Before the rise of wireless networks, getting online or setting up a network required running a cable to each place that you want to connect your computer. Now, almost every device from computers to phones comes with wireless built in, and in many cases is the only option to get that device onto the network.
Installing a wireless network isn’t always easy. Interference from other nearby networks and electronics can interfere with your signal, a common problem in crowded small apartments. In an office or enterprise, machinery and other system can produce problems. In addition, covering a larger area will often require multiple access points while trying to place them in a way that will adequately cover the entire area using as little equipment as possible.
You can overcome these problems by trial and error, but it’s better to find a program to help you out. NetSpot is just the app for the job. We previously looked at NetSpot on Mac Appstorm, but recently version 2.0 of the software came out adding new features and functionality. How does this version stack up and can it work for the home and enterprise? Let’s see.
New in NetSpot 2
NetSpot can be downloaded from http://www.netspotapp.com/. The basic version is free and allows non-commercial use. New to version 2.0 are Pro and Enterprise modes. The Pro (one user at $99) and Enterprise (company-wide at $399) versions add additional features primarily of use for those those wishing to use the program in an office or enterprise environment. These versions allow multiple floor scanning to visualize how access points on different floors interact with each other. They also add active scanning and visualizations to show upload/downloads speeds of the wireless network. The commercial versions also add troubleshooting options and auto-saving of survey information.
Even in the free version, NetSpot adds several new features over the previous version 1.3. You gain the ability to delete bad sample points if you click on the wrong location, for example. Previously, a mistake could require restarting the scan from scratch. If the program misidentifies the location of an access point (AP), then you can manually move the AP to the correct location on the map to produce more accurate results. The interface overall seems better laid out and easier to work with. Perhaps the most useful feature is the new troubleshooting mode that displays several overlays on the map to help identify the cause, and suggests resolutions to common wireless problems such as interference or something blocking the signal.
NetSpot 2.0 also includes a Discover mode that provides a real time analysis of the wireless networks around you. This can be useful when you want a look at what’s around you without doing a complete time consuming survey. It’s also helpful when searching for rogue, unauthorized, or unknown access points in an enterprise environment.
The primary use of NetSpot comes when you do a wireless survey. This is the process of moving to several locations in the area, letting NetSpot scan at each location. You begin by loading or creating a map of the area to survey. This will likely be the hardest part for most home users. You will need to either have a map in a graphic format that you can import, the ability to create a map in another program such as Adobe Illustrator you can then import, or draw a map by hand.
For your home, a quick sketch will suffice and the built in drawing tools will let you do something similar to the rough sketch of the building I tested shown below. For an office or more complex building you will want architectural drawings or blueprints. When drawing a map you’ll specify the size of the area, and when importing a map, you’ll be asked to click on two points on the map and then provide the actual distance to allow NetSpot to calculate the scale for you.
With a map in place, you now begin the survey. This process consists of moving to a location on your map, clicking on that spot on the displayed map, and then letting the program scan the wireless networks at each location. You will generally want to work along the borders of the location and rooms in a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction and then depending on the size of the area you are surveying at some spots inside the area being mapped. Once you’ve covered most of the area, shown by the coloring on the map as you go, you then click Stop Scan and let NetSpot analyze the gathered information to produce a map of the coverage of your area.
Once you complete a survey, you have a number of ways to view the data. The traditional signal to noise ratio map will show the strength of your connection at various parts of the map. This can help you identify areas where the wireless signal may be weak or blocked. You can also view noise levels, useful for finding interference that can be harming your wireless network. You can also view maps showing the transfer speeds if you choose that option during your scan.
Overall NetSpot does a great job at a complex job. Perfecting the location of wireless equipment always includes an element of trial and error due to the complexities of wireless environments such as the construction materials used in a building, noisy devices such as old microwaves or cordless phones, and location of devices needed wireless service.
I’ve used a number of programs for this purpose and NetSpot combines a good ease of use and powerful features. It lacks some of the highest end features in the free version, but the free version will work for most home needs. The commercial Pro and Enterprise version compares well to many commercial packages that cost much more. I found the first version useful for tweaking the location of wireless devices in my home network and this one looks useful in location in an enterprise environment. If you’re looking to better use the wireless devices in your house, give NetSpot a look.