Wireless networks are everywhere. And with reason. After all, they are a dream come true. Gone are the days where equipment placement was limited by the location of network jacks. But this brings a new challenge when it comes to managing networks. Wireless networks are invisible and anyone tasked with managing them will need the proper tools. And the most important tool one can think of for this task is the WiFi analyzer. A number of them are available for free and for multiple platforms. Of particular interest when it comes to wireless networks are analyzers running on portable devices such as smartphones or tablets since they can be brought to any location for on-the-spot analysis. Read on as we reveal the top 10 best free WiFi analyzers for Windows, iOS, and Android.
But before we let you know about the best free WiFi analyzers, we’ll begin by looking at WiFi analyzers in general, what they are and what they can be used for. We’ll try to answer the burning question: WHy do I need one? We’ll also explain what heat maps are. As you’ll see, they can come in pretty handy when planning a WiFi deployment or extension.
We’ll then dive into the core of our subject. We’ve found four excellent free WiFi analyzers for Windows, three for iOS and as many for Android. And for each entry on our list, we’ll give you a brief review of the product and its best features.
WiFi Analyzers 101
The term WiFi Analyzer is quite broad and generic. In its simplest form, anything that can be used to analyze WiFi traffic, data, and/or signals can be called a WiFi analyzer. It is, therefore, somewhat hard to explain exactly what they are. It seems like every developer of such software has its own idea of what it is and what it should be. In its most basic form, a WiFi analyzer is a tool that will let you “see” WiFi networks. There could be several WiFi networks at one place, each using a different SSID. A WiFi analyzer will list what SSIDs are available and, most of the time, the strength of each SSID’s signal.
Some WiFi Analyzers will go further and identify the source of interference that might be hindering your WiFi connection. They are a very useful diagnostic and planning tool. WiFi analyzers will collect data about all WiFi networks they can find and display that information in a useful manner. Actually, the manner in which data is presented is probably where there are the most differences between WiFi analyzers.
Most WiFi analyzers will have some sort of visual display representing the different WiFi networks. Others will present data in a table format. But no matter which one you pick, they will all let you see the invisible.
There are two ways WiFi analyzers operate. Some will capture WiFi radio waves emitted by WiFi access points while others will connect to access points using SNMP or other means to read their important operational data. And the best ones will combine both techniques, generally offering the greatest level of detail.
The Need For A Wifi Analyzer
The reasons why one need a WiFi analyzer are just about the same as the reasons for the need for any network analyzer. First and foremost, they help you keep a watchful eye on what’s going on. They also are very useful in assisting with troubleshooting issues with your WiFi networks.
Let’s say, for instance, that your users are complaining of frequent slowdowns or disconnects on the WiFi network. There’s usually a simple explanation to that: something–most of the time another WiFi network–is interfering with the operation of the network.
This is exactly the type of issue that a WiFi analyzer will let you identify quickly. I’ve used them in the past to discover that the next-door tenant in the office building where our offices were had a much more powerful WiFi network operating on the same channel. Once I identified that problem, I simply reconfigured my WiFi access points to use another channel and the issue was gone.
Another use for WiFi analyzers is to measure the signal distributions throughout your location, be that a house or an office. WiFi signals are radio-signals and, although they can pass through walls–to a certain extent–some building structures can block them perhaps not completely but enough to attenuate them beyond reliable usability. With a WiFi analyzer running on some portable device, one can walk through the space to find weaker spots or even spots with no coverage at all. If you’re planning on expanding your WiFi network, a WiFi analyzer will help you determine where to add the new access points for the best possible coverage.
What About WiFi Heat Maps?
Another very useful tool for WiFi planning rather than troubleshooting is one that allows you to build WiFi heat maps. In a nutshell, a WiFi heat map is a visual representation of how you WiFi access points radiate their radio signal. It will show you where the signal is the strongest and where it is the weakest.
Many heat map tools are stand-alone tools, separate from WiFI analyzers and they usually rely on polling data from your existing infrastructure–i.e. access points–to build the heat map. They will usually allow you to import a floor plan of your space where you indicate the location of the access point and the software will interrogate them and build a visual representation of the signal distribution over the floor plan.
