Thursday 7 June 2012

WLAN Site Survey Toolkit

What Wi-Fi blog would be complete without a post dedicated to one’s site survey kit! I have compiled my own set of tools as I am somewhat particular about having all of the right tools for the job and having a Pelican case sitting there ready to go allows for a much smoother survey. I use my tools alongside a few tools from work - I can’t quite justify spending $3k on a certain piece of site survey software prone to BSODs... not mentioning any names of course ;)

Ideas for my kit came from fellow bloggers, books and my own experience. In particular, I borrowed ideas from Keith Parsons and a clever idea from Jennifer Huber. Keith has an excellent video detailing his WLAN kit, as of 2010. I also borrowed and modified a method of Jennifer’s for placing AP marker stickers on the ceiling (assuming the ceiling is within reach!). At the bottom of this post I have linked to some other site survey kit blog posts so that you can get a few alternative ideas.

The Kit
Essentially my surveying kit is comprised on two major components:
1)      The survey rig: The Caster Tray WiFi Surveyor
2)      The survey case: A large Pelican case that contains everything apart from the survey rig

The Survey Rig
We use the Caster Tray WiFi Surveyor for surveying. Whilst traditionally, site surveying has been done with home-brew rigs, I am very happy to have access to this piece of kit. It is essentially an all-in-one kit for mounting APs up to 4m in height and is comprised of a Pelican 1560 case and vinyl shoulder bag. The Pelican case houses a rolling tray, PoE battery holder and Terrawave PoE battery.  The vinyl bag houses the extendable pole that can extend up to 4m in height. I also use the vinyl bag to house a dowel rod that I use to place AP marker stickers on the ceiling. I find the Caster Tray rig makes the survey process much smoother and therefore quicker than the alternatives. It certainly isn’t cheap though!

The Survey Case
I use a Pelican 1560 case to house all of my surveying equipment. This is the same model of Pelican case that the Caster Tray WiFi Surveyor uses. So yes, it also means than I am carting around 2 x Pelican cases and the vinyl shoulder bag. I am fine with this as I would much rather have all of my tools on hand to ensure a smooth survey in exchange for the small inconvenience of having to wheel around a second Pelican case through the airport or a car park. The Survey case is home to the following equipment.

PowerDsine3001 Single-port PoE Injector
Used for the times where I need to reconfigure the AP whilst on-site. It is much smaller than the Cisco alternative – the PWR-INJ4.

Terrawave Site Survey Battery Pack
Whilst the WiFi Surveyor comes with one of these batteries it typically doesn’t last a full day, particularly if I am performing a dual-band active survey, which is usually the case. Previously I was switching the battery off between AP placements but now I just slot in the second battery when required and put the first on charge.

Double Adapters
I couldn’t find a small enough power board so these do the trick instead.

US to AU Power Adapters
Many adapters are bulky and the sockets are too loose causing the equipment being powered to easily fall out. These ones from Amazon don’t suffer from those issues. I use these to charge the Terrawave Battery Packs.

Spare Laptop Batteries
I take two to three spare batteries for the survey laptop. Due to the pain of swapping batteries whilst AirMagnet Survey is running, I try to find a free power outlet in between AP placements to provide a quick charge. I am in the process of trying to find a high capacity external battery for the laptop to take over the role of these batteries.

Second (Universal) Laptop Charger
There is quite simply only one reason I have this – I wasn’t going to drive home four hours after forgetting my charger on a recent survey. Woops! It may come in useful if I make the same mistake in the future.

Spare AA & AAA batteries
These spare rechargeable batteries are for my cordless mouse and laser measuring tool.

USB Wall Charger
This allows me to charge two USB devices via a standard power socket freeing up the laptop USB ports for the real work!

Measuring Tools
Leica DISTO D2 Laser Measure
This laser measuring tool can measure up to 60m (197 ft). It seems to have the edge over the equivalent Fluke tool and lives on my belt in its accompanying pouch.

These help locate the laser when using the laser tool outside in sunlight. I find that they help a little although they’re biggest advantage is that just make everything outside look awesome! On the down-side, they make you look like Bono (a douche-bag)!

Useful for measuring outdoors where the Leica often isn’t a feasible option.

Used for outdoor surveys where the laser measure or measuring tape may not always be great options. This is bulky and doesn't fit in the case, so is only taken when needed.

Wireless Adapters
I store all of my USB adapters in a pair of these cases - they are very good quality.

This hub is the perfect size and weight allowing it to be Velcroed to the back of the laptop screen in order to accommodate the required USB WLAN adapters / spectrum analysers. It is the same model hub that AirMagnet includes in a bundle with the Proxim Orinoco USB adapters that I also use, as detailed below. It is cheaper to buy the hub and Proxim adapters separately instead of through AirMagnet. Of course, this saving may be negligible compared with the several thousands of dollars you’re spending on AirMagnet’s survey software!

One of the few decent USB adapters that have external antenna connectors. It is useful for hooking up a patch antenna to locate rogue APs during the survey. It is also one of the most sensitive adapters available.

