OS X offers Mac users an integrated Wireless Diagnostics app; however, the native troubleshooting program isn’t super friendly. While the utility collects wireless packet data, and saves a breadth of statistical information to reports for network technician review, the app lacks an intuitive interface.

NetSpot, a free wireless troubleshooting utility, fills the gap. The application’s $149 Pro version adds commercial licensing, additional Wi-Fi analysis visualizations, support for wireless networks possessing more than five access points, and the ability to detect hidden networks, among other features.

Why might a Mac user need a Wi-Fi troubleshooting app?

There are numerous reasons. For example, Mac users may suffer Wi-Fi interference (often users are unaware their wireless network settings conflict with a neighboring Wi-Fi signal). A quick scan can determine whether changing a wireless network’s channel will result in immediate improved performance.

NetSpot’s compelling features

NetSpot provides an easy to understand interface for scanning wireless networks and quickly returning critical information, including SSIDs, access points’ MAC address, channel settings, wireless band, security protocol, wireless access point vendor, signal strength, signal averages, and wireless mode. The information is returned within an interactive table that enables double-clicking a specific network to drill even deeper for additional statistical and historical performance data.

One feature that makes the Pro version particularly compelling is its comprehensive Wi-Fi surveying capability. The application permits creating interactive color-coded heatmaps that provide a blueprint-like illustration revealing access point locations and areas where wireless signals are strong or weak. The information enables repositioning or adding additional access points to address wireless network architecture issues. Corresponding adjustments help ensure wireless devices, including Macs, iPhones, and iPads, perform as the business requires, indoors or outdoors.

In addition to capturing live Wi-Fi data from all surrounding networks, NetSpot collects more information about a greater number of networks than any utility I’ve ever used; the program collects this statistical data in real-time. The resulting wireless analysis data can then be exported to CSV or even PDF files for later review or comparison.

Administrators can also leverage NetSpot to run passive (signal-to-noise ratios, signal levels, access point numbers, wireless bands, etc.) or active (throughput testing, upload and download performance, transmit rates, etc.) surveys, furthering the tool’s troubleshooting usefulness.

The bottom line

If your office is suffering wireless issues, or if you regularly troubleshoot Wi-Fi problems, NetSpot deserves a look. A free seven-day Pro trial is available. Nonprofit organizations are eligible for a 20% discount.