Fluke Networks AirMapper Reviewed

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Craig Ellison

At a Glance
Product Fluke Networks AirMagnet AirMapper [Website]
Summary Application that uses your Android-based smart phone or tablet to map Wi-Fi networks onto a floor plan or map
Pros • Easy to set up and use
• Uses any wireless adapter
• Map overlay
Cons • Support via forums only
• PRO version only exports to a format useable only by a much more expensive AirMagnet product
• Not available via Google Play store. Must install.apk


Updated 9/14/2012: Corrected support information in Con above

BYOD (Bring your own devices) present huge challenges to corporate IT managers. On one hand, smart phones and tablets can increase employee productivity. On the other hand, in order to achieve that productivity boost, the supporting Wi-Fi network must be robust enough to provide good performance and have coverage where employees are most likely to use it.

While there are number of Wi-Fi analyzer-type tools available for smart phones and tablets, they don’t really provide the comprehensive site-survey tools required to plan and monitor the performance of a corporate network. If that sounds like a familiar problem you’d like to solve, say hello to AirMapper from Fluke Networks.

AirMapper is an Android application that utilizes the Wi-Fi capabilities of your Android device, phone or tablet, to quickly and easily map network coverage and performance. Minimum requirements are as follows:

  • Operating system: Android 2.2 (froyo) or higher
  • Memory: 512 MB
  • Screen resolution: 480 X 800 pixels or above
  • Map graphic formats: bmp, fig, jpg, png

The product will support the 5 GHz spectrum. But of course, your device has to have 5 GHz capabilities.

AirMapper is available in two versions: AirMapper Free and AirMapper PRO. To get the free version, you have to fill out a form and you will receive an email with download instructions. The PRO version costs $199, and is available from Fluke Networks AirMagnet eStore. Of course, the free version is a reduced functionality version of the PRO version. Figure 1 shows a comparison of free vs. PRO features.

AirMapper Free vs. PRO features

Figure 1: AirMapper Free vs. PRO features

AirMapper isn’t available through the Google Play Store. You’ll have to download an.APK that you’ll have to install. I read through the AirMapper forums and noted that some people were having problems with installation. Since the program doesn’t come through the Google Play Store, you must set your device to "allow installation of non-market apps".

On my Droid Razr running ICS 4.0.4, I found it under System Settings>Security>Unknown sources. On my old DroidX, running version 2.3.4, that setting is found under System>Applications >Unknown sources. You’ll also need an application installer. I used Astro, one of my favorite apps, navigated to the.apk file that I downloaded and selected the Install option shown in Figure 2. AirMapper installed and ran properly on both my Droid Razr and my DroidX.

 Installing the.apk file

Figure 2: Installing the.apk file

When you launch the program, you can either select to use the free version, or you can input the Serial Number and Serial Key if you purchased the PRO version. You must have an active internet connection when you enter your information, as Fluke Networks downloads a license key to unlock the PRO features.

Setting Up

On the first launch, you are presented with a quick three screen tutorial. Figure 3 shows the first screen of the tutorial. There’s very little documentation, so I recommend that you also take about nine minutes to watch the product tour video on the Fluke Networks site.

Start of three screen tutorial

Figure 3: Start of three screen tutorial

In order to perform a site survey, you must have a floor plan. Since I don’t work in an office building and don’t have access to an office floor or a floor plan, I decided to test AirMapper using two other scenarios. First, I decided to take a wireless survey of my neighborhood. Using Google Earth, I zoomed into my street and grabbed a screen shot.

For my second test, I used the floor plan for the first floor of my condo. As you’ll see in subsequent shots, my neighborhood is very densely populated with Wi-Fi networks.

Starting a new project is a three step process:

  • Give the project a name
  • Input a floor plan. You can either import an image file or use the built-in camera in your Android device to take a photo.
  • Input the dimensions of your floor plan, or use the calibrate feature to input a known distance on your floor plan.

Figure 4 shows the project setup screen for my neighborhood site survey.

Project setup screen

Figure 4: Project setup screen

Figure 5 shows using the calibration feature. You just drag the targets to a known or measured distance, and then you input that distance. For my neighborhood image, it was easy – I just used the scale provided by Google Earth, and stretched the calibration targets onto the scale. I then input 157 – the length of the scale. For my condo floor plan, I measured the length of my dining room, and aligned the targets to the area I measured.

Calibrating using targets

Figure 5: Calibrating using targets

When you click "Done", you’re ready to start your survey by pressing the green "Start Survey" arrow shown in Figure 6.

Starting the survey

Figure 6: Starting the survey

Running The Survey

To perform your survey, just walk to various locations and then touch the screen at the corresponding location on the floor plan/map. A point will appear on the screen to confirm that you have entered a survey point. At each survey point, AirMapper takes a snapshot of all of the Wi-Fi networks that it "hears" and stores the information.

During the survey, the green arrow in the upper left corner turns into a red "minus sign". That’s what you use to stop your survey. When stopped, the green arrow re-appears, and tapping it gives you the option of resuming your survey or restarting the survey.

Unfortunately, if you make a mistake, you can’t remove a data point. You can, however, zoom the screen during the survey to help you accurately place a survey point. You’ll want to mark quite a few points – the more points you mark, the more granular your results will be. When you’re finished marking points, you have the option of viewing your results, or, if you have the PRO version, exporting the data for use with AirMagnet’s Survey Pro program.

For my neighborhood survey, I created a survey point at each of the street-facing corners of each building. I then finished my survey by marking a couple of points in the middle of the street. Of course, I was at street level, and the APs being surveyed were either 1, 2 or 3 floors above street level. Thus, the signal levels recorded weren’t very strong. The strongest signal level measured -78 dBm with levels measured as low as -101 dBm.

