Fluke announces handheld Wi-Fi tester

Fluke Networks Corp. has announced AirCheck Wi-Fi Tester, a handheld device designed to troubleshoot corporate wireless networks and detect unauthorized access points.

Everett, Wash.-based Fluke said it will start shipping AirCheck Wi-Fi Tester during the second quarter. It works on networks meeting the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 802.11a, b, g and n standards.

The new tester has an advantage over most current wireless local area network (WLAN) testing products, which use software loaded on to a notebook computer with a Wi-Fi card, said Mark Mullins, Fluke’s business development manager.

This is because most access points are installed on ceilings and technicians who test the networks often walk around with portable computers on ladders with wheels.

“Using a laptop on top of a ladder doesn’t work very well,” Mullins said. “It’s clumsy.”

AirCheck Wi-Fi tester weighs 400 grams (14 ounces) and measures 19.8 cm (7.8 inches) long, 8.9 cm (3.5 inches) wide and 4.8 cm (1.9 inches) thick.

“If you use it on top of a ladder, it’s going to get banged around and we wanted to be able to accommodate that,” Mullins said.

One industry analyst agreed.

“If you’re in one fixed location that’s one thing but if you’re moving around at all, looking at signal strength from different locations, the convenience of a portable tester is pretty significant,” said Peter Rysavy, president of Hood River, Ore.-based Rysavy Research LLC.

The AirCheck tester costs US$1,995 and Fluke will throw in an antenna for an extra US$195.

Fluke announced AirCheck seven months after Fluke’s acquisition of AirMagnet Inc.

Mullins said Fluke started working on AirCheck Wi-Fi Tester before the AirMagnet merger and some officials were initially concerned the AirMagnet and AirCheck products would compete with one another.

But Mullins added they appeal to different types of users, because AirMagnet uses software for laptops with more features than AirCheck. While the AirMagnet software might appeal to engineers, AirCheck is designed more for front-line IT workers without in-depth training on wireless networking.

“This is really targeted at the IT guy who is keeping people’s systems up and running, who is going around trying to figure out why people have not connected to network,” Rysavy said.

AirMagnet, for example, has security threat detection, packet capture, performance tests and client-side monitoring that AirCheck does not have. Both products check security settings and detect unauthorized, or “rogue” access points installed by employees without informing the IT departments, potentially opening for hackers a back door into the network.

While AirCheck is designed to boot up within three seconds, Mullins said some laptops take much longer.

It has a lithium ion battery with five hours of power, a 7.1 cm (2.8 inch) liquid crystal display and saves reports, which can be output through the universal serial bus (USB) port to a PC.

It also has a custom-designed radio, and Fluke had to get it certified by the regulatory bodies of every country in which it’s available, Mullins said.

Rysavy noted AirCheck lets IT administrators figure out what percentage of the time a radio channel is actually in use.

“Knowing what per cent of time that channel is active can really assist in determining whether that channel is usable or not,” he said.

Other vendors manufacturing Wi-Fi testing tools include Ekahau Inc., which last year released spectrum analysis features on its Site Survey software.

AirCheck detects and displays information on channel usage and interference, Fluke says.

Fluke, which is owned by Washington, D.C.-based Danaher Corp. (NYSE:DHR), makes a variety of testing and troubleshooting products for corporate IT departments, telecommunications carriers and network integrators. Fluke’s products include: the Linkware cable test compiling and analysis software; the EtherScope handheld hardware, designed to diagnose problems on copper, fibre and wireless networks; the LinkRunner handheld tester, which is designed to figure out of problems are caused by cables, patch cords, network parts or network interface cards; and the OptiView network analyzer hardware.

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