Wi-Fi is changing the world as we know it – many of us cannot live without it if we're being 100% honest with ourselves. Today it is common to have Wi-Fi access not only in homes, coffee shops, hotels, airports – but also in actual Airplanes and Subways. There has been a dramatic increase in the devices that connect to the Internet using Wi-Fi and in 2016 alone, more than 15 billion Wi-Fi devices were shipped around the world.
And with the rise of Internet of Things (and not just mobile phones or TVs), but smart home devices like refrigerators, thermostats, speakers, security cameras and even light-bulbs, Wi-Fi is going to dominate airwaves.
It is more important than ever as an IT Admin and Engineer to understand what is going on in your network, especially on your Wireless network – this is where a Wifi Analyzer comes into play.
Wi-Fi can be inconsistent and laggy at times due to external factors that you cannot always control. People using the technology in closed places like buildings, usually suffer from congestion due to overlapping Wi-Fi signals, Walls, Microwaves and other signal interfering items. At times, neighboring Access Points (APs) are using the same frequency range which causes a decrease in wireless speed and performance as well.
There are so many other devices that use similar Radio Frequencies “RF” as Wi-Fi. Microwave ovens, Bluetooth devices, Baby Monitors, Wireless Home Phones are some of the devices that can interfere with your Wi-Fi signal and weaken it. We haven't even discussed physical barriers such as Concrete walls, Wood, Brick, Plaster, Glass and other common building materials that further impede signal strenth and throughput.
But signal noise and interference is not always the worst enemy of Wifi.
Hackers can perform Wi-Fi attacks by setting up an insecure Rogue AP inside the network that creates a backdoor into a trusted network. A hacker can also create an Evil Twin AP, an attack that masquerades a trusted AP by displaying the SSID to lure victims.
Monitoring and analyzing Wi-Fi networks is a critical move to keep up with speed and security. Wi-Fi Analyzing software allows you to analyze wireless Access Points (APs) and channels working on the 2.4 and 5GHz (Wi-Fi bands), and give you the proper information to make adjustments to your AP and Extenders to help you get the best coverage, speed and security necessary.
Wi-Fi Analyzers can provide an easy way to find the right wireless channel to avoid interference from neighboring APs, find hidden networks or rogue APs, dead spots in your building and much more. The following list shows a baseline of what a Wi-Fi analyzer can do:
- AP Scanner: Scan reachable Wi-Fi APs and get information like channel, DB signal strength, MAC address, vendor, etc.
- Client Scanner: Scan devices connected to your AP and block unauthorized users.
- Visualize APs: Show graphics for Signal Strength, Connected users, Signal-To-Noise ratio, etc.
- Security Mechanisms: Manage security for WEP, WPA, WPA2 and Enterprise.
- Reporting: Displays historical data and test results for easy troubleshooting.
Here's a List of the Best Wi-Fi Analyzer Tools and Software that we've Reviewed:
SolarWinds is one of the leaders in IT infrastructure management software. The first release of popular SolarWinds’s Network Performance Monitor “NPM” was on 2001. During that time they have been improving and upgrading their software tremendously to keep up with the latest technologies to hit the market.
Solarwinds' Wi-Fi monitor and Analyzer comes with full NPM and their software is very easy to use and install but limited to Windows systems only. With Wi-Fi monitor, you can manage numerious types of networks from SMB to an Enterprise-level Wi-Fi infrastructure.
NMP allows you to have control of every detail of your network anywhere you are. You can monitor your wireless network from virtually anywhere by accessing NPM through its customizable web console. Within the console, you can periodically query APs (availability, number of clients, signal strength, security type, etc), controllers and connected devices. You can see active alerts right on the main dashboard and configure the alert system to send you SMS or e-mail when a critical alert is active.
The software can also generate reports with granular details including IP address, device type, SSID, channels, number of clients connected and even details on the connected client itself.
When you first install NPM, it will dynamically discover wireless APs and other network devices. When a new AP is added to your network, NPM will quickly prompt you for monitoring it.
With NPM v11.5 or later, you can create customizable network maps to display your Wi-Fi network environment in heat view mode. NPM creates the map by automatically polling the signal strength of each AP and displaying it on your map.
Wireless heat maps allow you to see the signal range of each AP and find dead zones between them. With detailed client information and heat maps, you can find the physical location of rogue APs or missing devices in your network.
Try the SolarWinds Wi-Fi-monitor for free by downloading an NPM trial from their official site from the link below:
Free Download (30 Day Trial, No CC needed)
PRTG is a monitoring tool built by Paessler, a leading network monitoring software developer. The solution can be used by SMBs or large enterprises.. PRTG call themselves “The Swiss Army Knife For Sys Admins” because it can adapt to specific requirements using its powerful API.
PRTG Professional Wi-Fi Analyzer, a component of PRTG, can analyze APs, load, traffic, signal strength and availability in your wireless network.
The tool is easy to set up and can be configured in no time with relative ease – we've recently reviewed PRTG as well as set it up to monitor windows within minutes here. With the help of auto-discovery, your Wi-Fi network can be easily found and displayed in a matter of minutes. From there, you can set periodical queries to check the status of each device with SNMP system uptime and Ping sensors.
PRTG comes with built-in sensors that help monitor bandwidth load. It can also help you query signal strength by sending an SNMP advanced sensor.
