Wi-Fi

Nuts about Nets: Wi-Fi diagnostic tools with a difference

Michael Kassner found that not keeping current with available Wi-Fi test and discovery software was a mistake that cost him a lot of extra work. Find out why he now loves Nuts about Nets.

For years, I have used NetStumbler as my primary Wi-Fi network discovery tool. No longer, Nuts about Nets, LLC has stolen my allegiance with a program called NetSurveyor. Before discussing the tool, I would like to share some information about the company. Founder Steve Leytus describes Nuts about Nets, LLC as:

"A leading innovator of low-cost, PC-based, Wi-Fi diagnostic tools used for installing, optimizing, and troubleshooting 802.11 (Wi-Fi) networks. We continually strive to develop new and easy-to-use tools that professionals and non-professionals alike apply in the real world situations to gain optimal performance from their wireless networks."

I believe it. The company has developed PC-based RF spectrum analyzers, Wi-Fi channel analyzers, 2.4x and 5.x GHz channel/signal generators, and 802.11 packet injectors. NetSurveyor and NetStress are the two I write about and are free. I also tried several of the for-pay applications, besides being inexpensive, they perform well and have features of devices costing a great deal more.

The difference

While checking out the Web site I came across a comment that hit home. Telling me that Nuts about Nets was using a different approach:

"Unless one has intimate knowledge of the 802.11 standard and its inner workings, it is not possible to predict how an 802.11 network will behave when you are armed solely with RF measurements. This is why we focus on performance metrics. They more accurately predict how your wireless network will actually perform."

Wanting to know more about the performance metrics, I phoned Steve Leytus and asked all sorts of questions. Mr. Leytus was patient, yet enthusiastic with his answers. One would expect no less, from the owner of a company called Nuts about Nets. Here is what he had to say:

TechRepublic: Nuts about Nets, LLC is certainly a unique name. How did the company get its start? Leytus: Two unemployed friends-a software engineer and Boeing assembly line mechanic-decided to combine their experience, skills, and interests to start a computer network install and consulting business. Early on, it became apparent that inexpensive tools for troubleshooting Wi-Fi networks did not exist. We saw this as an opportunity and changed our focus. That shift led to our first product, AirSleuth, an inexpensive 2.4 GHz spectrum analyzer.

Choosing a name for a company is tough. We wanted a name that conveyed what we do (the ‘Nets' part) and also that we enjoy it (the ‘Nuts about' part). The world is full of serious issues. Troubleshooting Wi-Fi networks is not one of them. We wanted to keep things light, conveying to others that we are passionate about our work. Yet, we also understand the world will not come to an end if people do not use our tools.

TechRepublic: You have a wide array of products. Could you describe the different product classifications? Leytus: When one is faced with troubleshooting Wi-Fi problems, the task may seem daunting. Not because Wi-Fi is so conceptually difficult to understand, but because you can't see or touch the medium.

One approach to solving problems is to break them down, performing measurements on each component. The "data points" you accumulate are used to fill in the puzzle of what is working and what's not. We have the following four basic product classes that mirror well-tested troubleshooting strategies:

  • Network Discovery: The process of detecting beacon packets transmitted by 802.11 access points.
  • RF Spectrum Analysis: The process of detecting all RF transmissions within a frequency band. Mainly used to identify interference sources.
  • WiFi Channel Analysis: The process of measuring RF interference using an 802.11 network adapter. This approach better predicts how a Wi-Fi network will actually perform in the current environment.
  • Connection Analysis: The process of measuring throughput performance of 802.11 devices when connected to a Wi-Fi network. The ultimate metric when it comes to troubleshooting a network.
TechRepublic: Your approach for determining which channel to use is different. Does it involve Indirect Measurement of Microwave Interference (IMMI) technology? Could you explain how IMMI works? Leytus: When it comes to troubleshooting Wi-Fi networks, 802.11 devices make better diagnostic tools than spectrum analyzers. That's because a spectrum analyzer knows nothing about the 802.11 standard, its internal protocols, or the methods used to mitigate interference from other wireless devices.

As to how IMMI works, I can only speak in generalities, because the patent process is not finalized. I can say, the IMMI software uses a standard 802.11 device to query each channel for its "potential" or "available" throughput performance.

It turns out, most Wi-Fi problems are solved by changing to a better channel. This is because:

  • The interfering device may belong to someone else and you have no control over it.
  • The interfering device may be different wireless technology (e.g. a wireless security system).
  • It's not easy to track down the source of interference.

Here's an example: Suppose you are tasked with installing a new Wi-Fi network. But, you are limited to using either channel one or two. Also, the company next door is using channel one. So, which channel do you use for your new network? Channel two, right? Wrong.

Inherent in the 802.11 standard is the ability to "arbitrate" channel usage. That is, two APs using the same channel will share the medium. That allows the APs to sense each other and coordinate their use of the channel.

It's not optimal, but at least they are sharing.

If the two APs are on adjacent channels, they see one another as interference. They can't share and end up blocking one another. Unlike non-802.11 devices such as a spectrum analyzer, IMMI understands that adjacent channels are being used and promotes using the same channel.

