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Fluke Networks' AirCheck WiFi Tester

Enterprise wireless networks are a blessing and a curse for IT administrators. While WiFi offers convenient, secure access to corporate network resources wherever the end-users roam, it also makes use of the unlicensed wireless spectrum. Without restrictions on who can be occupying the airwaves, it can be a challenge to provide a persistent and reliable connection for mobile clients. While many of the technologies within the spectrum, such as Bluetooth, are designed to play nice with your WLAN, devices such as cordless phones or microwave ovens can wreak havoc on the wireless network. Fluke Network hopes the AirCheck WiFi Tester will help administrators find the clearest air for their networks.

From the moment it comes out of the box, it's clear that the AirCheck WiFi Tester is a Fluke product, with their traditional yellow, rugged shell, the AirCheck is sturdily built. Likewise, powering on the Aircheck, the device fires up in about three seconds and instantly starts scanning the 2.4 and 5Ghz channels for networks.

The home screen on the AirCheck features four logical options: Networks, Access Points, Channels and Tools. While the three views essentially show the same collected data, the formatting of each view is tailored to the task at hand.The Networks option shows all of the WiFi networks grouped by network SSID. Along with signal strength, there is a red/yellow/green status indicator for each visible network and visible icons for each of the 802.11 standards. This view is particularly useful when performing a site survey and doing an initial review in a new environment.

There is a useful notes column that describes any problems that AirCheck is seeing. During testing, for example, the AirCheck noticed that a neighbor's access point was configured for channel 5 and not one of the standard 802.11 channels.  From the one screen, I was able to determine that I should keep my own networks away from those channels to avoid any interference. The Networks screen offers the option to do a connection test of the chosen network. Using a basic ping test to a list of predefined IP targets, the AirCheck will associate with the chosen network, get an address via DHCP, then start pinging the target. The chart on the screen gives you a quick look at how solid the wireless connection is, along with the transfer rate and signal strength throughout the test.  The log of the test gives you details on every step in the process.

The Channels option gives an overall view of the usable channels on both the 2.4 and 5Ghz bands. For each channel, the AirCheck shows channel utilization, indicating the number of access points as well as the amount of 802.11 and other traffic on a given channel. At a quick glance, I was able to see that channel 11 on the 2.4Ghz spectrum was the most crowded channel in my neighborhood. Also, my 802.11n access point was the only one taking advantage of the cleaner air of 5Ghz. The standard 802.11 traffic is shown in blue, while other traffic or noise on those channels is shown in grey. The Channels screen gets particularly interesting around a microwave and you can quickly visualize the impact that someone making popcorn in the break-room could have on your wireless VoIP call.

Our Take

Fluke Networks Air Check Wi-Fi

The AirCheck WiFi Tester succeeds as a grab and go tool for troubleshooting WLAN issues.
Support for multiple profile makes it easy to toggle between various network environments.
With its rugged design, the AirCheck is built to work on the shop floor as well as the front office.
The AirCheck is designed for the network administrator who isn't an RF engineer.
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