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Lee Badman
Lee Badman
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Gauging WLAN Performance: Epitiro Streetwise

Dedicated WLAN service assurance tools promise deeper analysis than integrated WLAN performance tools, but are they worth it? Here's a look at a recent addition to this emerging market.

Wireless networks are complicated and usually expensive. Even with solid wireless designs, there are always questions about how individual client devices are performing on our Wi-Fi and how users perceive our wireless services. Dedicated WLAN service assurance tools are emerging to help answer WLAN performance questions, but network managers are divided on their value.

Many network managers would prefer to stick with the native performance tools that come with their WLANs instead of spending money on “outside help.” I have been in this camp for years, but my attitude towards third-party wireless assurance is crumbling.

My own transformation started a year ago after reviewing a company called 7signal. Though I do find some value in the surface analysis my native WLAN performance tools provide, I learned to appreciate 7signal’s purpose-built probes and analysis framework that were designed with nothing but testing in mind. Tools such as 7signal can provide deeper, thorough, continuous testing that sees what native performance monitoring features of the WLAN really can't.

At the same time, 7signal is an overlay infrastructure with its own administrative burden and system back-end to maintain. Epitiro's Streetwise is the latest addition to the nascent WLAN service assurance market, and it promises a leaner, more nimble and less expensive alternative.

Streetwise arguably competes with 7signal, and both have roots in the mobile network space. At 7signal, the brains behind the products are all RF testing experts that left the carrier world to create a new Wi-Fi analysis platform. At Epitiro, a mature mobile network testing platform has been expanded to also do Wi-Fi, which brings a number of advantages to Streetwise.

It's clear to me that Epitiro understands not only how to test mobile networks for a wide range of key performance indicators (KPIs), it also gets how to make it both extremely easy to use and flexible. Given the complexity of large wireless environments and the administrative burden of keeping up Network Management Servers servers, the last thing any of us want are more boxes to keep up. With Streetwise, that’s not an issue. Low-cost probes and an Android app can test (on demand or automated) directly to Internet destinations and report to a cloud-based dashboard, or test to a simple appliance, which then funnels all metrics to the cloud console.

[Read about Wi-Fi improvements in the new 802.11ac standard in "802.11ac Wi-Fi Part 1: Building Blocks."[

Streetwise measures and reports on a range of indicators, and can connect to and through enterprise secure networks, open WLANs, and even captive portals. Once associated, major categories such as RF reports, QoS, and quality of experience map to specific tests like link capacity, latency, all the important client radio details including signal strength and quality, and the perceived performance of sites (for example, YouTube, Spotify, and Tumblr). It’s pretty comprehensive, and at the same time the reporting value is distilled to effective micro-views for specific parameters of interest.

Though I like the look of Streetwise, it has a couple shortcomings. The 4150 probe, which you connect to Ethernet and leave in place for testing, is a single-stream client. This is great for mimicking how smartphones and tablets might perceive the WLAN, but it doesn’t do much measuring of the more hardware-advanced laptop experience. (Epitiro representatives said a newer probe that could test to 802.11ac with better radio hardware is on the short roadmap.)

Also, there isn’t an iPhone app to compliment the Android version, but Epitiro is hardly alone in its inability to get Apple to play ball with an analysis app.

Because Streetwise was a mobile network analysis tool before it was a Wi-Fi analysis tool, it’s a nice fit for environments that have small cell or distributed antenna deployments. The tool promises to bring value to a range of deployment scenarios, from cafes and stadiums to metropolitan Wi-Fi networks.

Ultimately, I’d still prefer that my own WLAN system had well-designed field-testing capabilities from client agents; I’ve actually been asking my own WLAN vendor for similar functionality for years. But I also realize that whatever my vendor might give would be proprietary and not WLAN agnostic. I’m fast becoming a believer in the value of having a dedicated service assurance product to provide a realistic look into what we think we’re delivering to our clients.

Lee is a Network Engineer and Wireless Technical Lead for a large private university. He also teaches classes on networking, wireless network administrtaion, and wireless security. Lee's technical background includes 10 years in the US Air Force as an Electronc Warfare ... View Full Bio
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