PRTG sensors can quickly alter you when a Wi-Fi disruption occurs or a bandwidth limit is reached. You can get notified via email, SMS or Syslog. With this tool, you can also generate reports to analyze historical data in HTML, PDF, CSV and XML format.
PRTG is a well-balanced Wi-Fi monitoring tool for Windows systems only. But the tool is aimed at general network monitoring which makes it lack some pre-defined Wi-Fi features. Features like “number of connected clients” or “limiting a certain client” are missing, unless you manually create them.
But the most amazing benefit from PRTG is its flexible pricing. You can download the free trial with unlimited sensor monitoring for 30 days or the freeware full functional version which allows you to monitor up to 100 sensors.
Download a Free Trial of PRTG software below and try it out on your Wi-Fi network:
This tool is very lightweight and portable but limited for Windows systems only. It can scan nearby wireless APs and give out complete information such as SSID, MAC, PHY type, Signal Quality, RSSI, channel, vendor, security, maximum speed, stations count etc.
This discovery process can also allow you to see the date that a network was first and last found. For advanced wireless engineers, the tool shows extended information in Hexadecimal format.
If you are looking for a Wi-Fi analyzer with many features, alarm systems, graphs, reporting, etc – you should consider Solarwinds or PRTG (as seen above), as Nirsoft is very Basic. While there is nothing fancy about this tool, WifiInfoView is very portable, easy to use, it gives out the most useful information and it’s completely Free.
NirSoft’s WifiInfoView is aimed for personal use, but can be used SMBs and even for the Enterprise level troubleshooting. WifiInfoView provides the right amount of information that anybody needs for troubleshooting a Wi-Fi network.
Unfortunately, some Anti-virus software manufacturers have detected Nirsoft’s software as Potentially Unwanted Software. Even though the site and software are %100 safe, this still causes reputation issues.
The Free Software comes as it is, meaning that there is no support. If you want to troubleshoot you can try finding the answer in forums and notes online.
Download the free, full and unlimited version of WifiInfoView in NirSoft’s official site.
Probably the first of its kind, NetStumbler remains one of the preferred tools for wireless engineers and general wireless enthusiasts.
NetStumbler can detect wireless networks using common WLAN standards. NetStumbler scans the network and gives valuable information, such as SSIDs, channels, signal strength, SNR, vendor, type of security, etc.
NetStumbler is targeted for wireless professionals but is widely used by anyone with basic networking skills. It is limited to Windows but there are variations for Linux and MAC systems.
NetStumbler is a very simple piece of software, lightweight and easy to use. Unfortunately, the software hasn’t changed or improved that much, the latest version 0.40 was released in 2005. Since then, there are many wireless cards that are currently not compatible with this software package.
What makes it stand out among other Wi-Fi Analyzers is its strong reputation. Still, the software can help you analyze Wireless networks by creating Signal/Noise graphs, export CSV network reports, and testing connection quality. Another unique feature of NetStumbler is that it can be connected to GPS in order to track the precise geographical location of APs.
Since NetStumbler is 100% Free, there is No Support.
Although NetStumbler is free, they accept donations if you intend to use it for commercial or government use.
Download a Full, Free and Unlimited version of NetStumbler on their official site.
Acrylic Wi-Fi Home, developed by Tarlogic Security, claims to be “the most advanced WLAN scanner” in the market. The software is free and intended for non-commercial use only. But with a paid upgrade it can be used for SMBs and Enterprises.
Acrylic Wi-Fi Home is a WLAN scanner limited for Windows systems only. It can analyze Wi-Fi traffic, visualize APs and clients at any range.
The software scans local APs, connected clients, and displays a table with information such as SSID, MAC address, vendor, PHY type, RSSI, signal strength, channel, client details, type of security and when it was seen first and last.
The software can also take signal strength over time and generate graphs to allow easier troubleshooting. The software also supports GPS, to see the geo-location of the Wi-Fi network on services like Google Maps.
Acrylic Home Wi-Fi doesn’t have any reporting or exporting capabilities except for a screenshot button that allows you to post in Twitter. But if you upgrade to paid version, Acrylic Wi-Fi Professional can create reports and has other cool features.
Acrylic Wi-Fi Professional includes a built-in connectivity module that allows password strength testing. The module runs a brute-force password test using a built-in dictionary of potential passwords, something not common in Wireless analyzers.
Another unique feature in Acrylic Wi-Fi Professional is that it supports monitor mode (promiscuous mode) to capture Wi-Fi traffic using its own driver (with the help of Wireless analysis hardware or AirPcap cards). Monitor mode can help you test your network by monitoring all wireless traffic received from the AP.
To try the product, download a free, full and unlimited version of AcrlicWi-Fi Home from their official website.
Finding the Right Wifi Analyzer comes down to the level of control and analysis you want in your network and business. For Enterprise users, the Answer is Simple – Either go with Solarwinds or PRTG for their long standing reputations in the network monitoring industry. They both have commercial support teams that can assist you with any issues that may arise and will have software updates consistently throughout the years.
Solarwinds offers a 30 Day Free Trial (no CC needed!) from the link below:
PRTG also offers a 30 Day Unlimited Trial as well from the link below:
If your a home user – then we definitely recommend any of the last 3 solutions – Nirsoft, NetStumbler or Acrylic for Analyzing your Wireless network quickly and fairly cheap.