Despite the availability of complex, sophisticated test equipment, sometimes what we really want is a basic, easy-to-use instrument that does a few things well, doesn't try to do too much, and yes, is inexpensive and portable. It's like preferring to use one (or more) of those ubiquitous, inexpensive digital multimeters (DMMs) around your prototype board instead of a more sophisticated, costly, and precise lab-grade unit which perhaps has feature and function overkill.
With the proliferation of networks and nodes based on Wi-Fi, the AirCheck ™ Wi-Fi Tester from Fluke Networks fulfills the “keep it simple” need by putting the ability to verify and troubleshoot IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n network availability, connectivity, channel utilization, and security settings into 0.4 kg (14 oz) handheld unit which you operate via just five buttons, a 2.8-inch full-color LCD screen, and basic menus. Especially nice, the time from turn-on to “ready to go” is under 3 seconds, in sharp contrast to a PC-based test unit (which also has additional weight, complexity, and other issues).
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Although the unit is fully self-contained, it includes a USB port for downloading of specific test set-ups and logging of test data, for both documentation and consistency requirements (“did we remember to run that test on that node? And what did we find?”). The AirCheck lets you find networks and access points, connect and measure performance, and display channel usage and interference. With it, you can identify coverage and connectivity problems, find unauthorized or rogue access points (APs), see overloaded networks and channels, detect interference and validate security settings. You can also add a directional antenna to identify and find specific signals, including those sources of interference.
The tester has regulatory certification for most regions of the world, and its user interface supports eight languages. It runs for five hours on a single charge and measures 3.5 × 7.8 × 1.9 inches (8.9 × 20 × 4.8 cm). The unit is $1995; the optional directional antenna is $195.–Bill Schweber