Our latest product, WifiEagle employs IMMI technology to quantify throughput performance of each channel. Not only does this allow you to determine the best channel. You can predict (in a quantitative way) the increase or decrease expected by reconfiguring an access point to use a different channel.

Two Nuts about Nets tools

Now I'd like to focus on my two favorite applications, NetSurveyor and NetStress. And it's not because they are free, but that helps. Both tools will give the person responsible for the health of a Wi-Fi network a good idea as to what's happening in the physical space as well as actual RF links. First, let's look at NetSurveyor.

NetSurveyor

NetSurveyor is an 802.11 network discovery tool similar to NetStumbler. Both gather information about local Wi-Fi access points in real time and display it. NetSurveyor includes these additional features:

  • The data is displayed using a variety of different diagnostic views and charts.
  • The data can be recorded for extended periods and played-back at a later date/time.

While testing NetSurveyor, I found that I did not quite understand the terminology used on the diagnostic charts. So, I asked Steve Leytus if he would explain them:

"The tabs show the same data but from different graphical perspective. Often, when data is charted a feature jumps out in one chart that was not apparent in another."

The following are his description of diagnostic charts:

AP Timecourse: This chart displays the beacon strength of each access point as a function of time. The Y-axis reports the signal strength as a signal quality (0 - 100%). Where a maximum signal is assumed to be -20 dBm and the dissociation signal is -85 dBm.

AP Differential: This chart displays the current beacon strength of each access point compared with a snapshot taken at an earlier point in time. This way, you get immediate feedback as to whether anything changed and if it was for the better or not.

Channel Usage: This chart combines access points by channel and displays a summary of channel usage. The Y-axis reports the signal strength of beacons as a signal quality (0 - 100%). This chart is helpful, as it shows how active a particular channel is.

Channel Timecourse: This chart also combines access points by channel. However, the channel usage is displayed as a function of time.

Heatmap: This chart combines the access points by channel, with the summary of channel usage being displayed as a waterfall graph. Each horizontal line represents beacon signal strengths by channel measured during one scan. The color legend to the right indicates signal strength, with red being the strongest.

Spectrogram: This chart is a 3D view of channel usage as a function of time. Each channel is represented by its own set of bar graphs. Essentially it combines the Channel Usage and Channel Timecourse views into a single 3D chart.

That certainly is a lot of useful information from a free app. Let's move on to NetStress.

NetStress

The main purpose of any IT network is to move data. Optimizing throughput would then be considered an important metric and that's what NetStress is all about. The tool generates network traffic and analyzes the network's throughput performance. Steve Leytus mentioned that:

  • Using NetStress to create a reference benchmark will facilitate troubleshooting when something happens to the network's performance.
  • NetStress can also be used to get real-time feedback about any modifications made to the network.

I have used similar products, but none this feature rich and easy to use. That said, I read how NetStress is being revised for the better. I asked Steve Leytus about that:

"We've received lots of good suggestions for new features. The next version of NetStress will include the following:

  • Ability to use TCP packets, UDP packets, or both
  • Control packet size
  • Choice of uplink and/or downlink flow
  • Create multiple data streams"

Some advice

It became obvious that Steve and Nuts about Nets know a lot about 802.11-diagnostic equipment. I had one last question for him. For the uninitiated, what tools would you suggest?

"First, NetSurveyorand NetStress are obvious choices. They provide useful information about the Wi-Fi landscape. The next tools I would recommend are WifiEagle and AirHORN.

WifiEagle uses IMMI technology to help determine which Wi-Fi channel will provide the best performance-and that's what it boils down to most of the time.

AirHORN is the only RF source on the market that transmits on the channels you select. Using WifiEagle to view RF activity, it's interesting to fire-up AirHORN and see the RF activity. It helps breakdown the mystery surrounding wireless communications."

Final thoughts

I've put both NetSurveyor and NetStress to good use already, significantly increasing a client's Wi-Fi network throughput. Have to admit, I like tools that make my job easier.

Lest I forget, thanks to Steve Leytus for creating these tools and his insight in answering my questions.

About

Information is my field...Writing is my passion...Coupling the two is my mission.

34 comments
e_syaz
e_syaz

why is the graph show increasing and decreasing throughput? what factor affect it?

migonzal
migonzal

NetSurveyor is intended only for x86 architecture, on 64 bits use inssider. NetStress works ok on 64 bits

Craig_B
Craig_B

I did some basic testing and I really like NetSurveyor. I did a walk around and was surprised how much WiFI is actually present and how much I could pick up from other companies. Since we have multiple access points we planned channels based on our information however NetSurveyor has shown other devices from other companies that may affect our setup. I need to learn more about the tool and do some additional testing. The report function is very nice. One problem I ran into was, I tried to access Help and I could not access the online help. It would be nice to have at least a basic help or hint for the various graphs and features. Even something like a Channel Heatmap is used for? I guess some basic information would be better than, I wonder how I can use this feature. The other option of course would be to include a built in help file. I tried NetStrees but it didn't run on Windows 7 x86 or x64. I still need to try NetSurveyor on Windows 7.

