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8 Free WiFi Analyzers

  • Wireless connectivity is growing in leaps and bounds in volume and in importance to the business. But if you've ever managed a wireless LAN environment, you know it's just as much a matter of art as science. That's why having an arsenal of tools at your disposal to analyze and troubleshoot Wi-Fi performance, interference and placement is essential. Even better if those tools are free.

    You're probably familiar with the classic free NetStumbler utility, which can be used to detect 802.11 a/b/g WLANs and can help in configuration verification and identifying weak signals. But NetStumbler was last updated in 2004, making it a little long in the tooth for measuring cutting-edge wireless environments.

    Wireshark is another free tool that has a large community of users and continual improvements. Known best for its Ethernet analysis capabilities, Wireshark also offers support for 802.11 and provides the means to not only troubleshoot wireless problems, but also to better lock down security configurations.

    There are additional, lesser known free options, and we've assembled the best of them here. Check them out if you're interested in delving into a specific aspect of wireless performance, planning access point placement, seeking out rogue networks, or you just want a cool, slick interface. 

    Learn more about wireless infrastructure and supporting the mobile enterprise in the Wireless & Mobility Track at Interop Las Vegas this spring. Don't miss out! Register now for Interop, May 2-6, and receive $200 off.

    Image: Halfpoint/iStockphoto

  • WiFi Survey

    Perform WiFi site surveys of both indoor and outdoor networks direct from an iOS device using this handy dandy tool. Diagnostics from WiFi Survey examine 802.11 a/b/g/n speeds and give the user the ability to place speed test markers on a digital floor plan, projected from the device camera, an image library or Dropbox.

  • Xirrus Wi-Fi Inspector

    Wireless equipment maker Xirrus, best known for its array-based Wi-Fi systems, also offers troubleshooting and design tools. Wi-Fi Inspector is a free analyzer that provides real-time monitoring of wireless network status, traffic and clients in an easy-to-read dashboard. The tool shows dynamic mapping of local wireless networks; performs connection, quality and speed tests; and displays data about network signal strength, encryption and channel, among other goodies.

  • Tamosoft Throughput Test

    Get quick and dirty performance data for both wireless and wired networks using this free utility. The tool sends continuous TCP and UDP data across the network to measure upstream and downstream throughput, plus packet loss information and round-trip time.

  • Ekahau HeatMapper

    For small offices and remote locations, Ekahau offers a free planning and site survey tool that offers at-a-glance information about WiFi coverage conveniently placed on maps and floor plans. For wider use, Ekahau also provides more comprehensive enterprise-class capabilities through its Ekahau Site Survey (ESS) tool, designed for both pre-deployment use and design tweaks along the way.

  • Kismet

    An open source wireless network discovery and packet sniffing tool, Kismet can offer IT professionals a good way to find hidden wireless networks that could be disrupting their legitimate network. Unlike NetStumbler, Kismet finds networks by listening to beacon transmissions from APs instead of broadcasting for SSID, making it possible to find rogue networks that are hiding their SSIDs.

  • NetSurveyor

    NetSurveyor is a free but closed source Wi-Fi scanner and analyzer offered by the company Nuts About Nets. Billed as a better alternative to NetStumbler, the tool provides much of the same functionality but allows increased reporting and diagnostic views for users. Unlike NetStumbler, the analyzer works by detecting networks by listening to beacon transmissions from access points instead of broadcasting for SSID.