Review: Fluke AirCheck Wi-Fi Tester 1.0 - Page 2

By Lisa Phifer

March 12, 2010

Ready, set, go

We have mixed feelings about AirCheck's dependency on AirCheck Manager. Entering cryptic security parameters on a handheld without a keyboard would be extremely tedious and error-prone. Instead, AirCheck Manager must be used to create and edit Profile files to be copied onto AirCheck and loaded as needed at each site.

As shown in Figure 5 (below), AirCheck supports security knobs that can accommodate diverse business needs. AirCheck can test WEP, WPA, or WPA2 Personal or Enterprise connections, applying just about every 802.1X EAP type, server verification, password-protected credentials, and AP ACL. Those per-SSID settings are grouped into Profiles; one Profile can cover all SSIDs at a given test site.

This approach makes configuring tens of AirCheck handhelds fast; corporate-standard files can be created and uploaded via USB. But it prevents Profile tweaks cannot be made on-site – unless a Windows laptop with AirCheck Manager is nearby. As a consequence, on-site customizations, such as when authorized 802.1X users are defined locally, may be impeded.

One Profile edit that can be entered directly into your AirCheck handheld is ACL status. Any discovered AP can be marked as authorized, unauthorized, neighbor, guest, or flagged, with updates saved and copied back to AirCheck Manager for export/import. We agree that on-site ACL updates are handy (perhaps even necessary), but found this process awkward.

Report back to me

There will be many occasions where site audit or trouble-shooting results must be communicated beyond AirCheck Manager. Fluke facilitates this with a pair of canned reports, generated from any single session file (Figure 6).

These summary and detailed reports are nicely-formatted, information-rich, and saved in PDF or XLS format. While consistent with AirCheck's keep-it-simple philosophy, this feature might be improved by small tweaks like generating reports from multiple session files or for selected SSIDs or APs. The XLS report is not really suitable for machine parsing, but session files are recorded in XML and might be used to generate custom reports.

Conclusion

During any pre-production hardware/beta software review, we expect a few problems. Here, our first AirCheck housed an out-of-spec oscillator that generated noise on channel 8. When we reported this symptom, Fluke moved to quickly to confirm and remedy the cause; we are told that shipping units (available late 2Q10) won't incorporate this glitch.

In our view, Fluke is off to a solid start with AirCheck, having correctly identified and largely fulfilled a previously unsatisfied need. That said, we believe that AirCheck has room for improvement – not by adding advanced bells and whistles, but by making a few well-chosen modest refinements to satisfy common frontline needs.

AirCheck is one of those products that makes you realize what you were missing. Network engineers who trouble-shoot WLANs with laptop analyzers may think they don't need AirCheck – and they're probably right. But frontline field technicians who repeatedly perform the diagnostics automated by AirCheck will get more accomplished, faster, with less education. Ultimately, it comes down to ROI. If you manage a small WLAN, AirCheck may be too rich for you. If you're responsible for supporting a large or mission-critical WLAN, AirCheck will earn its keep pretty quickly.


Lisa Phifer owns Core Competence, a consulting firm focused on business use of emerging network and security technologies. A frequent contributor to Wi-Fi Planet, Lisa has been a bleeding-edge adopter of network-enabled consumer electronics for over 25 years.

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