One of the few enterprise-grade 802.11n USB adapters. I use two of these for surveys with AirMagnet Survey Pro and the third for use with AirMagnet Wi-Fi Analyser for roaming analysis – though I am yet to have the opportunity to test all three with Wi-Fi analyser. One of them is also used with Tamos CommView for WiFi.

My preferred Spectrum Analysis hardware alongside the Metageek Chanalyzer Pro software. Unfortunately the dual-band DBx hardware doesn’t support concurrent dual-band operation, therefore I bought the Wi-Spy 2.4x to allow this functionality in Chanalyzer Pro. Why the 900 MHz-capable Wi-Spy 900x? I have performed survey’s where I had a suspected interferer in my sights but due to low signal and duty cycle, I couldn’t be sure if was operating at 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz or another band. The 900x allows me to eliminate such suspected interferers if that other band is the 900 MHz ISM band. On top of this, the forth-coming 802.11ah standard looks like it will use the 900 MHz band so I will be covered!

I also inter-change between Cisco SpectrumExpert and AirMagnet SpectrumXT spectrum analysers depending on what is available at work. My preference is to use the Metageek analysers though.

Hangs off my belt during the survey and looks fancy! Performs the usual multi-tool tasks. Sure, I don’t need a can opener whilst surveying today, but who knows what tomorrow might bring!

General tools
I keep various other tools in a small Pelican case (Pelican 1060) including a Swiss Army Knife, few small screw-drivers with inter-changeable bits, and a UTP punch-down tool.

I borrowed this idea from Jennifer Huber when it comes to AP placement markers (check out her blog post). I was initially using the same method with the ‘L’ shaped tape but lately I have just been balancing the sticker on the end of my dowel rod and then sticking it to the ceiling, saving a little time. On occasion I need to use the ‘L’ shaped tape if the sticker is to be placed on a wall instead of the ceiling or if placing it in front of an air-con duct. I did experiment with the tape on a Velcro loop on my belt but luckily I have moved on from that shameful display!

Various adhesive tapes
You name it – I’ve got it! Duct tape, double-sided tape, electrical tape, rubber tape and general office stationary tape.

Various other securing materials
Useful when something needs to be temporarily mounted – cable ties, Velcro and Blu-tack.

I like to carry around print-outs of the building floor plans during a survey rather than solely relying on the copy within the survey software. I was using a standard clip-board to carry these on however it didn’t fit into my Pelican case particularly well. I had a dream – a dream that someone else would have felt my clipboard pain and developed a foldable clipboard… and now look at me – the owner of an awesome foldable clipboard that folds in half and fits down the side of my Pelican case! This clipboard was developed for doctors to allow them to store it in their white-coats. Consequently, the clipboard lists of bunch of medical data on the back. As I have been surveying a number of hospitals lately, I feel this will come in handy. I can picture it now… I will be surveying in a patients room, a nurse will have an emergency on her hands and will require a doctor. I will say, “Worry not nurse – I have this handy foldable clipboard”. I will then flip it over and suggest that the patient is likely experiencing a Grade IV Cardiac Murmur based on it being loud with a palpable thrill! What could possibly go wrong?

Cables & Adapters
I carry various cables that come in handy at times including a short extension cord, kettle cord, UTP and console cable. I also carry various UTP adapters (UTP joiner, cross-over, loop-back, PoE tester, etc).

Digital Camera
Mobile phone cameras are typically good enough for AP placement photo’s these days but I still carry a real digital camera for times when I need optical zoom.

Although usually I am placing APs in the corner of rooms, occasionally I need to place the survey rig in the middle of a door-way or corridor. A traffic cone or similar warning is therefore needed and this foldable traffic cone easily fits into my Pelican case once folded.

WLAN Hardware
Access Points
The AP I use for the survey is that of the model planned for deployment. Lately this has been one of the Cisco 3500 series of APs.

Wi-Fi Clients
Whilst I calibrate my survey to the poorest WLAN client in the customer’s network, I also like to carry around a Cisco 7925G VoWiFi phone in case testing is required during a voice survey.

If a particular model of antenna has already been proposed in a high-level design or predictive survey I will take it to survey with. In addition I use the Metageek Device Finder 2.4 GHz patch antenna. This hangs off the top of the laptop screen and helps to locate non-Wi-Fi interferers when connected to one of the Metageek USB spectrum analysers or Wi-Fi interferers when connected to the Ubiquiti SR71 USB WLAN adapter.

Cables & Adapters
I carry a few low loss coax cables with various connectors (I’ve had these for 10+ years lying around in a drawer so am unsure of the type but they would be similar to LMR-200). I also have a small Pelican case (Pelican 1010) with various coax adapters and pigtails.

Other People's Survey Kits
Below are a few posts detailing some other bloggers ideas when it comes to survey kits.


  1. This is a great post! Thanks for making a comprehensive list of what's in your Pelican case :)

  2. Thanks Jennifer and thanks for the sticker idea :).

    It could also be useful should my case ever go missing. :|