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8 free Wi-Fi stumbling and surveying tools

By Eric Geier, Network World
December 12, 2011 06:09 AM ET

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However, it features very intuitive graphs. The time graph shows the signal levels (in dB values) of each access point for the past 5 minutes. Then there's a graph for each 2.4GHz and 5GHz channel, showing the current signal levels and channel width usage of each access point. Another useful feature: the filters enable you to filter out access points based upon the access point's band, channel, signal, security, and age status — great if you have a large amount of access points to deal with. It also features GPS support and lets you export to Google Earth.

4. NetSurveyor

NetSurveyor is a free but closed source Wi-Fi stumbler and basic analyzer developed by Nuts About Nets, last updated in 2009. It displays the basic access point details, but doesn't specify the exact authentication or encryption method. It just indicates Yes or No for encryption. Additionally, it doesn't offer any customization, such as saving access point names.

Though NetSurveyor doesn't report noise levels, it does offer more graphs than most other free stumblers, including access point Timecourse, access point Differential, Channel Usage, Channel Timecourse, Channel Heatmap, and Channel Spectrogram.

It can also record data for extended periods and played-back in the future. You can also create useful reports in Adobe PDF format, which includes a snaptshot of the access point details and all the graphs.

NetSurveyor is a subset of what the company offers in its paid product, NetSurveyor Professional, which runs for $34.95 after a 10-time-use free trial. NetSurveyor Pro adds the ability to view and record actual performance stats of access points you're connected to instead of using just its broadcast beacons. They even offer more tools, such as a spectrum analyzer, for $395.

Secrets of the best Wi-Fi networks revealed

5. Kismet

Kismet is a free and open Wi-Fi stumbler, packet sniffer, and intrusion detection system for Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, and BSD. It shows the access point details, including the SSID of "hidden" networks. Plus it reports the noise levels and gives you the signal-to-noise (SNR) values. It can also capture the raw wireless packets to a PC access point file, so you can import into Wireshark, TCPdump, and other tools.

Kismet, however, in Windows only works with CACE AirPcap wireless adapters due to the limitation of Windows drivers. It does, however, support a variety of wireless adapters in Mac OS X and Linux.

6. Xirrus Wi-Fi Inspector

Xirrus Wi-Fi Inspector is a free but closed source Wi-Fi stumbler and basic analyzer. Along with displaying all the usual access point details, it shows a radar view and 8-minute signal history graph. It also displays the signal and address info for any current connections. Additionally, it offers a simple tool to test connectivity of the main network components, and shortcuts to web-based speed and connection quality tests. Its export feature lets you save a snapshot of the access point details to a CSV file.

Though it doesn't let you save access point names, it lets you customize some settings, such as the signal unit type (dBm or percentage), RSSI method, and polling interval.

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