You’ve just moved to a new apartment and you’ve set up your wireless router. You think you’ve done everything correctly, but you’re just not getting the coverage and rates that you should be. Maybe there is some interference from some other WiFi hotspots nearby? But how do you know?
Enter NetSpot. It’s the WiFi network survey tool for anyone. It claims to be dead simple to set up with the reports generated being super helpful. And all of this for free. It sounds pretty great, but does it actually work? I took it for a spin and here’s what I found out.
NetSpot will essentially create a survey of the WiFi coverage for any defined area. One slightly tricky aspect to this (at least for me) was the initial creation of the area to be surveyed. NetSpot needs some sort of a map to create the survey from. An example map is provided for you to take a look at, but one that is actually structured like the area you’re surveying would obviously work the best.
It is possible to create the map within the application itself. There are some basic tools that can be used to draw the map. It’s not too terribly difficult, but it’s not exactly lightning fast to create anything too elaborate.
If you have the capability and ability, it’s best to create the map in an application your more comfortable working with and that is maybe a little quicker for you to work with. I just did a quick map outline of my apartment using Illustrator. I was just going for a rough map, but the alignment tools were helpful to quickly getting the map created.
On the initial screen after the application is launched you’ll see options to load a map, draw a map, start with a sample map, or start with a blank map. Loading a map that you have is going to present you with the best results in the end, but drawing your own is certainly an option and starting from just a blank map can also work. I’ll make some notes about this as I continue along through my process.
Loading your own map is easy enough. Locate the file and load it. If NetSpot doesn’t think the map is orientated correctly it will suggest that your rotate it. After this step you’ll see your map on the screen. Next, the application needs some frame of reference with regard to distance. It’ll ask you to input the actual distance between two points on your map. It’s pretty straight forward. Click on two different places on the map and enter in the actual distance between in either feet or meters. Once that has been done you’ll be able to click the next button to move forward.
The entire process works like this. At each step you’ll see the directions for that particular step at the top of the screen. On the bottom of the application window you’ll find any input space that is required as well as the navigation buttons that allow you to move the process forward along with a little feedback. If you’re not giving the application what it needs you’ll be notified there.
The last set up portion before we can actually begin the site survey is that we need to define the boundaries for the area we’re working with. I stumbled a bit with this as my apartment is a bit of an odd shape. The instructions tell you to put a marker in each corner, when basically what you’re doing is defining the boundaries of the space you want surveyed. NetSpot will help walk you through the process by showing you any overlaps (which it does not like). Once your area has been defined on your map you’re ready to get started on the survey.
The borders of your space don’t need to be perfect. Obviously the closer you can get the more detailed your results will be. I mentioned earlier that there may be some merit to choosing a blank map as a starting point. If you have a straight-walled space this would obviously be the easiest method, but it could also be used to just do a really quick survey of an area. You just drop in the dimensions of the entire space and don’t define any borders. Defining specific areas of your space (more on that in the next section) may be more accurate, but you can still get some decent information about you WiFi coverage without them.
Now we’ll start surveying the space we’ve defined. NetSpot will ask you to walk around to locations in your space and click on the map to show where you are.
As you click on the map a survey will begin of that small location. You essentially wander around your space clicking where you are physically standing. Once you have a few points marked on your map you’ll begin to see WiFi networks being detected.
As you drop location markers you’ll see a green circle after that spot has been defined. The idea is to get as much of your space covered in green a possible. This will provide you with the most accurate survey. I just walked around my apartment dropping markers wherever I could. As I mentioned, my space is a bit oddly shaped so I had to make quite a few location marks to get full coverage.
You’ll see the path that you’re taking while your dropping markers. This seems rather pointless to me and it can be toggled off. As you can see from the screenshots I had to do some back and forth stuff to make sure I was getting the space covered properly. As far as I can tell, the path you take really doesn’t make any difference in the results fo your survey.
After you feel like you’ve defined the area sufficiently you’ll simply press the stop scan button at the top. It’s time to check out our results.
This is where you’ll begin to see the fruits of your labor. There are a handful of reports that can be generated and exported and each of these can be viewed prior to doing so. A drop-down list at the top of the application window allows you to quickly change what report you’re looking at. As you switch from one to another you’ll notice a short delay while the report is being generated.
You are restricted to the visual options available. There is no creating of custom reports. It is however possible to toggle which networks that the survey picked up are being factored into your reports. Hovering over a network name will also give you some additional information about it which can be useful. You could pick up a channel conflict more easily perhaps.
You’ll see your home wireless router displayed on your map. I appears that NetSpot will attempt to display its actual location without any intervention. I didn’t have an exact map of my apartment, but the location ended up quite close. You’ll also see two devices listed for my network. This would be my main WiFi network and my guest WiFi network.
A lot of great information can be seen from this view right within the application, but sometimes you may have the need to show someone else what you’ve found. Maybe you need a little leverage to get a repeater in your area. An export to PDF option is available as you’re viewing any of the visualization options. Export a couple of these and email them to your boss. Proof of your shoddy WiFi network.
The export packages all of the information available to you as you’re working in the app in a really nice format. You’ll have a tabular view of all of the networks detected along with all of that extra info for each. You’ll then see the visualization at the bottom with a key. They are quite nice and require zero effort past pressing a button to generate.
NetSpot is a really cool application. Is it something that I’m going to use every day? Absolutely not. But there are definitely scenarios where it becomes incredibly handy. Setting up a new WiFi network or just troubleshooting why a current set up isn’t working properly immediately come to mind. It may be something I just decide to do periodically in my current space to make sure something out of my control hasn’t changed.
The amount of information you can receive about your WiFi network is impressive. It’s even more impressive given that the application is free and so simple to use. With that in mind I haven’t seen anything comparable. With the amount of money you pay for your Internet connection it make sense to spend some time making sure you’re taking full advantage of it and a simple utility like NetSpot is a great way to help you do just that.