Starting from the Bottom: Client-side Wi-Fi Monitoring

Surprising as it seems, it’s not often the wisdom of Drake can be applied to wireless network analysis. But a valuable lesson can be learned from his song “Started from the Bottom“.

Started from the bottom now we’re here

Image Credit: musicisentropy

I can only assume by “here”, he’s referring to a satisfactory wireless experience for end-users. So, how exactly do we start from the bottom? Client-side monitoring.

There are no shortage of tools for monitoring and analyzing network behavior from behind the access point. But as Drew Lentz points out, this ignores half of the network. While great pains are taken to build and maintain wireless infrastructure, network engineers need to be able to see how users are experiencing it. In order do understand how end-users are experiencing a wireless network, you must become one of them.

Enter the Client-Side

Drew points out two interesting solutions for how to approach this. The first is NetBeez, who Drew became aware of after CEO Stefano Gridelli spoke at Mobility Field Day. They offer a software product that lets you bring your own client-side hardware. Essentially, the provide a Linux install that can be put on anything from a Raspberry Pi to a virtual machine to server as your client monitor. This then talks back to their dashboard, allowing you to easily see performance in a web portal. The benefit of this is because it’s relatively hardware agnostic, you aren’t tied into aging network monitoring hardware.

The other solution from Cape Networks take a more integrated approach to hardware. They will sell you a complete hardware package, with a built in T-Mobile SIM to allow it to be setup with only power, no other networking needed after power is supplied. Cape Networks also differentiates by giving you a simple graphical display of user experience. While engineers can drill down into specifics, they will algorithmically present the end-user experience in either red, yellow, or green.

This gets to the core benefit of client-side monitoring. It’s easy to get high-minded about network design principals, or lost down into the weeds to solve a specific issue, but keeping focus on how the two mesh together to create a successful user experience is a challenge. Client-side monitoring give you a bottom-up view of how the network is performing, so you won’t be surprised when people tell you “the Wi-Fi stinks” on your perfectly conceived wireless network. Client-side monitoring isn’t a new idea, but NetBeez and Cape Networks

Wireless Nerd comments:

A few years ago a new set of equipment and tools started to make its way into the market that would help give a better holistic view of a wireless network to administrators and support staff monitoring in maintaining wireless networks. As sensors for all types of devices have become more common, they stand to change the way we interact with almost every aspect of our jobs. Now, wireless network engineering is no different. While some of the tools that tried to take this on have fizzled out, a few have made their way to the top of that marketplace.

Read more at: Using Sensors for Client-side Wi-Fi Troubleshooting

About the author

Rich Stroffolino

Rich has been a tech enthusiast since he first used the speech simulator on a Magnavox Odyssey². Current areas of interest include ZFS, the false hopes of memristors, and the oral history of Transmeta.

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