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Mapping a Wi-Fi Network?

Cliff posted more than 10 years ago | from the tracking-the-coverage dept.

Wireless Networking 31

NivekEnterprises asks: "At my school where I am an Electrical Engineering major A Wi-Fi network has been set up, and is running in several buildings. Since the coverage extends outside several of my friends and I are trying to map the signal strength. Basically we are going to take a map of campus and walk around with a Wi-Fi enabled laptop, marking as best we can. Is there an easier way to do this? Has anyone else done something similar and is willing to share some their insights?"

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Well... (4, Informative)

iantri (687643) | more than 10 years ago | (#8183244)

Belkin (I believe) makes a Wi-Fi hotspot detector.. coupled with a GPS receiver and GIS software I think you could do a pretty good job of it..

Re:Well... (1)

heliocentric (74613) | more than 10 years ago | (#8183328)

Netstumbler software allows the existing laptop (the kids seem to have that already) to act as the detector. I know it measures signal strength as well as can interface with a GPS, but I do not know if it will map signal strength to position, or if it is strictly binary.

Re:Well... (3, Informative)

eyempack (239017) | more than 10 years ago | (#8183837)

yeah a site exists where people do similar things like this for fun... it should help with some info on equipment and FAQ's . []

Re:Well... (1)

Kanasta (70274) | more than 10 years ago | (#8184913)

Does anyone have much exp with GPS receivers? I've been thinking of getting one for my PDA but all the specs boggle my mind.

Plus, I want to be able to use maps in diff. countries I travel to...

Re:Well... (1)

ConsumedByTV (243497) | more than 10 years ago | (#8197023)

That wifi hotspot detector is a pile of crap.

If you want to do this right I suggest you use kismet, a GPS receiver hooked up to the laptop, and use the most common configuration of wifi card. Don't use anything to boost the signal, assume that if someone can use an antena, they don't need you maps. Or make two sets of maps. Then set out with the data kismet collected and make a map. It's really easy to do this. GPS drive can help you with parts of it but it's not going to be entirely effective.

This has been done... (2)

s88 (255181) | more than 10 years ago | (#8183257)

serveral times... over and over and over.

Consult google:
google []

GPS (1)

oiarbovnb (728906) | more than 10 years ago | (#8183263)

There are plenty of GPS devices out there you can plug into your PCMCIA slots (or maybe even via USB). They probably will cost you about 100-200 US. After that, you can run around your campus and "war" it out. You will be able to see where you walked on your laptops map (though the buildings of your school will not be written unless you have a map of it already built in).

The program will show you what spots are hot, what is not... Good luck!

Hmmm (3, Insightful)

GeorgeH (5469) | more than 10 years ago | (#8183269)

I think one [] or two [] people may have done something similar... Maybe Slashdot [] might be of assistance

I'm confused .. (1)

lake2112 (748837) | more than 10 years ago | (#8183286)

Why are you making this map? Anyway walking around with your laptop computer may be the cheapest way to get your map. You can always just ask the school for where they placed all their wi-fi equipment. It should be public information and you can largely base your maps on that.

Re:I'm confused .. (1)

NivekEnterprises (309259) | more than 10 years ago | (#8186400)

I know where the AP's are in buildings and which ones, but not how well the signal fairs outside of the buildings.

GPS (1)

phoenix.bam! (642635) | more than 10 years ago | (#8183293)

Get yourself a GPS usb device. You can collect raw data from it and easily overlay the signal strength to a school map. You might run into trouble though if the map isn't scaled properly though. This way you can just walk around and have the laptop do everything.

I really can't belive these questions get posted (-1, Troll)

dcocos (128532) | more than 10 years ago | (#8183382)

My suggestion to the poster:

1.)Install mySQL or any database for that matter
2.)Run SELECT * FROM google, user WHERE user.hasClue = 'TRUE' AND google.query = 'map wireless network';
3.) ?????
4.) Profit

These are called "Site Surveys" (-1, Redundant)

sinergy (88242) | more than 10 years ago | (#8183420)

There's hundreds of products that help you do that. Try Google.

Wireless InSite (5, Insightful)

Michael.Forman (169981) | more than 10 years ago | (#8183435)

There are several methods by which this could be accomplished.

The first is to create a link budget using the two-ray approximation [] (1/R^4 attenuation) and the estimated antenna patterns. This allows one to bound the maximum range as a function of antenna orientation and receiver sensitivity. Most likely this is the analysis that was done when installing the network.

