How many Wi-Fi tools do you carry in your bag? Wi-Fi engineers have been carrying an overabundant number of gadgets in order to troubleshoot and analyze Wi-Fi networks. NetAlly has been working on specialized handheld tools, such as the EtherScope nXG, that perform various network tests. I’ve been fortunate to use this handheld tool on different projects to provide some of my opinions of the product.
It’s appealing to use a single handheld tool, minimizing the amount of gear I travel with. Merging data from disparate tools can be a time-consuming challenge. The EtherScope nXG integrates multiple functions into one device while leveraging their cloud platform, Link-Live, to gather and analyze the data collaboratively.
Here are 3 of my favorite features of the NetAlly EtherScope nXG that I’ve learned to use the most from my engagements at Packet6.
When it comes to obtaining the status of a Wi-Fi network, the AutoTest function provides those results for you. By defining a set of parameters to test against, the state of the Wi-Fi network can be completed in just a few minutes.
Through the use of profiles, a set of tests can be performed in sequential order. A grouping of tests can be saved and personalized for different environments.
Within an individual group, different profiles can be added and tested against. There are three different types of profiles:
- Air Quality
The Wi-Fi profile tests against a specific SSID. For granular testing, it can be narrowed down to a specific BSSID and/or band (2.4 GHz or 5 GHz). If a BSSID or band is unspecified, the EtherScope nXG will automatically select one for the test. The test will compare the results against a threshold such as a link test and channel test. The thresholds can be modified to requirements.
Different target tests can be configured where upon connecting to an SSID, an HTTP or ping test can be performed, for example.
An Air Quality Profile checks against 802.11 utilization and co-channel interference. Configurable thresholds are used to measure the data collected and report a status is good, warning, or failure.
Non-802.11 utilization is measured which can be sources of interference rather than 802.11 traffic which would be measured under 802.11 utilization.
If co-channel interference is a key indicator for capacity issues, that parameter can be configured to your preferred thresholds.
Because we’re working with the EtherScope nXG, it can perform wired tests using the SFP or RJ45 port.
The AutoTest is my go-to for getting a point-in-time snapshot of the Wi-Fi environment. The results are uploaded to Link-Live upon completion. Or after completing the AutoTest, dive into some of the details from any of the tests, such as the Connect log or frame capture.
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RF & Traffic Statistics
Once the AutoTest is complete, an in-depth look at the Wi-Fi network may be required. It’s possible to have a few results show up as failed. That’s where diving into RF & Traffic Statistics will be useful.
The output from RF & Traffic Statistics is ideal for troubleshooting. From the Wi-Fi app, individual channels can be analyzed. Or maybe it’s a channel that an AP is operating on that needs to be observed.
While the EtherScope nXG is collecting data, the display will provide statistics such as utilization, signal strength, and retries over time. Noise and SNR are metrics I’m often looking at when troubleshooting. Additionally, my favorite is looking at Retry Rate. Over time, you’ll be able to see the current retry rate, total retry packets, and the minimum/maximum/average retry rate.
The Average Retry Rate is a good indicator of the health of a Wi-Fi network.
Armed with the right information, one can begin isolating the issue. Maybe that means running the Discovery app to identify other devices on the same channel or using the EtherScope’s external antenna to find an offending device.
One could get assistance from other engineers just by uploading the data to Link-Live, a valuable feature available to anyone with NetAlly products.
A common complaint I hear from IT professionals is the lack of tools and resources to perform a validation site survey. The EtherScope nXG breaks the barrier with AirMapper. The app was added Q2 of 2020 and provides a simple way of performing stop and go surveys.
A floor plan is transferred to the EtherScope and scaled. Any user can be trained to tap on the screen in the right place on the floor plan.
The ROI comes from using the same handheld tool, the EtherScope nXG, for troubleshooting and validation. An advantage to the competitors is being able to upload the results of the survey to Link-Live for instant collaboration and analysis.
If in-depth analysis is required, the survey can be downloaded and opened with AirMagnet.
AirMapper has a great start and can be improved further. What I’d like to see added to AirMapper is the continuous survey method. If there’s a large environment to validate, stopping and tapping on the screen can extend the time it takes to complete a validation survey.
With AirMapper’s capability of uploading to Link-Live, it would be great to see additional details of the survey through the web browser, potentially eliminating the requirement of a dedicated application.
I could see some value in comparing the results of a validation survey gathered by AirMapper to a predictive design.
The EtherScope nXG is a specialized network tester. I’ve highlighted features specific to Wi-Fi but the handheld device can do much more. I’ll have to write a few more blog posts describing it’s full potential.
AirMapper has a lot of potential and I hope to see more development into its capabilities to become a stronger competitor to other solutions out there.
The one feature it really needs is spectrum analysis. I didn’t see it built into the unit. But it may be possible to extend its capabilities by using a USB interface.
The EtherScope nXG also isn’t an inexpensive tool. The kit is a little over $9k USD at the time of this post publishing. It’s a specialized tool for field engineers solving problems. The kind of problems that cause revenue loss for companies.
One still needs to be able to comprehend the results to determine the next steps. The EtherScope nXG is the kind of tool that shows me the data I want to see, quickly.