A couple of weeks ago I upgraded to Ekahau Connect and an iPad Pro for my RF surveys. I’ll write my first-hand experiences learning to use it and doing actual work.
Bottom line: get Connect and an ARK-enabled Apple device if you need to speed-up survey operations and if you (or your employer) can afford the price.
Activation and login for Ekahau Connect is done on ekahau.cloud. There’s no link on the Ekahau website so you must remember it. The site hosts your profile and the list of your cloud projects which can be renamed, copied and deleted.
I usually create a project on Ekahau Pro (I use Windows) and save it locally, on Sidekick or on Ekahau Cloud. You can also save an existing project on the cloud. Ekahau for iPad will read Cloud and Sidekick projects, and can create new ones directly on the device.
I got an iPad Pro 12.9″ 4th edition + SIM, which is light (650gr) and has a great battery life. The matching cover is very sturdy and weighs 700gr, so I end up lugging an 1.4 Kg tablet instead of an 2 Kg notebook. Perhaps I will ditch the cover and risk it.
Once I load a project on the iPad, the most exciting feature is the Autopilot survey. Connect the Sidekick, select your floorplan, tap on the spot where I am, and follow the on-screen directions. Start walking, do a second tap and once the software has acquired the position, the sensors on the iPad will follow all your movements in space. Go forth, back, turn, stop and go: the first times it is mesmerizing to follow the blue dot on screen as it traces your path.
Compared to the Ekahau Pro notebook survey that I am used to, the Autopilot is on another planet altogether. No survey tray, one hand always free to open doors and manage obstacles, no turn-by-turn clicks. I heard that Windows Surface notebooks are more flexible, but have no direct experience. Autopilot is fast, adaptive, ergonomic. I sling the Sidekick on a shoulder, hold the tablet with one hand, and I am free to move around opening doors as required, turning in narrow corners, managing crowded areas, all while keeping my exact position on the map.
Although it’s an automagic survey, it takes some finesse to do it well.
First, the iPad sensors work better with good light. Turn the lights on in the areas you walk, and make sure the lighting is even, without sudden brightness transitions.
Tap you position to confirm the reading you just made. You will see misplacements sometimes, which you can fix by tapping the right location: this will shift/rotate the whole measurement from the last tapped point to fit the the right place. If the last known position is too far away, this will offset your readings too much. Tap at reasonable intervals to keep your position accurate, for example when exiting a room.
Map scale on the iPad is tricky: if you import a floorplan on the iPad, e.g. a picture of the fire marshal escape plan, you will be prompted to set the scale. If you create your project in the office with Ekahau Pro and then open it on the iPad, there’s no way to set the scale again (Ekahau support has confirmed). I usually set an approximate scale on my floorplan when I first create the project, then I like to do an accurate laser measurement when I am on site. This requires bringing along the notebook, correcting the scale on Ekahau Pro, syncing to cloud, opening the file on the iPad and start surveying. 20200721 edit: do not do it if you have a single user license: multiple access from different devices will trigger license compliance and may invalidate/suspend/expire your license. More to follow.
The scale issue highlights that Survey for iPad is not Pro: it’s a simplified interface with less features, designed for efficient data sampling which will be analyzed later with Ekahau Pro. The underlying data captured by the Sidekick is all there, but the iPad interface allows only limited access to it. If you like the fine tuning and control available in Ekahau Pro, you’ll find the iPad oversimplified.
The intended scenario is: survey with the iPad, then analyze and report with Ekahau Pro on a pc/mac. Using Ekahau Cloud, you can even have a field engineer do the survey on the iPad, and an analyst evaluate the results remotely. I also see a use case where I preview the survey data to a customer using the friendly iPad interface.
GPS surveys are integrated with Apple Maps. Start a new survey on the iPad, import a map section from Maps, and use the internal GPS to geo-reference your survey. I like this feature when I do outdoor measurements of how much signal spills out from the university buildings into public streets and city squares.
Should you buy an iPad? If you already own an iPhone Pro or equivalent, ARK-enabled Apple device, probably not. An iPhone is adequate for the simple interactions you have with the software, and is smaller to carry. Battery life on the iPhone may be an issue.
Does it enable faster, more accurate surveys? Kind of. In my experience, doing the actual survey takes time, most of it being spent on logistics and organizational navigation. Ekahau Survey for iPad speeds up the data collection, but there are other tasks to do. I usually take time to:
- collect keys and open doors, or have a second person doing it for me;
- take pictures of every physical feature (room numbers, interior arrangements, cabling, ceiling…) as I walk on the premise;
- take accurate measurements of corridors and ceiling heights;
- interview people;
- do the actual RF survey;
- review the survey and move the APs in the right position, add photos and notes;
All that said, surveying with an iPad is faster, more comfortable and accurate. It’s easier to move around without wearing a survey tray, so it’s possible to walk in the tightest corners and measure signal there.
I also noticed a silly side effect: customers (faculty, staff and students in my case) have a greater appreciation of your work when they see you using smart tools they are value and recognize.
I am doing a new series of surveys, will write some update alongside.