A second and much more enjoyable way is to use a ray-trace simulation program such as Wireless InSite [] to model your campus. This model will pick up multipath effects and folliage losses.

The most time consuming but most accurate method is to walk around with an antenna, measuring the power as one goes. It should be noted that when one measures in a given location the power will change over time sometimes quickly. Known as Rayleigh fading, it is due to time-varying multipath from a dynamic environment.

I recommend tracking down a communications professor in EE and borowing their copy of Wireless InSite. If you pitch it right you could even get a credit of independent study from it.

Michael. []

suggestion (1)

phUnBalanced (128965) | more than 10 years ago | (#8183488)

Get 2 more wi-fi laptops and triangulate.

Kismet (5, Informative)

pardey (568849) | more than 10 years ago | (#8183522)

If you use Linux on your laptop, kismet [] will interface with GPS devices, and do signal power interpolation to find signal sources. It will also mark everything on a user-supplied map. Good Luck.

Re:Kismet (2, Informative)

Dr.Dubious DDQ (11968) | more than 10 years ago | (#8186659)

I'll also add a plug for GPSDrive [] , which can run alongside Kismet and display your position "live" on a variety of different maps...

It also displays the position of the AP's as estimated by the running copy of Kismet.

Re:Kismet (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8188050)

Kismet is a great programm but Linux drivers do not provide properly signal messuarement values! :-((

gpsd + kismet on linux (2, Informative)

crstophr (529410) | more than 10 years ago | (#8183561) search sourceforge for gpsd. Hook your GPS to your linux machine and get gpsd running. Configure kismet (sniffer) to use gpsd. Kismet will record the gps location, SSID, and strength in a log file. There is even another tool included to automatically generate maps for you. --Chris

Post the location and the SSID (3, Funny)

Craig Maloney (1104) | more than 10 years ago | (#8183598)

Post the location and the SSID outside of the building and on the newsgroups. The warchalkers will do the rest for you. :)

Forget the map (5, Funny)

MarkusQ (450076) | more than 10 years ago | (#8183684)

Forget the map. What you need to do is find a way to get an analog signal strength reading (either with a device designed for the job, or hacking something on a laptop to (say) pipe a running digital signal strength value out the dsp to the earphone jack) and run it into an op-amp setup that will 1) give you decent current and 2) give you an inverted signal as well. Run these two signals to two actuators. Hook the inverted one to a can of red spray paint,and the un-inverted one to a can of blue spray pant.

Do this with the power off.

Go outside, make sure the cans are facing away from you, power up, and walk around.

From then on, the parts of campus with a blue tinge will be the ones with good signal, and the red areas will be the ones to avoid. Easy rule to learn, and no maps to deal with.

-- MarkusQ

P.S. You may need to go over some parts of campus (esp. plants, artwork, etc. that may be strongly coloured) with a coat of gray primer first. I suggest you just play around with it till you get something usable.

Check out Ekahau Site Survey (1)

QoluB (524782) | more than 10 years ago | (#8183826)

A Finnish company called Ekahau has a product called Site Survey that does map a wireless network visually and quite nicely, I might add.

We're currently planning a Wi-Fi network for our school as a final project and Site Survey seems to be a nice tool for figuring out the best places to set up APs so we get maximum coverage.

The Site Survey product can be found here []

Too bad it's windows only...AND costs a bundle ( starting at $1995 afaik )

footwork (1)

beegle (9689) | more than 10 years ago | (#8183870)

I work at a university that's done this.

We tried a few different approaches. It turned out that the fastest approach was to send someone around with wireless card tools that showed SNR (signal to noise ration). In offices, the SNR at the most likely use location (e.g. the desk) for the "best" AP (access point) was measured. In classrooms, they broke big rooms into smaller chunks, then found the best SNR for each chunk.

An approach using GPS was tried, but it took longer to wait for the GPS to stabalize than it did to enter the data by hand.

An approach using pedometers was also tried, but again, it took longer to enter meta-info than it did to just enter point measurements.

build a bot (1)

imsmith (239784) | more than 10 years ago | (#8184010)

Build a small blimp with a payload consisting of an embedded linux SBC with GPS and WiFi recievers. Program it to fly along arbitrary signal strength boundaries (think lines of flux) and chart its location either to an onboard storage location, like CF, or broadcast it back to a server on the WiFi network, then layer the GPS info onto your campus map like its GIS.

