As a WLAN administrator / Consultant we all need to use various tools everyday to make sure our Wireless network is performing well.
I myself have a long list of tools in my wish list but then there are some that I already own, I have to say one of my favorite would be Ekahau and it has been a great tool. I use it for designing the WLAN and for validation to make sure WLAN is performing as designed. At times even for testing and troubleshooting.
The version that I used first was 6.0 and with launch of version 8.5 I have to say it has come leaps and bounces. I personally feel main reasons this tool has been such a success is involvement of Jussi Kiviniemi (VP of Design tools) and Mikko Lauronen (Product manager) on social media and taking inputs from the users. Their support team is simply amazing and their main goal is to help people deploy good Wi-Fi.
I just want to share how I have been using it, some use cases and things I have learned over last few years of using Ekahau.
Why is a tool like Ekahau absolute necessity in every WLAN engineer’s tool bag
As we all know base of all the networks is 7 layers of OSI model, the last layer is the physical layer, in wired network it would be the cable and in WLAN would be the RF.
Main Difference between these two would be
- Cable can be visually seen, as humans we can’t see RF from the naked eye
- If we change the environment around the cable, data rates will not be affected and in case of WLAN the RF foot print changes with environment (e.g.: furniture is moved or a new wall is constructed) that effects our data rates.
- On the Switch you can look for the link light to see if there is a possible issue with the cable and in case of RF we don’t have the same luxury.
Now Ekahau lets you see these RF properties and that’s the reason it becomes absolutely essential to have it.
What knowledge you need in order to use the tool?
To use any tool you need to have the knowledge to understand what parameters you need to enter to meet your requirements and how to read the output that the tool is showing you. My recommendation would be CWNA level of knowledge. This will allow you to enter the requirements correctly e.g. Power levels of AP’s, Signal Strength, SNR and many more and you will be able to read the heat maps properly. Ekahau has 20 plus visualizations but if you don’t know what they mean it’s useless.
Another great resource for understanding all the different visualizations is on Ekahau Blog where Andrew Campbell goes over all of them in his blog series Ekahau Site Survey Heatmap Visualizations
What type of Laptop / Tablet / NIC’s you can use for Ekahau?
Ekahau has NIC 300, this is a USB based NIC and is supported by Ekahau so I would strongly recommend using it. Your license is attached to Mac of the NIC you use, If you use external NIC you can use it on Multiple Machines ( Only one at a given time). You can have two different installations on your Desktop and a Tablet/Ultra book. Tablet or a Ultra book is light weight and good for validation/survey and Desktop could have better processing power to do heavy lifting when designing or analyzing results.
I personally use a Microsoft surface pro 3 (i7 processor with 8 Gb of RAM) for surveying so far it has been working fine for me and I have it on my Lenovo X230 (i7 with 16 GB RAM) for analyzing and designing.
**First limitation with Surface Pro was a single USB port, this started hurting me more since Ekahau 8.5 came out with Spectrum analytic capabilities. So I had to go and get a USB hub to support Nic 300 and Spectrum analyzer.
**Second single port might not have the power to light up 3 external cards, As as alternative you can enable “high Performance power plan” by editing the registry, this suggestion came from Mikko
Also there is some great news for Macbook users, Ekahau soon will be coming out with a version that can run natively on a Mac.
How to Import Map
Usually the first thing you do once you launch Ekahau is to import a Map.
Here are few things you need to know about Maps.
- Make sure you can get a accurate floor plan, if possible with a furniture plan. Ekahau does support CAD files ( I have never received one from the customer yet). So I am usually looking for accurate floor plan with some scale on it, pdf or jpeg now Ekahau supports both : )
- Know how to read a map, I know some people will think how hard can it be to read a Map but in my initial days I used to be lost where I was on the Map. Since accuracy of the site survey will depend a lot on where you tap on the map so it’s very important.
- Scale a Map accurately, if there was a scale provided on Map it’s great but still validate it. I use a laser measure from BOSCH and a long hallway to scale the Map. Never use a door and scale it to 3 Feet as there is a lot of misconception regarding that in the industry. Even I was told as per fire department regulation doors are 3 feet (but this is not true).
In the example below which was a big retail store about 50,000 sq feet, map was scaled and after correctly scaling it the door was actually 2.5 feet.
Once you have a Map import it using the + sign or Ctrl + M
Default settings when you open Ekahau?
If you use a certain set of settings on Ekahau, like color of choice to show heat Maps and Max and Min values.
Goto View -> view Settings and Click on Set current View Settings as Default.
At this point you are up and running with Ekahau and ready to do a Site survey, Testing, Troubleshooting or Design. I don’t want this post to get any longer so will stop here and in upcoming posts will discuss other features I have used and use cases.