Front-line techs can clear wireless network trouble with this handheld tool.
The latest version of Fluke
Networks' AirCheck handheld WiFi analyzer is a premium tool for front-line
techs who go on-site to solve wireless network problems. The 1.2 version can
immediately identity clients, wireless devices and access points on a network.
When combined with site profile
information, it was a snap to identify unauthorized and new radio sources in my
tests at eWEEK Labs in radio-dense downtown San Francisco.
AirCheck is strictly for
on-the-go pros who need a fast, accurate sniffer that can dissect the wireless
environment and spit out relevant, problem-solving data in an instant. Technicians
who can use a laptop and won't miss the niceties provided in AirCheck's speedy
interface and handy reporting capabilities can use no-cost, open-source WiFi
scanning software, including MetaGeek's inSSIDer.
The AirCheck tool is one part
handheld device and one part Windows-based software. The physical AirCheck
device fits easily in one hand and has the rugged-feel characteristic of Fluke
Network field tools. The 3-inch screen is bright and easy to read, even in
direct sunlight. User interaction is through easy-to-use keys below the screen;
there is no touch-screen interface.
The AirCheck Manager software
captures information gathered by the device. It is used to create and manage
site profiles and is the best way to view reports showing wireless network
components and performance.
The newest version of AirCheck
was released on April 11 and costs $1,995.
Up and Running
The AirCheck device starts almost
instantly and is equipped with a rechargeable battery that's rated for five
hours of continuous use. I was able to use the AirCheck frequently throughout
the week without a recharge.
The startup screen presents four
options; networks, access points, channels and tools. When I selected networks,
access points or channels, I was immediately taken to a screen that showed real-time,
easily understood information about my wireless environment.
Using the two function keys, I
was able to access a legend that explained AirCheck symbols used to concisely
convey performance and signal information. After just an hour or so, most technicians
will be able to glance at the screen and immediately comprehend what the
AirCheck is reporting.
The AirCheck is wicked fast and
can sniff 802.11a/b/g/n spectrum with an uncanny accuracy. At no point during
my tests did I wait more than two seconds to get useful information. Navigating
between the network, access point and channel screens was quick and intuitive.
However, I would like Fluke to
add a "page down" function. In nearly every test situation in downtown San
Francisco and at my apartment in downtown Oakland, the AirCheck found large
numbers of devices. I would have liked to be able to more quickly skip through
Within five minutes of using the
AirCheck I found that one of our lab access points was exhibiting a very odd,
rapid flapping between secured and unsecured broadcasts: At least seven access
points (not under our control) were using radio channels not licensed for use
in the United States, and there were a number of potential channel interference
problems in both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands.
To get the most out of the
AirCheck tool, I had to set up a site profile. Profiles can be created only by using
the AirCheck Manager software, and they must be transferred to the AirCheck
Profiles speed up testing in
authorized areas by providing network and access point addresses, and security
credentials for connecting to the network. Once the profile was loaded on the
AirCheck device, it was then a simple matter to look for unknown-and, therefore,
unauthorized-devices in our vicinity.
There is a record button that
captures session data on the AirCheck device for later analysis and reporting.
I used this feature to create detailed (25-plus pages for both the office and
my home) reports about the discovered networks and the access points associated
with those networks.
The details about access points,
spectrum use and wireless network performance are neatly laid out and easy to
understand. The reports are generated in PDF format and can be easily shared with
Although I did not test with the
optional ($150) directional antennae, I was able to use the homing function on
the AirCheck device to locate access points. Fortunately, there is a "mute"
function so the rather ominous beep tone that indicates signal strength can be
quieted. I relied on a signal graph displayed on the AirCheck screen to
discreetly check the location of wireless access points in and around our test
Cameron Sturdevant is the executive editor of Enterprise Networking Planet. Prior to ENP, Cameron was technical analyst at PCWeek Labs, starting in 1997. Cameron finished up as the eWEEK Labs Technical Director in 2012. Before his extensive labs tenure Cameron paid his IT dues working in technical support and sales engineering at a software publishing firm . Cameron also spent two years with a database development firm, integrating applications with mainframe legacy programs. Cameron's areas of expertise include virtual and physical IT infrastructure, cloud computing, enterprise networking and mobility. In addition to reviews, Cameron has covered monolithic enterprise management systems throughout their lifecycles, providing the eWEEK reader with all-important history and context. Cameron takes special care in cultivating his IT manager contacts, to ensure that his analysis is grounded in real-world concern. Follow Cameron on Twitter at csturdevant, or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.