Disclosure - I was provided an evaluation unit by Fluke Networks to review. However, all opinions expressed in this post are solely my own and in no way constitute a paid arrangement.
The Fluke Networks AirCheck Wi-Fi Tester has been around for a while now. And I'm late to the game, despite having seen its initial release as part of Wireless Field Day 1. I was impressed with the brief hands-on time that I had with the unit back in 2012 as part of that event, but I never had the opportunity to acquire one as part of my job.
I decided to revisit the AirCheck after observing some positive discussion of the unit on Twitter, watching Devin Akin's Fluke webinar, and realizing that its functionality appeared to align with my philosophy that airtime utilization is a key WLAN metric. I've only had a brief time hands-on with the AirCheck, but I'd like to highlight a few of my initial findings.
First and foremost, I view the AirCheck as primarily a tool for WLAN triage. When first stepping on-site to work with an existing WLAN that's experiencing problems, the AirCheck is a great tool to obtain an initial assessment of the environment. It turns on in just a few seconds, provides a snapshot overview of several key WLAN operational characteristics (more on these below), and the handheld form-factor is great because it's unobtrusive and allows me to gather data while walking through a facility while conversing with the network administrator or customer representative who is usually providing an overview of the environment. During this discussion, a quick glance at AirCheck data can trigger key questions that I should ask the customer and allows me to gather context surrounding the WLAN installation. In other words, the AirCheck helps me narrow down the source of potential problems quickly and efficiently.
Previously, I used the AirMagnet Wi-Fi Analyzer (formerly the Laptop Analyzer back in the day... yeah I've been around a while) for this triage functionality. However, that tool is getting a bit long in the tooth for my taste. And sometimes using a laptop isn't as convenient as an embedded handheld device. I should also note that the AirCheck comes as a software solution for use on Windows and Android devices as well, but I haven't explored it yet.
Some of the AirCheck features and metrics that I've found useful so far include:
This screen gives a TON of useful information on multiple fronts:
- Channel Plan - what channels are being used, and are any non-standard / overlapping channels being used (e.g. channels 2-5 or 7-10)? Are DFS channels being used?
- AP Count - how many APs can be seen on any one channel? Are some channels overloaded while others appear unused? Is co-channel interference (CCI) a potential problem [hint - it usually is]?
- Channel Utilization - how congested are the channels? How busy is the WLAN? Could there be capacity constraints with the WLAN design that need to be addressed?