Bumblebee Wi-Fi Spectrum Analyzer

Berkeley analyzer precisely discovers wireless and RF interference but lacks full-spectrum support.

July 29, 2005

3 Min Read
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Enter Berkeley Varitronics Systems' latest spectrum-analysis offering. As surely as the worker bee tends to specific chores around its hive, the BumbleBee Wi-Fi Spectrum Analyzer tracks all radio noise interfering with your WLAN. As I found when testing the product at our Syracuse University Real-World Labs®, it performs this task with a precision that general-purpose spectrum-analysis tools like AirMagnet's Handheld Analyzer and Fluke Networks' WaveRunner can't match.

The BumbleBee handheld device graphically represents RF (radio frequency) signatures and displays numerical signal values in the bands where wireless networks and bridges play. Signal strength versus bandwidth is quantified for the 900-MHz, 2.4-GHz and 5-GHz unlicensed U.S. bands.

BumbleBee's prime directive? To track down offending radio interference without looking at the network-related details of WLAN clients, access points and other info that more general-purpose products give. This detailed but limited view will be most helpful to those who truly understand RF. General-purpose tools can indicate the presence of RF problems, but they may not adequately isolate and capture the proof of the engineering-level view provided by BumbleBee.


• Handheld portability

• Good graphics and signal representation


• No capabilities beyond spectrum analysis• Spectrum analysis limited to unlicensed spectrum

• Requires iPAQ for operation

BumbleBee Wi-Fi Spectrum Analyzer, $2,500. Berkeley Varitronics Systems, (732) 548-3737. www.bvsystems.com

Flash Connection

BumbleBee interfaces with varying models of Hewlett-Packard iPAQ handheld computers through the Compact Flash socket. You can buy a receiver and iPAQ in combination or order the receiver separately. My test bundle included the HP 4700 model iPAQ, the BumbleBee receiver and assorted other bits.

Appropriately packaged in a bright-yellow super-rugged case, the BumbleBee ensemble tells you at first glance that it's radio test equipment rather than a mainstream WLAN support tool. Features include packet and interference triggers, peak hold and search, and up to three waveform traces.

Up and RunningThe preloaded BumbleBee program presents all of the unit's analysis power through various screens and icons. After taking baseline measurements in clean airspace, I went hunting for legitimate devices that might be interfering with our WLAN.

Manipulating display views and shuffling antennas around using the SMA-style connector, I quickly learned how much interference an AP transmitting on a given channel and power setting causes at different distances. Moving on to a wider-band nuisance, I fired up a Bluetooth device and recorded rude-radio effect as the signal swept across the entire 2.4-GHz spectrum.

With different signal strengths at various distances, BumbleBee helped paint an RF-engineering picture of device interactions. You can imagine the look on my co-worker's face when I used BumbleBee to show him how much wide-band RF pollution he was causing while microwaving his leftovers!

Because BumbleBee does only spectrum analysis and no packet captures or wireless network discovery, it won't be anybody's one and only wireless tool. But what it does, it does well. BumbleBee will be a welcome addition to the wireless toolbox for more advanced WLAN administrators who have other favorites for 802.11 analysis.

Lee Badman is a network engineer at Syracuse University. Write to him at [email protected].0

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