kgunnIT
kgunnIT

Thanks for the tips, I have used Netstumbler as a desktop app, but will check out some of these other tools. I also use Wifi Analyzer on my Android phone. Works great for analyzing channels, list of APs and signal strenghts. Great for walking around a building and analyzing access points and signal strengths.

rakib_cool
rakib_cool

it's reaaly help to enrich my knowledge. thanks

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

If you try the apps, let me know what you think. Or if you have any feed back, I will be glad to pass it along.

baldemar.ramos
baldemar.ramos

Downloaded from Download.com but will not install on 64bit Windows 7 Pro

pgit
pgit

"Wanting to know more about the performance metrics, I phoned Steve Leytus and asked all sorts of questions. Mr. Leytus was patient, yet enthusiastic with his answers." It takes sincerity and a modicum of brains to get the info out of people you do regularly and with aplomb. You are the most valuable conduit I have between the ivory towers, corporate development offices and forward-looking philosophical thinking, and the trench I wake up in every morning. Thanks for the investment of your time to dive into this kind of stuff, you have a good nose for what's important, too. It's be cool to see you get a spot on the likes of "Buzz Out Loud" or "Security Now!"

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I've been on and off over the N900 but when I saw this app pop up it become the Killer App that's put the N900 back on my wishlist even before the recent anouncement that there will be a Meego for N900 firmware update. http://maemo.org/downloads/product/Maemo5/wifieye/ That little graphic scanner plus airodump plus kismet plus metasploit plus ettercap equals mwahahahahahaha. A little piece of heavinly hardware in my pocket. With the GPS radio, it's much easier to do a wireless walking map of the grounds than hauling a laptop. For notebook and Windows stationary surveys though, Nuts may be the new tool of choice. The free apps will be in my collection soon and hopefully in a portable form versus required install.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

On the *nix side, I've found Airodump great for quick surveys and kismet also very good at what it does. I rarely use Windows for wifi tech work but have used Cain&Abel in the past for quick surveys. Unfortunately, it requies a specific driver and hardware NIC to enable injection where I get a far longer list of NIC supporting injection and similar advanced features on the *nix side. I basically buy my NICs based on the Backtrack hardware list. This does offer the advantage of pretty graphs though. I'll have to have a look see.

Daniel Breslauer
Daniel Breslauer

My personal favorite is Vistumbler. This tool certainly does look nice, but it's not free / open-source, which Vistumbler is - and the advantages don't weight up to the disadvantages, in my case.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

NetStumbler was my tool of choice. Not any longer, Nuts about Nets, LLC has several apps that will help you set up and troubleshoot Wi-Fi networks.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

I will pass your comments along to the developer. As for what each tab does, I listed a short description in the article about each for the same reason you mentioned. The heat map takes getting used to, it helps me when I make alterations.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

Is the one I really value, I use it all the time to test bandwidth on wired and wireless networks.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

Pass that information along to the developer. Thanks for letting me know.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

It's well worth it with all the cool TR members like yourself being interested in this stuff. As for that trench, is yours getting deeper like mine, or may be I am getting shorter.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

NetStress is one you do not have anything for. I consider that tool to be the most important of the bunch. Also, for serious work, the WifiEagle can not be beat for setting up and troubleshooting.

ian.obrien
ian.obrien

Just to note that is for Vista and W7 with only limited support and functionality on XP.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

Where were you looking. Thanks for mentioning Vistumbler, I will check it out.

jdavis
jdavis

For a netstumbler replacement, I have been using the free inSSIDer from Metageek. It is simple to use and I really like the channel graphs. http://www.metageek.net

curtis_bragdon
curtis_bragdon

None of the links are working, even the alternate download sites. Based on your article the product looks promising, but without testing it who knows.

Daniel Breslauer
Daniel Breslauer

I got confused by this - the inexpensive suggests that, while not expensive, they're not for free - "I have used several of the applications and though they?re inexpensive, they perform and have similar features of devices costing a great deal more."

V.H. Scarpacci
V.H. Scarpacci

I liked NetStumbler for its simplicity. There is nothing complicated. The interface is easy to use and the displays are useful and informative. but, when I downgraded to Windows 7 from XP it no longer worked. Thanks for this, I will give Nuts a try.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I'll have to play with them here soon and have a look see. I do like the highly graphic display of results. That was also what caught me with the N900 app; The hight and width of the bubble for strength and channel crossover. hm.. I wonder what there is for stress testing on the *nix side. This stress app for windows will help; I'm curious if it's network traffic or wireless load that blows out my humble Soho router first.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

Hey, Curtis. I think we are overloading the Web site. I have a call in to the developer. I will let you know what's going on.

bruce
bruce

11:30AM EDT - Site still not responding

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

I see what you mean. I forgot to mention that NetSurveyor and NetStress are free, but the other tools are inexpensive. I will fix that. Thanks.

Jay_n_VB
Jay_n_VB

Not a good sign! Guess they went out of business before you could get this article out. Shame as I was looking for a good product for troubleshooting Wi-Fi!

Craig_B
Craig_B

Thanks for the CNET link, I was able to download both in a few seconds.

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