The final Wirless Tech Field Day presenter was Fluke Networks. Fluke recently purchased AirMagnet, so I was curious about what they had to offer that was different from the AirMagnet presentation. I’ve used some tools from Fluke in the past and found them to be very handy, but since they shifted to a more hardware-oriented approach I hadn’t really kept up with things.
The presentation kicked off with Carolyn Carter, Product Manager for the Portable Network Tools division. She gave us an overview of Fluke and some of the tools that they offer. Owing to the fact that this was a wireless-focused event, she delved right into the AirCheck, a handheld wireless scanner. This product is designed to be used by a first level technician that would be sent to a site to do some preliminary investigation in order to get enough information to see if a site visit would be warranted. It’s a rugged little device, the trademark blue and gold coloring making it stand out anywhere you might accidentally leave it. As we dove deeper into the AirCheck, Carolyn handed the presentation over to Paul Hittel, Principal Engineer. Paul seemed a little nervous as he started into his presentation, probably owing to the fact that he is more of an engineer than a speaker. He fumbled with his notes a bit in the beginning and told a product story that went a bit longer than it should before it found the point. As an aside, I know exactly how Paul feels. I’m sure some of my co-workers are still waiting for my stories to get to the point.
Paul described how Fluke came up with the idea of a handheld scanner. Since wireless is such a tricky medium to work in and can be affected by any number of environmental factors, a site visit is often necessary to uncover additional details, such as a recently installed wireless video camera or a testy microwave that’s only on for 10 minutes a day. The wireless engineering staff is usually equipped to handle these kinds of spectrum challenges, whether they be armed with a Wi-Spy DBx or an AirMagnet Spectrum XT. However, these products are not usually deployed to the first level technical support staff, usually due to cost or unfamiliarity with their complexity. And since sending your top engineer on site to diagnose what could be a simple issue is an inefficient use of their time, Fluke decided to wrap the spectrum analyzer in an easy-to-understand handheld package.
The unit powers on in about 2-3 seconds and starts scanning the airwaves right away. It can detect access points (APs) and wireless networks. It displays the network type with easy-to-decypher symbols, denoting a/b/g/n and even 40MHz n networks. You can view which access points are broadcasting the networks, along with how many APs are detected for a given channel, which is very critical in the 2.4GHz space. There is even a simple location application available that plays a tone from an integrated speaker that increases in pitch the closer you are to a specific AP. It’s not exactly a bullseye, but it’ll help you find an AP that may be hidden under a desk or in a ceiling.
Rather than just telling us about how great this unit was, the Fluke team brought us each one to demo and play with. We walked around the room playing with the different options. Several of the delegates said they would be perfect for first tier support personnel in remote offices. One even remarked that what he thought was a little tinker toy in fact was a great tool for the segment at which it was targeted. This kind of hands-on demo is great for tools such as this because the “try it before you buy it” mentality is paramount to me in a hardware-based unit. By giving us the opportunity to walk around and put it through it’s paces at our leisure, I think the delegates were endeared to the tool a bit more than if they had only watched screenshots on a slide.
Alas, all good things must come to an end, and Carolyn needed all of the units turned back in, since they were merely loaners. However, she did say that she had one that she could give away. We each filled out a card and dropped it into the hat, and when Paul drew the name, mine came up! Yes folks, I am now the possessor of an AirCheck. I plan on letting my other engineers and technicians evaluate it to its fullest, and if nothing else I hope it gives me the opportunity to sit at my desk and write a few more blog posts rather than needing to drive out on site to find a fussy microwave.
Fluke makes great tools, there’s no denying that. I have a full wiring kit and telephone lineman’s set in my bag. I can now add an AirCheck to that same lineup. The rugged nature of their products means I don’t have to worry about dropping it. The AirCheck impressed me by not attempting to cram a wireless engineer into a plastic box. Instead, it’s a focused tool designed to lay some groundwork and assist the tier 1 helpdesk in determining if they need to get someone else involved in an issue. While Fluke can never be said to have the cheapest toys in the toy box, I think that the amount you invest in them can give you and excellent return in the time savings from unnecessary site visits for simple issues.
Fluke Networks was a sponsor of Wireless Tech Field Day, and as such they were responsible for a portion of my travel expenses and hotel accommodations. In addition, I personally won an AirCheck evaluation unit from them in a raffle. At no time did they ask for nor were they assured any kind of consideration in the writing of this review. The thoughts and analysis herein are mine and mine alone. The thoughts are given freely and without reservation whatsoever.