Ekahau Sidekick – measurement powerhouse for Wi-Fi professionals

11.01.2018 wireless , laboratory , electronics , product certification

Wi-Fi, also known as wireless local area network, is as obvious for us as electricity network and lighting. The tablet, mobile phone and laptop are supposed to provide you with a high-quality web connection when at home, at the office, at industrial sites, at the airport and at a sports stadium of 50 000 spectators. Designing a network functioning flawlessly under all circumstances is a challenge for even the most advanced professionals.

Ekahau has 15 years of experience in Wi-Fi technologies. The company has already for years offered portable measurement solutions for measuring the spectrum of Wi-Fi networks and frequency ranges they use, based on USB Wi-Fi and spectrum analyzer adapters. Decision to develop an integrated measurement device was based on the need for better usability and precision of the measurement.

Modelling in minutes

Ekahau 3D Planner design software makes the design of a WiFi network effective and easy. The planner downloads the 3D model of the building to the design software. He/she determines the requirements to be set for the Wi-Fi network - i.e. the number and quality of simultaneous connections within each area.  Automatic AP Placement software suggests optimal locations for the base stations, channels and transmitting powers to be used, and possibly needed directional antennas. The software takes into account for example the wall materials, store and storage shelves and the impact of the several floors of the building.

Heatmaps forecasted by the simulation make the results visible. A Wi-Fi professional may still modify the plan.

Network base stations are installed according to the plan.

Does the network perform as planned, and does it fulfil the requirements of the customer? What type of radio interference occurs within the network’s operating range? On-site measurements are needed for testing, validation and documentation.

Unique measurement device

Wi-Fi engineer walks around within the property and measures network and connection quality and possible radio interference at different locations.

”Earlier, the measurements required a laptop with two USB sticks attached and a third one for spectrum measurements. Usability and convenience were not the best possible. In addition, the USB sticks were easily damaged. There was also room for improvement with measurement accuracy”, tells Vice President Ari Tourunen. He is responsible for Ekahau Product Development.

”We decided to develop a high-quality, portable measurement device for a Wi-Fi engineer. The device is used for measuring the Wi-Fi networks and the frequency range spectrums they are using. It needs to be light, compact and durable in field work, and the battery power must last one working day”, lists Ari Tourunen.

”Ekahau Sidekick that we launched in September 2017 fulfils all the requirements we set for it”, tells Ari Tourunen proudly.

”Ekahau Sidekick is exactly what a Wi-Fi engineer needs. The measurement device together with the related applications serves fantastically both in new network implementation and in troubleshooting an existing network. The customer have given us very positive feedback”, confirms CEO Mika Hakala, who is responsible for the North American operations of the company.

”Ekahau Sidekick is really one of a kind. Nothing else in the market comes even close”, boasts Hakala.

”We expect remarkable commercial success for Sidekick measurement devices and its newest software versions”, continues Hakala. According to him, the first Sidekick was bought only 15 seconds after its sales began within Ekahau web shop.

Excellent usability

An astonishingly compact and only one kilogram weighting device can be hung for instance on a belt or a shoulder strap. The battery lasts for more than 8 hours and will charge up to 75% in 2 hours.

The measurement device is connected using an USB cable a Windows or MacOS laptop, running also Ekahau Site Survey and 3D Planner application.

The installer walks around the property and tells his location at the appropriate locations by clicking on the floor plan on the laptop screen. The device records the measurement results also between the clicking points. The measurement results include information on the reachable base stations at each location, as well as the spectrum for the entire frequency range to be measured. The device can also be left stationary and timed to collect data on fluctuations in loads and interferences.

Based on the measurements, an illustrative map of the network and, among other things, of potential external networks and disturbance sources is generated. Spectrum measurements reveal for instance that a microwave oven disturbing the coffee room network needs to be repaired, and that a couple of wireless CCTV cameras need an update. The noise caused by lower floor Wi-Fi networks can be omitted by adjusting the network settings. Elevator shaft shadows the network more than expected, additional base stations are needed.

Once the changes have been implemented, the network is ready for service.

Ekahau Site Survey and 3D Planner software shows exact information on the coverage of the network and its base stations (Heat Map). Wi-Fi and spectrum measurements together with the reports form comprehensive documentation for both the customer and the network constructor needs. Measurements can validate and verify that the network meets the customer’s requirements. Both the measurement results and the reports are later used, for example, in case of a network problem or an environment or requirement change.