Figure 7 shows my neighborhood survey results. I started the survey at the red flag. AirMapper draws a straight line between each survey point. You can see that I walked counter clockwise around the street and finished by walking down the middle of the street.

Survey results

Figure 7: Survey results

Reviewing Results

Now that you have your results, the fun begins. First, you can click on any survey point. When you select a point, AirMapper displays, in a scrollable box, complete information about the top five APs that it heard. In addition, tabs allow you to annotate each survey point with a text note, an audio file, a photo or a video. Figure 8 shows you an example of the detail you receive for each survey location.

Note: While AirMapper displays the top five APs, it records all of the data that it "hears" for each location. The additional information is only available for analysis in AirMagnet Survey Pro.

Survey detail

Figure 8: Survey detail for the selected location

I used a lot of survey points, so I collected a lot of data. Fortunately, AirMapper gives you filtering tools to help you comb through your data. If you click on the filter icon in the lower left corner of the results screen, you’ll see, in Figure 9, that you have three filter selections available. You can filter on AP by name and MAC address, by SSID, or by channel. You’ll also see that there’s a floating purple text box associated with one of the survey locations. That indicates that there’s an attached annotation.

Filtering options

Figure 9: Filtering options help you comb through your results

Filtering Results

To test out the filters, I first decided to filter by channel. I tried all of the common channels (1,6,11), and virtually every survey point remained on the screen. That meant that every survey point "heard" at least one AP on each of the common channels. Figure 10 shows the filtered results when I tried filtering on Channel 4.

Channel 4 filter applied

Figure 10: Survey results filtered by Channel 4

I also filtered using SSID. That was a real wakeup call. Initially, I filtered using the SSID of my own wireless network. My router is located three floors above the street, and was "heard" at all but three of my survey points. Granted, at many of the survey points, my network registered below -95 dBm, but it still gives you an idea how far Wi-Fi signals can travel. Figure 11 shows results filtered by selecting an SSID (Dariolink – not my network) from a dropdown list. I knew that I lived in a densely populated Wi-Fi environment, but I was quite surprised to count 64 unique SSIDs.

Results filtered by SSID

Figure 11: Results filtered by SSID

Locate AP

One of the additional features you pick up by buying the PRO version is the ability to locate an AP on a floor map. Again, the accuracy increases as you increase the number of survey points. By default, the threshold for identifying an AP is -67 dBm. I selected the Locate AP option from the dropdown list at the top of the screen. No APs appeared on my results page, as none of the observed signals on the street approached -67 dBm. In the settings menu, I changed the threshold to -85 dBm, and Figure 12 shows you the APs identified.

APs located with -85 dBm threshold

Figure 12: APs located with threshold set at -85 dBm

More Locate

AirMapper worked equally well when I surveyed the first floor of my condo. Figure 13 shows the survey points.

Condo survey points

Figure 13: Survey points for the first floor of my condo

By selecting Locate APs, you can see in Figure 14 that I have pretty good coverage throughout my condo. I have an AP in the den area adjacent to the kitchen, and my router is on the second floor, directly above the location by the stairs. AirMapper is strictly a two-dimensional mapping tool, however.

AP and router locations

Figure 14: AirMapper did a good job of pinpointing my AP and Router

Finally, filtering on my neighbor’s SSID (Virginia), I could see that its signal was only visible in about half of my first floor. (Figure 15)

Neighbor SSID filter applied

Figure 15: My condo filtered for my neighbor’s SSID

Another feature, available only in the PRO version, is the ability to map throughput at each of your survey points. This would be a very useful feature in mapping performance in a corporate environment, but since I couldn’t attach to any APs other than my own, I didn’t test this feature.

Closing Thoughts

AirMapper is certainly a useful tool for mapping Wi-Fi networks onto floor plans using your own Android-based hardware. It is quite easy to set up and use. However, as with any product, there’s room for improvement. Here are some of my suggestions:

  • The scale for signal strength ranges from 0 dBm to -100 dBm, but in reality, in most cases you’ll rarely see an AP much stronger than -40 dBm. In fact, when I was a foot away from one of my APs, the signal strength measured -43dBm. It would be nice if you could set the range, or, perhaps if the range were reduced so that you had more variation of colors on your map. My outdoor maps were all various shades of yellow/orange.
  • Expanded filtering options would also be welcome. Though I liked the filters, it would also be nice if you could set a signal strength threshold filter to filter out very weak signals. I suspect that this feature is available in AirMagnet Survey PRO.
  • I’d like to see the ability to delete a survey point. If you accidentally create a survey point, the only way to get rid of it is to restart your survey.
  • The PRO version gives you the ability to export and email your results, but the results file is in a format used by AirMagnet Survey PRO for analysis and reporting. But AirMagnet Survey PRO is an expensive program costing $4115. (Note: Fluke Networks advises that prices vary by country and region – check with your local sales representative.) Though many corporations will opt for the high end analysis tool, for $199, I’d like the ability to export to a standard CSV file (or other standard file format) so that I could do my own analysis. It’s a huge gap between $199 and $4115.

The free version of AirMapper is fun to play with, but its features are limited enough to just give you a taste of the PRO product. The PRO version is probably adequate for small businesses that don’t need extensive analysis beyond that provided by the filters. Corporations planning a full-scale multi-floor Wi-Fi deployment or analysis will probably skip the PRO version of AirMapper and will purchase the significantly more robust (and expensive) AirMagnet Survey product.

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