Wireless networks have been a great boon to businesses. Being able to connect to a network from almost anywhere using any device without being tethered by a cable has completely changed the way businesses operate. But when they don’t work as expected they can be an epic pain in the butt to troubleshoot. That’s where the NETSCOUT AirCheck G2 comes in handy. It can scan your wireless LAN and alert you to dead spots, rogue access points and sources of interference.
The AirCheck G2 I was provided for review came in a handy carry case with the scanner, an external aerial and a few other accessories.
I charged it up for a few hours and then started it up to see what it would find.
Just sitting in my home office, it located five wireless LANs, including the two operating in my office. The AirCheck G2 has three internal antennae working with the 802.11ac radio, in a 3×3 MIMO configuration. All the the data collected by the AirCheck G2 is displayed on a 5-inch touchscreen that is easy to read, even in bright sunlight. The display responded promptly to screen taps without any lag.
As soon as the device is powered up, it scans for wireless networks. I was then able to look at each network and instantly see how many access points were using that SSID as well as the signal strength, noise level and type of security applied to the access point.
Opening the Channels screen displayed graph with each of the available channels in each wireless band – there were separate graphs for the 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks I could see, and I could see how many access points and clients were using each of the channels by tapping on the screen.
Interestingly, in the locales I tested, 2.4GHz still remains the more popular frequency with channels 1, 6 and 11 the most popular.
That’s one of the neat things about the AirCheck G2’s user interface. Almost every screen element could be tapped on to drill down for further detail making it easy to move from a helicopter view of that’s happening on the network to a microscopic view. There’s a Back button on every screen so you can backtrack as well as a Home button for jumping straight back to the start.
Data from your scans can be saved and sent back to a PC for further analysis. NETSCOUT also has a free cloud device, called Link-Live. You can connect the AirCheck G2 to an ethernet cable – there’s a port on the left side of the device – and the data can be uploaded to your account.
After scanning the local area and finding a few WLANs, I connected the AirCheck G2 to my 5GHz network and took the device on a roaming test to see what it would reveal about my network.
For the roaming test, I connected the AirCheck G2 to my 5GHz WLAN – it needed the WPA2 password for this – and told the AirCheck G2 to test my connection with google.com. The roaming test can use other locations to connect to including your primary and secondary DNS servers, Google’s 188.8.131.52 DNS or your own preferred target.
The AirCheck G2 then displays a real-time feed of signal quality as well as PHY Data Rate (the maximum speed data can move across a wireless link) and signal and noise levels. As I moved around, I found there were areas where signal quality fell away. For example, as I got closer to my neighbour’s access point, and a little further from mine, I could see signal quality fall steeply.
Interestingly, there was no packet loss from the AirCheck G2’s ping test when connected to Google but there was, when connecting to my ISP’s DNS service suggesting some of the occasional network hiccups I suffer aren’t a local network issue.
This is where the AirCheck G2 really proves its value. It allows you to collect data about what is happening on your network in real-time – when it is loaded with active users – so you can make intelligent decisions on where to place access points, how to position antennae and whether you need to tweak access point frequencies.
If you’re running a wireless LAN with multiple access points in a complex environment where there are potential sources of interference then a tool like the NETSCOUT AirCheck G2 can be a valuable source of data. It can also help troubleshoot specific user issues. While your network diagnostics might suggest everything is working well, the AirCheck G2 makes it possible to quickly walk to an area where someone is experiencing network difficulty and diagnose what’s happening easily.
Price: about $3900 (it’s worth shopping around)