Technology in a compact form

Ekahau Sidekick covers both 2,4 and 5 gigahertz Wi-Fi frequency ranges, and standards 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac up to -95dBm sensitivity. The meter supports all global regulatory domains. The integrated antennas take into account the different polarizations of the signals.

The spectrum analyzer included in the device covers all possible frequency ranges 2400 – 2500 MHz and 4900 – 5950 MHz 25 times per second within the range 0 to -95 dBm. So, maximum bandwidth is more than 1 GHz in the 5 – 6 GHz range alone.  However, full bandwidth is not really needed in many cases. Maximum pace of spectrum analysis increases significantly by selecting interesting frequencies only, e.g. by leaving out frequencies not used by Wi-Fi.

”In other words, the sensitivity, precision and technical qualities of the meter are top class. Ekahau Sidekick measurement device together with Ekahau Site Survey and 3D Planner is an unbeatable and practical combination for a Wi-Fi engineer”, praises Mika Hakala.

Challenges for hardware designers

”We were excited to take up the task, as an engineer rarely has the chance to design a unique measuring device. We were aware of the challenges but also of the fact that the needed, versatile expertise did exist within our company”, tells Project Manager & Senior RF designer Mikko Karvinen. He is the project manager responsible for the hardware and Etteplan’s share of the Sidekick project.

As the device was wanted quickly to market, the most important challenge was the timetable. According to Karvinen, about 20 Etteplan specialists of various branches were involved in the project.

”The electronics needed for precise measurements and the processing needed for producing the results consumes plenty of electricity. The battery cannot be too big, because the device itself needs to be light and compact. However, the battery power must last a long working day. These contradictory requirements had to be taken into account when designing the parts and the whole device”, tells Karvinen.

Spectrum measurement

”Spectrum measurement is something completely different from what we usually do within Etteplan’s projects” ponders Mikko Karvinen.

The huge amount of data, its processing and tight speed requirements of spectrum measurements put even the experienced specialists to the test.

“Data received from Analog to Digital converter is pre-processed using a FGPA circuit (Field Programmable Gate Array). FPGA filters out unnecessary data and arranges samples to optimal order for MCU, so data processing can continue directly after transfer to MCU. This reduces both the data flood at the processor and its load”, tells Senior Software Designer Joska Laurikkala. He is responsible for the implementation of the spectrum measurements.

“Actually, FPGA was a very logical choice since adapter cirquitry between ADC and MCU was needed anyway. Altera MAX10 was selected as the most suitable for the purpose”, Joska Laurikkala says.

A Cortex-M7 based MCU finalizes signal processing of data preprocessed by FPGA. The MCU produces finished spectrum in logarithmic scale (dBm)”, Laurikkala explains.

Antennas and approvals

”Standard industrial Wi-Fi antennas are not good enough for the measurement device. That’s why we had to design them ourselves. Fortunately, modern simulation software makes the task easier. The hardware drivers of the Wi-Fi modules had to be re-programmed, as the standard drivers do not meet the requirements of the measurement device and so on”, project manager Mikko Karvinen lists.

Sidekick measurement device has to meet the requirements of all the regulatory domains. Hence, the device must work according to the local norms in Europe, Japan, the United States and elsewhere in the world. A high-quality measurement device must also fulfil the stricter EMC (Electro Magnetic Compatibility) requirements. The requirements result in lots of challenges.

Regulatory and EMC measurements were carried out within Etteplan laboratories in Jyväskylä.

”We are very pleased with the work of Etteplan's specialists in the Sidekick project. The end result meets our expectations. Despite of huge challenges in all levels of details, Etteplan team handled them very professionally and dligently, helping us to push the whole project from idea to production in very reasonable time”, praises Vice President Ari Tourunen, responsible for Ekahau’s product development.

Ekahau Sidekick information [link]

More information

Ari Tourunen, Vice President, Ekahau Product Development.

Mika Hakala, CEO, Operations of the Company

Mikko Karvinen, Project Manager & Senior RF designer, Etteplan, Sidekick Project Manager

Joska Laurikkala, Senior Software Designer, Etteplan, Sidekick spectrum measurements


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