Meraki: Wireless Site Survey

While I don’t often get to play too much in the lovely world of wireless, it does happen! This week I will be doing an active site survey for a customers new office space. It also just so happens that this customer has decided to roll with some Meraki MR34s – the sexy looking 802.11ac mothership of Meraki’s wireless lineup. In a “normal” site survey for Cisco access points, we just throw an autonomous image on the AP and setup an SSID to associate to — that with your battery to run the AP and you are off. We use autonomous images since we obviously don’t want to lug around a controller for every AP that gets surveyed for since that would be crazy talk.

Well Meraki access points are basically lightweight APs. You don’t see the controller, but its out there….. in the cloud!! It’s the big giant controller in the sky!! My site survey this week is in an almost finished office space, there isn’t a network yet, so there is no obvious way to get the access point to talk to the Meraki cloud. This presents a problem! Meraki of course knew that this would be a problem, and have a work around for us! All that is required is a device of some flavor to provide DHCP, DNS, and to act as a default gateway.

Heres how to make this happen:

– Dump the AP onto a working network to configure an SSID, PSK if desired, and whatever else you are wanting to do.
– Get some sort of device that will hand out DHCP (Meraki’s doc shows an MX60, but I’ve got a little Netgear box to handle this) — make it hand out DHCP/DNS, and be reachable for the AP.
– Connect the AP to the “router.”
– Profit!

No seriously, there’s nothing else to it at this point. The AP should be broadcasting (or not if you told it not to) the SSID(s) that you configured, and you can use your survey tool to associate and do your thing!

Heres a link to the Meraki knowledge base article that outlines this:

For kicks and giggles I also toyed around with what it takes to get the AP connected to the Dashboard. With the Netgear router flashed with DD-WRT, you can jump through some hoops and make it happen, although I’m not sure why you would need to. The overall steps for this process are:

– Get a hotspot; I just used my iPhone.
– Join the Netgear to the hotspot SSID as a client.
– Spin up DHCP on the Netgear and make sure that it is the default gateway for the AP.

A little more work, but you can play with the Dashboard if you care to using this method.

*Quick Update*

Having never done a survey with Meraki gear until yesterday…. I totally glossed over an obvious issue that didn’t really hit me until I was doing it.

The need to have a “gateway” for the AP is potentially a big issue; most people that do wireless surveys have some battery packs (TerraWave perhaps) that have either a 56v out or a PoE out port. Well the PoE needs to go the AP, but the AP needs to be plugged into a gateway…. problematic indeed. I was lucky enough to have contractors running around and they had power that I was able to hijack! If I didn’t have this option the survey would have been a no go though. Not sure there is any easy fix to this as yet. So, in the future, bring a big extension cord and a power strip!