Many suppliers of enterprise-grade WiFi equipment have some form of heat map tool but one of the best is a vendor-agnostic product from SolarWinds aptly called the SolarWinds Heat Map. It is part of SolarWinds’ flagship product: the Network Performance Monitor–or NPM–a suite of much-useful network management tools. Starting at just below $3000 the tool is not within reach of everyone but you get much more than just the heat map. You can find all the details about the SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor by visiting the SolarWinds website.
Back to the SolarWinds Heat Map, the tool will let you create custom wireless heat maps which can help you find dead zones where there’s poor or no connectivity. The tool polls your access points to read their signal strength and indicate the quality of the connection at any location. The tool will lay the heat map over a floor plan of your location which you can either import or create to give you a real physical overview of the situation.
The 4 Best Wifi Analyzers for Windows
Enough theory; the time has come to move to our brief reviews of the best WiFi analyzers. We’re starting with four Windows tools. Why Windows? Because it’s still the most common OS used by network administrators. Windows is also the platform for which the best WiFi analyzers are made and we wanted to offer you the best.
SolarWinds, the same vendor who brought us the Heat Map software mentioned earlier is well known for producing some of the best network management tools. One of these tools is called the SolarWinds WiFi Monitor. Just like the previous product, this is part SolarWinds’ Network Performance Monitor software.
The SolarWinds Wifi Monitor is one of the best you can find. It will discover and monitor your wireless access points and add them to the SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor. The tool will also build heat maps. Actually, it’s the Heat Map tool that will do that as we explained before but both the WiFi Monitor and the Heat Map are component of the Network Performance Monitor, Solarwinds’ flagship product.
But more than anything, the SolarWinds WiFi Monitor will let you monitor your wireless infrastructure. The SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor Wi-Fi monitoring will let you set alert, it will monitor your infrastructure and it will create reports on many aspects such as IP addresses, device type, SSID, channels used, and the number of clients currently connected. Client details include client name, SSID, IP Address, MAC Address, Received Signal Strength Indication (RSSI), time connected, data rate, and bytes received and bytes transmitted.
Like most SolarWinds Software, a free 30-day evaluation version of the Network Performance Monitor–including the WiFi Monitor and Heat Map–can be downloaded from SolarWinds’ website.
NetSpot is another one of the best WiFi analyzers on the market. Originally created for the Mac platform, the tool has been ported to Windows. It will collect data from you access points including channel width, to MAC address, signal quality, and even network encryption providing some of the best visibility over your wireless network.
NetSpot’s detailed heat map is one of the product’s best features but it doesn’t stop there. The tool will, for instance, help you assess WLAN interference. Another strong point of this tools is its reports which combine ease of use with an unprecedented depth of information.
NetSpot is possibly the only tool which we found as good for home users as it is for the professional administrator. And as a matter of fact, it is available in two versions: Home at just below 50 dollars and Professional at around 150 dollars.
3. Acrylic Wifi
Acrylic Wifi is probably the best free WiFi analyzer for windows. It is a wireless network scanner that performs detailed security and coverage analysis for WiFi communications networks in a very short time. This software will let you scan for access points and build a table with all the relevant details. Core metrics such as MAC address, SSID, RSSI, channel, and vendor are included in that table. The tool also has a monitor mode where it will monitor individual network packets that you can use to locate hidden networks.
When we said the tool was free, it was a bit of a stretch, though. The tool’s personal version is free (for personal use only) but it also comes in a Professional version and a Law Enforcement version. And there’s also a separate Acrylic Heat Map software that you can add to your package.
Price-wise, InSSIDer is a good deal but it’s also an excellent product. Don’t let it slow, sub $ 20, price fool you. This is a very potent tool. It will pull all available data from your access point and allow you to view everything from encryption type to signal strength and channel.
