Tactical Advice

Review: Fluke Networks AirCheck Wi-Fi Tester

This flexible tool is a must-have for IT departments that support large wireless networks.

The AirCheck Wi-Fi Tester from Fluke Networks is the sort of device that information technology managers lust for. The relatively inexpensive, highly effective troubleshooting tool can show you at a glance where your wireless network is effective and where it’s lacking.

I tested the handheld AirCheck device in a variety of environments using a wide selection of clients, but most extensively with the Ruckus Wireless ZoneDirector 1100 wireless controller and four access points in a mesh configuration.

The Ruckus controller and APs have functionality unlike most other wireless networks, such as beam-forming capability. Among its features, the Ruckus system will dynamically focus Wi-Fi signals on devices that are fixed or moving, even over long distances. Without the AirCheck Wi-Fi Tester, I would never have been able to see the process as it happened in real time. It’s almost a surreal experience to begin a streaming session and watch the AirCheck display the focused signal strength as it locates and aims at the client.

Advantages

AirCheck can perform virtually any wireless test required by IT staff. At a single glance, you can scan your wireless network for APs and for clients using Wi-Fi. The device can view channel utilization, provide real-time feedback on signal strength throughout the organization and monitor proper performance of advanced wireless functions.

The device can detect hidden or malfunctioning APs, and it can locate unauthorized or crippled Wi-Fi devices. Because the AirCheck can perform all of this with little user training (beyond a basic understanding of wireless technology and IT security), organizations can get the AirCheck up and running as soon as they charge the lithium ion battery.

40
The number of Wi-Fi channels the AirCheck can receive simultaneously

The intuitive design makes even advanced functions easy to operate. There’s a capture feature that can save logs of Wi-Fi operation for later analysis, and a screen capture that helps document specific issues that show up during testing. This is particularly useful for analyzing interference problems.

Why It Works for IT

Dealing with Wi-Fi issues is a constant headache for IT staff. In part, this can be blamed on the different coverage and propagation characteristics of 2.4 gigahertz and 5GHz Wi-Fi radio signals, and also because they are affected by building characteristics differently. While intrusion detection systems can sometimes identify rogue APs and unauthorized wireless clients, the Fluke AirCheck not only identifies them, but also can physically locate them.

Most important, the AirCheck can sort out those thorny coverage issues that always crop up when employees relocate or when an AP is overloaded — during a meeting in a conference room, for example. The AirCheck can also show when an area is over- or underprovisioned and can help IT staff position APs for full coverage without installing more devices than are needed. This device pays for itself almost immediately simply by providing the ability to manage provisioning.

Disadvantages

I really loved this device and didn’t encounter any drawbacks worthy of note.

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About the Author

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a longtime technology journalist who has directed product testing centers. He is President of Wayne Rash & Associates, an analysis and editorial services firm located near Washington, D.C. He can be reached at wrash@mindspring.com. You can also follow him on Twitter as @wrash.

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