Surveys tab is where you add floor plan images or street maps and manage survey data files. The Properties tab allows you to set environment settings, client capabilities, requirements, and scanning settings. The Options tab is where you can customize the visualization coloring, result ranges, and other miscellaneous settings.

When surveying you can do passive surveying and/or active surveying using pings or their throughput test utility (similar to AirMagnet). Surveying for us went smoothly. The only improvement we see that could be made here is the ability to simulate different clients other than the actual client used for the survey, like supported in the other tools.

Though we didn't get to try out the photo and voice command features released in its latest update, both seem useful. The photo feature allows you to take snapshots from the laptop webcam or tablet camera and place it on the floor plan map, for instance to photograph access point or cabling locations. The voice command feature allows you to control basic functions via voice recognition, such as starting/stopping the survey and zooming in and out.

tamograph main

SNR visualization of 2.4GHz for the previous APs in main test building.

The following visualizations are shown for passive and simulated surveys:

  • AP Coverage Areas
  • Channel Bandwidth
  • Expected PHY Rate
  • Frame Format
  • Number of APs
  • Requirements
  • Signal Level
  • Signal-to-Interference Ratio
  • Signal-to-Noise Ratio

The following visualizations are shown for active surveys:

  • Actual PHY Rate
  • Associated AP
  • Requirements
  • Round-trip Time

When using their throughput test utility for active surveys you'll also see the following:

  • TCP Downstream Rate
  • TCP Upstream Rate
  • UDP Downstream Loss
  • UDP Downstream Rate
  • UDP Upstream Loss
  • UDP Upstream Rate

Like the other tools, TamoGraph Site Survey allows you to create fully simulated Wi-Fi environments from scratch. Although it didn’t have one of our required wall types (cinder block) for our test building pre-configured, it was very easy to add. But the simulation tool lacks automatic access point location and/or channel assignment functionality like the other tools provide.

Overall I was impressed with TamoGraph Site Survey, especially since it's priced 65% to 80% less than the two other tools. Though it lacks specific functionality for VoWLAN and RTLS surveying, I’d recommend it for general surveying. It was great to see it supported thorough active surveying, spectrum analyzer integration, and photo saving.

Eric Geier is a freelance tech writer. Through On Spot Techs he provides Wi-Fi design and site surveying services. He’s also the founder of NoWiresSecurity, a cloud-based Wi-Fi security service.


Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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