There are plenty of inexpensive "stumblers" for smartphones that can tell you a little about nearby networks, and there are plenty of expensive devices you can use to conduct a professional site survey. Up until now, though, nobody's really merged the convenience of just pulling out a commodity smartphone with the power of a dedicated site survey tool. Wi-Fi Planet reviews Ekahau's Mobile Survey for Android, which tries to do just that. The verdict? A good start, but with a little work to go before it completely lives up to its $299 price tag.
Wireless LAN administrators often need to monitor RF activity for purposes of security auditing, performance analysis and operational trouble-shooting. To accomplish this, most admins carry at least a couple of "net stumblers" -- basic (usually free) programs that run on Wi-Fi enabled laptops and mobile devices, ranging from WinCE to iPhone.
But few sophisticated commercial WLAN monitoring and analysis tools have been released for mobile devices. 802.11n has been slow to emerge on mobile devices, mobile SDK APIs have been a moving target, and graphics have been hampered by limited real estate. As a result, products in this arena have tended to be dedicated or purpose-built devices -- such as Fluke's AirCheck tester and BVS' YellowJacket-BANG analyzer.
This week, Ekahau decided to take a crack at this market by releasing Ekahau Mobile Survey ($299), a commercial toolkit for Android-based smartphones (and soon tablets). Supported devices include the Samsung Galaxy S, Google Nexus One, HTC Desire/Desire HD/Desire Z, HTC Evo 4G and MyTouch 4G, and Motorola Droid X/2/original -- essentially, any phone or tablet running Android 2.1 or later with at least 480x800 screen resolution.
WLAN survey pocket power
To be truly useful for busy WLAN admins, a toolkit like Mobile Survey must be easy to install and use. After using it for a few days, we conclude that Ekahau largely achieved these goals.
We installed Mobile Survey by downloading the v1.0.5 APK file from Ekahau's website onto a HTC Droid Eris running Android 2.1. Customers can buy a program license from Ekahau itself or through Ekahau distributors and resellers. Although Android Marketplace sales might be a nice addition, we believe that Mobile Survey will appeal largely to Ekahau Site Survey (ESS) customers and may end up being purchased in product bundles.
After installation, Mobile Survey can be launched directly from the Android programs menu, or by tapping the supplied Mobile Survey widget. The widget (below) is surprisingly handy, offering at-a-glance signal strength, data rate, and association status. This info is paired with play/pause buttons that control the program's real-time monitoring feature. Here we found a small pre-release bug - play/pause buttons did not become active until the phone was restarted.