How-to measure enterprise Wi-Fi speeds

Step-by-step strategy for figuring out the best tools for testing the speed of Wi-Fi connections in trouble spots or across an entire wireless network.

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Gerd Altmann / Linda Perez Johannessen (CC0)

There are many ways to evaluate the speed of your wireless LAN (WLAN), whether you’re trying to troubleshoot issues, ensure bandwidth-intensive clients will work well, fine-tune the performance, or just curious about your Wi-Fi speeds.

The simple Internet-speed apps or websites can be useful, but sometimes you need to measure the actual Wi-Fi throughput. For this you usually need a testing platform with a server and clients.

Preparations for testing

Before running any tests, think through what you’re trying to accomplish. Answering these questions should help:

  • Have you verified that the Wi-Fi signal, noise, and interference is acceptable throughout the coverage areas?
  • Are you testing the entire wireless area or are you interested in a trouble zone?
  • What throughput levels do the Wi-Fi clients and applications require?
  • Do you need to run tests with specific clients and specific access points?
  • Does it make sense to test between a wireless client and a wired server or between two wireless clients?
  • Should you test with a single device or multiple devices simultaneously?

Also consider the Wi-Fi standards being used (802.11ac, 802.11ax, etc.), the number of transmitters and receivers on access points (4x4, 8x8), and other specs and settings of both the APs and clients that affect performance. Evaluate the network infrastructure such as cabling and switches between APs and test servers, along with the server specs such as the Ethernet speed if it’s wired. NOTE: This is even more of a concern if you need to evaluate wireless speeds near or above the gigabit level.

Free Wi-Fi test tools for laptop, smartphone, or tablet

There are many testing apps out there for Windows, macOS, Android and iOS devices. If you’re looking for an enterprise-level testing platform for long-term use, consider something like IxChariot from Ixia. But if you’re doing one-off testing, consider some of the free options:

  • Expert Speed Test WiFi Analyzer provides an app for Android and Amazon Fire It’s free for a basic version with upgrades available for additional functionally or removing the ads. It provides many Wi-Fi analysis tools and internet- and network-speed testers. The app supports both server and client modes, so you can test client-to-client or test against a third-party iPerf3 server.
  • IPerf2 is a free open-source project, offering a server/client app for Windows and macOS, and a client testing app for Android that can be used in server mode to perform client-to-client testing. These are command-line-based apps, although they do provide documentation through a MAN page and help screen on the mobile app.
  • Throughput Test Client from TamoSoft provides test server/client software for Windows and macOS with simple client test apps for Android or iOS. However, the mobile apps don’t have server functionality so you must test against their server software on a Windows or macOS machine.

Collect Wi-Fi speeds while you survey the network

If you need to verify Wi-Fi coverage and interference, you can usually measure throughput at the same time with software like AirMagnet Survey, Ekahau, or TamoGraph. This is desirable because the software can map throughput results to a floorplan of the coverage area, which can provide a graphic view of performance throughout the network, not just in a handful of select locations.

Typically, passive surveys with these tools are enough to verify coverage and interference, but measuring throughput requires active surveying where the wireless client actively connects to a network during the survey. Most survey tools can do full throughput testing during surveys against a server set up on the wired side. Plus, they usually allow you to run a passive survey with one wireless adapter and an active survey with another adapter so you can simultaneously survey with both sets of data collection.

Monitoring speed with sensors

If you’d like to constantly keep an eye on Wi-Fi performance, consider deploying sensors to monitor the Wi-Fi from a client perspective. In addition to detecting AP up/down status, sensors can usually monitor and alert based on specified SLAs. Some of the Wi-Fi timing tests can get as detailed as measuring the Wi-Fi association and authentication processes.

Though the exact throughput testing functionality varies among sensors, and they may not be best for one-off testing, they do provide much more than speed testing. Some allow you to keep tabs on many network and cloud services, such as DHCP, DNS, AAA, and custom applications and servers. All this from more of a user perspective out in the field rather than back on a server or out in the cloud.

Here are three sensors to consider:

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