My Experience on an Ekahau ECSE Design Course

In June I was lucky enough to attend the ECSE Design course in Oxford hosted by Open Reality and led by the brilliant Ferney Munoz CWNE #187. I’ve got about three years of experience with Ekahau Site Survey and have been using their new Connect suite since late in the beta program. I was joined on the course by a new team member who is completely new to wireless and had only done a handful of small surveys using the sidekick and iPad. It was going to be interesting to see how we got along with our differing experience levels.

I’d been wanting to do this course for some time. Having passed my CWNA in December last year and with the recent launch of the Ekahau Connect suite of tools I figured now was the ideal time to sit the class to consolidate what I’d learnt so far and make the most of the investment we’ve made with Ekahau before moving on to working towards my CWDP qualification.

It’s to the courses credit that we didn’t even open Ekahau Pro until late into the second day. The first day is spent going over RF fundamentals and making sure that everyone understands how these waves we use to transfer data actually work. It’s a great way to consolidate some of the CWNA material with particularly good explanations of how clear channel assessments are carried out and “the game” every station must play to gain access to the medium. Having self studied for the CWNA using the excellent Coleman and Westcott study guide I really benefited from these practical demonstrations and they really stuck in my head.

We also spent a long time hammering home that while we can try and influence clients through both good design and tools such as band steering and neighbour lists, at the end of the day each client has their own “green triangle” of metrics that they will use to decide what AP to associate with and when to roam and where to go. Basically, trying to manipulate your clients is about as reliable as herding cats, and just as frustrating.

With a clear understanding of how 802.11 behaves we moved on to looking at the wireless network lifecycle. Define, Design, Deploy and Validate! Then redesign and revalidate until it’s right. There were some great discussions from the wireless professionals in the room about the issues we’d all faced at various stages of this lifecycle and how we could overcome them, another of the huge benefits of sitting a class instead of reading the book.

Despite having been using Ekahau Pro for nearly three years I still picked up some great hints and tips on best practices from Ferney.  He provided a particularly welcome workaround for aligning non overlapping floors that I’d been struggling with on a recent project and really provided a proper deep dive into the programs advanced features. Over the next couple of days we did a mix of theory and practical exercises covering predictive, AP on a stick and validation surveys. We also looked at how we can use the sidekick to perform spectrum analysis and packet captures for some preliminary troubleshooting.

Towards the end of the day on Thursday we were joined by Nick Turner from Ekahau for a great chat about what’s going on with the Ekahau tools and he seemed genuinely interested in getting our feedback and thoughts on features we felt would improve the product. This is something I’ve always found with anyone I’ve spoken too at Ekahau, they genuinely want to make the best product they can for the wireless community.

As an early adopter of the Connect suite I can say that little increment on the licence cost is more than worth the extra functionality you unlock. For me it’s worth it for the iPad survey tool alone and when you then add packet capture from the sidekick it becomes a bit of a bargain, particularly for Windows users who’ve always struggled with packet capture options in the past.

My only real complaint with the Connect tools is that you can’t perform an APoaS survey with the iPad at this moment as you can’t freeze AP’s. I know I’m not alone in raising that and hopefully it will get added soon. There are a few other niggles but it’s a new product so that’s to be expected. Nick was very keen to promote the new feedback site that Ekahau are trialling to gauge demand for features over at ekahau.uservoice.com so if you have any burning suggestions for the team head over there and make them known.

As Friday came around, we completed the final exam, spent some time looking at active surveys and Ferney shared some of his favourite tools and tricks one last time before we headed home in our separate directions.

I can definitely say that I would recommend the course to anyone working with wireless. It would definitely be beneficial if you’d read a little of the CWNA material first as I know some of the class found that heavy going initially but with the excellent tutors who run these classes no one is left behind.

I personally found it a great refresher of the CWNA material and it aligns nicely with my next goal of completing the CWDP qualification. It also taught me new tricks in Ekahau and I believe will make my designs more efficient and hopefully improve the wireless experience for the end users of my networks. It was another great step on the road to wireless enlightenment.

Oh and one last tip that was drilled into us – get on twitter, it’s where the wireless community lives.

Ferney Munoz CWNE #187 @Ferney_Munoz

Open Reality @OpenRealityUK

Ekahau @ekahau

Nick Turner @nickjvturner

Ekahau Suggestions and Feedback https://ekahau.uservoice.com/

Me! @NAIwifi