In the wireless field Ekahau has started to become the standard for wireless site surveys and predictive designs. Earlier this year the latest version of their software, Ekahau Site Survey, was released with a cool new facelift, cloud sync functionality, new functions to use with the Sidekick and new branding to Ekahau Pro.
I personally have been hesitant to use it for a few reasons but mainly because I am not one to go all-in on new software that has not been put through the paces by me personally before turning over to a whole team as a ‘corporate standard’. Especially when there was such an overhaul as there was with Ekahau Pro. I had the opinion the software was kind of rushed to market and still had some issues that needed to be worked out before turning over to the larger team. Most have been fixed as Ekahau, as they always have, is listening to the users and professionals and working to bring us one of the best packages on the market.
Recently I attended the Ekahau ECSE Advanced course, this will be covered in another post, and got my hands truly dirty in the software and all the other tools Ekahau Pro has brought to us. This helped calm some of my misgivings on issues with the software as well as really helping me to understand some workflows, team concepts and basic awesomeness Ekahau has provided to the industry. After the course I needed to perform an outdoor survey that came out to about 2.8 million square feet, so I figured this would be a great time to really put the iPad App and some of the really great features of the software to the test.
I started with really sitting down and working through what my workflow should look like. This is something that I had somewhat done in the past, but not to the point of actually writing out from project inception to reporting how the flow should look. Without this workflow I now realize Ekahau is just data collection software. Once you get a solid workflow in place and really use it, the software really stretches its legs.
I began by setting up my project as I normally would. I then decided to try out the iPad survey instead of dragging my laptop all over this outdoor survey in the heat. I got my Sidekick all setup on my bag and got the iPad app running. I had to make a decision on getting the project to the iPad. I was on-site to tune the WiFi and really get it working better so I decided to transfer to the Sidekick to move it to the iPad. The cloud sync for me and my team at this point is not feasible as a usable solution as there is no file structure to keep projects separated by customer, survey, etc. With hundreds of surveys with multiple surveyors this begins getting out of hand and unusable very quickly. I am confident Ekahau has a solution they are working on and am excited for it so I can really start using this cool feature.
Having the project on the internal drive of the Sidekick was super useful. This gave me a central drive to use for both the iPad and the laptop as I needed to edit, etc. It also gives me a built-in backup of the project in case I do something stupid, like that would ever happen, and delete the wrong file or have some sort of corruption and lose hours of data that might not be able to replicated. Having the iPad connected to the Sidekick via a USB cable makes transfer very quick of the file and very simple. The connection for the Sidekick to the iPad can be somewhat challenging depending on what generation of iPad you are using. The Sidekick is a Micro USB connection and the iPad can be either a lightning connector or USB-C connection. I have had an issue with finding a Micro USB to Lightning connector cable that works without adapters and the like for the iPad. The ones I purchased did not hold up well in the field during surveying. Now came the fun part surveying.
Surveying with the iPad was a welcome change, but not without its own challenges. After years of holding a laptop in one hand and clicking while trying to read a map are coming to an end. The iPad was obviously much lighter than a laptop of any kind and the clicking with the Apple Pencil was nice and easy as opposed to using a touchpad or some such thing on a laptop and mis-clicking, right clicking on accident, etc. The main issue I had with the iPad and the pencil the heel of my hand accidentally tapping and placing a data collection point that I was constantly having to remove. This taught me another trick I should have done years ago. Clicking more often so I can easily execute an undo without having to re-walk all the real estate already covered.
I then decided to use the Notes function within Ekahau for the installation. This feature has been expanded nicely in Ekahau Pro to allow notes and pictures to all be together along with a running history of notes with each person who added a note and when they added it. This helps when multiple people are using a survey file and the notes are being pulled out into a report after the survey. I was using this feature in particular to capture pictures of the AP installation along with location and serial number and MAC address to output an as-built type table at the end of my report. The feature is very cool with the iPad as you can use the internal camera, then use the pencil to do markups right on the note and then type out any other notes needed for installation or information. The only drawback I had was I was using this during my validation survey and when I wanted to take a photo or place a note, I had to stop the survey and then restart after the note was captured. It was a pain the first few times, but you get used to it quickly and just work with it.
I had one other issue during this survey that was no fault of Ekahau, the iPad began overheating very quickly in the heat of the day. I made it about 30 minutes out of the gate before the iPad totally overheating and shut down for an hour or so to cool-down. Once I began in the evening and early in the morning I had no other issues with the iPad.
All-in-all after delaying using the iPad and Ekahau Pro for a few months, I am very happy I decided to put it through it paces and was very pleased with the final outcome and flow of work. As explained in the ECSE Advanced course, the workflow is the most important part of using the software. The ease of surveying with the iPad was very welcome and the ability to hold the survey file on the Sidekick and move back and forth from the iPad to the laptop for further analysis was very welcome and very exciting. Ekahau has yet again bought us what we have been asking for and is setup very well for the future.