Without going outside? (1)

x00101010x (631764) | more than 10 years ago | (#8184238)

Who want's to go out doors and walk around exposed under that burning ball of gas? Really?
Well, you can still do that, but here's what I would do before going outdoors, and this may even provide the level of accuracy you need.

First, make a digital map of your school. As simple as scanning/cleaning up a paper map given to new students, or snag one from your local city hall's zoning department (of course, doing that may end you up on an FBI watch list).
If you really want to geek out, grab a friend and have them do a rough 3D model of the school.

Second, plot the WiFi APs on your digital map.

Third, look up the specifications for each model of AP being used. You should be able to find these in the product documentation/packaging or just go online to the mfr's website.

Fourth, plot circles around the APs on your digital map according to the range specs. I would plot both the unobstructed and obstructed ranges (most WAPs I've looked at the specs for provide clear line of sight and obstructed figures).
Also, I would use a thicker line for the circle that is more applicable to the AP's location (or different opacities on spheres if you're doing this in 3D).

Finally, if that's not accurate enough, or if you're one of those freaks that likes sunlight, go for a walk with a laptop/pda, a copy of your digital map and your notation device of choice (paper, text editor, spreadsheet, etc).
Choose a granularity for your markings (say 10%).
Now, go to each AP and start walking in a straight line until your signal strength goes down by 10%, write down the distance. Repeat.
It doesn't have to be a perfectly straight line, but just make sure you can measure your distance accurately.
If there are significantly different amounts of obstructions near an AP, walk a few lines through the extreams.

Now, take your data and plot new circles from the APs, cutting/bending them as needed for where you walked multiple lines for varying obstruction levels.

Now you should have a nice, topographic looking map of your WiFi network.

GPS is best... (1)

orangesquid (79734) | more than 10 years ago | (#8184288)

GPS is the best way to go. Failing that, I used a system a bit like the following:
Every ~25 seconds, laptop records WiFi signal strengths and network names and such to record #N, and emits a pair of tones corresponding to the last digit of N (I used musical intervals and the first tone was always the same; for the zero digit, the second note of the pair was null---in other words, a single tone). I carried a clipboard, which I would number as I went along, and fill in my approximate location. I could make sure I kept sync between laptop and clipboard based on the tones. I also had the laptop emit, 1.5 seconds later, another pair of tones, an octave up from before, with a similar system, telling me how many network APs were nearby; then I could know if I was in a "hot" zone or a "dead" zone and continue my explorations in light of that information

Yes, I used headphones. Yes, people looked at me funny... but oh well.

I wrote a bunch of Scheme code for The GIMP that plotted all the records on a multilayered campus map (I would have to figure out my coordinates from my clipboard notes by hand, later, but it wasn't hard, and once I got into the swing of it, it went very quickly), then plotted what kind of speed was available at each access point, and tried to estimate the position of any given AP node based on where it could be detected from.

In retrospect, two things I would have done differently:
* used GPS. would have saved a LOT of work. but I'm poor, and I don't yet have a receiver...
* used the signal strength to weight the AP-locating algorithm, so it would be more accurate
* made an additional layer, showing the signal strength using color shading or something

Just like phones... (1)

aliya (57118) | more than 10 years ago | (#8184871)

"Can you hear me now?"

No No No.... (0)

Kulaid982 (704089) | more than 10 years ago | (#8190107)

it's "Can you ping me now?"

EASY! "take our survey" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8187748)

1) make a clickable map on a campus web-server

2) have helpfull students point there web-browsers
homepage to that web-server.

3) have helpfull student look a WI-FI signal

4) have helpful student click on map for there
present location

5) have web-server present student with a box
for choosing singal strength

6) have web server display message
"thank you for your help".

7) ...

8) Profit!

Determining the best Channels to use (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8190336)

Slightly off-topic, but what tools could be used for the inverse process. That is, I want to determine the best channel to select for a particular environment based on noise level readings (from other wi-fi APs, microwaves, cordless phones, etc). Is there an app to run on my PC and use my wi-fi card as a spectrum analyzer?

if you have a mac (or access to one) (1)

grocer (718489) | more than 10 years ago | (#8197555)

I highly recommend KisMAC, works great, never played with the GPS bit but it autogenerates a map. Two cavets - it only works on Jaguar and, while it supports Airport Extreme, no passive mode. It does, however, support a long list of PCMCIA cards and quite a few in passive. en /kismac/
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