Best way to track number and duration of wireless sessions?
November 25, 2013 5:26 AM   Subscribe

As an organization that provides free wifi to our guests we would love to be able to track the number and duration of the wireless sessions in our facility. Just as importantly, we'd like to be able to track these statistics as easily as possible, e.g., with a log that's emailed daily, or with an interface that lets you query data for a particular time period.

The software built into routers has never struck me as particularly user-friendly, but then I've really only ever used consumer grade equipment.

Would business class routers make this task easier? Are there utilities that would do the job better? What's this feature called if I plan on searching further or contacting a vendor w/ specs?

If there are specific brands or models (particularly using the AC standard) that handle this well, I'd be happy to hear about those as well.

Many thanks!
posted by woodman to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
How are you authenticating (or is it open access/open+splash page)? What's the size of the facility? How many APs?
posted by tkfu at 5:45 AM on November 25, 2013

I just recently installed two Ubiquiti UniFi access points on my home network and so far am pretty happy with them. These are also the devices that work uses to cover the office, so even though they're just $70 an access point, they scale to small enterprise kinds of levels.

Apparently the system can log to syslog, here's a thread of someone setting up just that for user tracking. I'm a Linux user, but that thread seems to address putting Syslog like systems on other operating systems, so if your facility has a central server on its network you probably only need the APs and some software.
posted by straw at 8:14 AM on November 25, 2013

Response by poster: We have a router + 2 AP's.

Right now, our wifi is open access, but we'd like to move to a splash page to verify acceptance of our terms of use. I suppose this would allow to use something like Google Analytics to get a bunch of stats, but probably not session durations??
posted by woodman at 8:49 AM on November 25, 2013

I think we need to know which APs you've got and what software they're running. Those are what do the splash screen stuff, and either you have to configure them to log somewhere useful (and do the splash screen stuff), or get a set that does.
posted by straw at 9:07 AM on November 25, 2013

Response by poster: All our equipment is 802.11g, so we're looking to upgrade everything. But before doing so, we'd love to make sure we have access to the reporting/ logging features we're looking for.

FWIW, our building's 14,000 sq ft, on one level, with relatively good sight lines, etc.
posted by woodman at 10:18 AM on November 25, 2013

So on my Ubiquiti UniFi AP based net, I just turned on a guest network (click through the TOS screen, bandwidth limited to 128k both up and down) and syslog on my UniFi network. My two APs (houseAP and shopAP) are now hosting FlutterbyNet as a WPA2 free-for-all, and FlutterbyGuest as open with TOS & bandwidth limits.

I am getting syslog messages which look like they include the MAC address, looks like:

Nov 25 19:24:27 hostapd: ath1: STA cc:3a:61:2d:15:62 IEEE 802.11: associated
Nov 25 19:24:27 hostapd: ath1: STA cc:3a:61:2d:15:62 RADIUS: starting accounting session 5293A3BC-00000003
Nov 25 19:24:27 hostapd: ath1: STA cc:3a:61:2d:15:62 WPA: pairwise key handshake completed (RSN)

There are other messages which indicate all sorts of stuff about associating with a RADIUS server and what-not, so at the very least that gives you MAC address associations and use times, and if you went to RADIUS you could almost certainly associate usernames to a MAC addresses.

And in the web based manager I'm getting events information (goes back a month per the web UI, I haven't had the system installed that long) that looks like:

2013/11/25 11:26:58 User[[Redacted]s-iPad] has connected to AP[houseAP] on "channel 9(ng)"
2013/11/25 11:26:53 Guest[[Redacted]s-iPad] disconnected from "FlutterbyGuest" (1m 37s connected, 9.02K bytes, last AP[houseAP])
2013/11/25 11:25:16 Guest[[Redacted]s-iPad] has connected to AP[houseAP] on "channel 9(ng)"
2013/11/25 11:25:08 User[[Redacted]s-iPad] disconnected from "FlutterbyNet" (58s connected, 16.27K bytes, last AP[houseAP])

You might have to associate the MAC address in the syslog to the name the device gives your DHCP server to resolve to machine names.

So it looks like it's logging the data you're hoping for, including session length (where the devices bother to say "goodbye"), but you might have to dig a little further for finding ways to interpret that data, and you might have to integrate it in with your DHCP server and whatever other authentication. This might be the kind of thing you hire a systems integration company to put together, I'm the sort of guy who says "Oh, cool, $140 and a little tinkering and...".

And Ubiquiti might provide some better tools, I'm also running the v3 beta software because it's important to me to have hot switching between APs (WiFi calling and walking around the yard) and haven't dug in deeper.

My lot is 80'x52', a small cottage (thick button board and plaster walls) and the workshop (2 layers of sheetrock + HardiPlank siding), probably could have just cranked one AP up to high power, but wanted relatively high speed inside both buildings and full lotcoverage.

If you want larger samples of syslog or me to run simple experiments, MeFi mail me. My DHCP server is a cheap-ass Zyxel ZTE300 modem, and I haven't been bothering to log too much about what goes on inside the network, but I can probably give you enough that you can figure out if these devices will give you the data you need.
posted by straw at 11:57 AM on November 25, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you, straw. And yikes. Was hoping to find a more user-friendly method for sure.

My Google-fu has turned up the following resources, at least one of which I trust will lead us in the right direction:
posted by woodman at 6:46 AM on November 27, 2013

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