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Fluke AirMapper Brings Pro Tools to Mobile Devices--With a Catch

In the business of wireless, the most effective testing happens on the same mobile devices that will use the network. Fluke Network's AirMapper tries to hit that goal, but it's not quite a home run.

There haven't been many tools that I've tried or purchased from Fluke Networks (or its AirMagnet division) that I felt weren't top-shelf. So when my favorite network tool company reached out to talk about its new AirMapper wireless support tool for mobile devices, I was expecting big things from a small package. I won't say that I was disappointed, but at the same time I do have a couple of concerns.

It's hard to write on any wireless-related topic these days without the bring-your-own-device trend nosing its way into the conversation, and BYOD's proliferation is very much the genesis of AirMapper. As laptops give way to tablets and ever more smartphones come to the WLAN looking for high-speed connectivity, the how behind wireless network design and testing is changing. Gone are the days when even excellent, laptop-based wireless tools are enough to get it done in environments that see big numbers of mobile devices.

Knowing that the wireless support paradigm is changing along with client device types, Fluke Networks has given us AirMapper. The new utility brings a nice list of capabilities and features to the wireless support community, and runs on Android-based devices--and therein lies the catch. AirMapper is sweet and does a killer job of showing why bars doesn't equal performance and heat-mapping performance, based on real-world RF interactions of the client its run on. But it can't run on the iPhone or iPad.

If we go back to the premise that we want to evaluate the WLAN from the actual devices that will be used on it, AirMapper's Android-only applicability is a glaring head-scratcher, given iDevice market share. And iDevices can be quirky clients on business wireless networks, so a little visibility into how they see the network would be nice. At the same time, you can't fault Fluke Networks for not getting an app into Apple's sometimes fortress-like App Store, given that iOS isn't exactly open for developers.

What AirMapper does do, it does very well. Paired with my Droid Bionic, it didn't take long to see the value of AirMapper in a crazy wireless environment (first football game in a new wireless stadium deployment) as a stand-alone tool. But AirMapper also integrates with AirMagnet's Survey application, and both tools will benefit from the relationship. Put it on a low-cost Android tablet, and AirMapper's $199 list price is money well-spent to get a mobile-device-based Fluke Networks' grade tool that shows wireless life from the mobile client perspective.

For the curious, AirMapper can also be test-driven for free with a reduced-function version. But not on the iPhone.