And InSSIDer is not only one of the cheapest WiFi analyzers, it’s also one of the easiest to use. Its user interface lets you click a specific WiFi network to show a drop-down menu of information that can be displayed about it. You can choose between SSID, signal, channel or network type. This simple user interface is a bounty for new users but professional administrators may find it somewhat limited. This tool is possibly better suited for home networks or smaller business networks.
The 3 Best Wifi Analyzers For iOS
If you want to take your WiFI analyzer to the field and see what’s going on “on location”, you need some sort of portable analyzers. This is why they make analyzers that run on portable devices–smartphones and tablets–such as these three picks for iOS.
1. Network Analyzer
Despite its rather unrevealing name, Network Analyzer is one of the best for iOS. It’s clear that it was created with the goal of helping users identify issues and find solutions. The tool will let you view signal strength, latency, disconnections, download and upload speed. There’s also a built-in wifi scanner that will detect nearby wireless network devices.
The tool will also appeal to advanced administrators. It can not only gather information about surrounding networks but it also boasts some pretty useful network troubleshooting tools. For instance, there’s a DNS lookup function and a ping tool built right into it. This is not a free app but it will only cost you a modest $3.99. At such a low price, who can afford to be without it?.
2. WiFi Explorer
You can use the WiFi Explorer app to scan, monitor, and troubleshoot wireless networks. The tool will allow you to resolve channel conflicts or signal overlapping and identify configuration issues that could be affecting the connectivity and performance of wireless networks. It will give you some insight into the network details such as name (SSID), MAC address (BSSID), device manufacturer, signal strength (RSSI), noise, channel, band, security configuration, supported data rates, and much more.
The tool can scale from home to small office to enterprise networks. It has an easy-to-use, intuitive user interface and supports the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequency bands as well as 20, 40, 80 and 160 MHz channels. It will work with any 802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax networks.
3. Fing App
The Fing App is a free WiFi analyzer app. It has several useful components such as a WiFi scanner, an internet connectivity checker, a subnet scanner and a port scanner. It even has some intrusion detection tools. It’s a lot of features to carry in the palm of your hands and it can help you quickly identify and solve issues with your Wireless network.
Fing is used by millions of users worldwide and there’s a very active community behind it. The app is frequently updated through the App store, ensuring you can always have the latest features and bug fixes. And due to its huge popularity and user base, there’s also a ton of online tutorials and documents on how to use the tool and get the most out of it.
The 3 Best Wifi Analyzers For Android
If you prefer Android to iOS, don’t worry, there are also some great WiFi analyzers for that platform. WE’ve searched the market and brought you the best three we could find.
1. Wifi Analyzer
When looking for a WiFi analyzer for Android, WiFi Analyzer is usually the first name that pops up. With over 10 million installations, this is one popular tool. There’s a reason to that popularity too: The tool is good. The tool will scan the waves, identify nearby networks and create a visual representation of the current situation.
But this visual representation is not just pretty, it’s also useful and will let you quickly identify oversaturated channels, for example. Its main screen will show you a real-time representation of the signal strength of each network it can find. It can also display a graph of signal strength over time. You can also zero in on one specific network and see a live signal strength gauge. If you’re not the graphics type, you can also see network data in a tabular form.
This is an ad-supported free application so you’ll have to cope with on-screen ads but they are just small banners that are displayed at the bottom of the screen, Unless your mobile device has a very small screen, they won’t be a problem.
OpenSignal is possibly the most versatile apps on this short list. Its detailed map feature is rather unique. It won’t just analyze WiFi signals, it can display a physical map of nearby WiFi hotspots and cellular towers-hose from your service provider–to show where connection quality is the best
OpenSignal possibly best for users who want to monitor and optimize their wifi and mobile signal coverage. But it’s still a great WiFI analyzer too. It can collect somewhat basic wireless network information which is OK if you are just looking for the fundamentals. The app is available for free and is not ad-supported.
3. ManageEngine WiFi Analyzer and Surveyor
The WiFi Analyzer and Surveyor from ManageEngine is a pretty useful piece of software. You can use it to effectively monitor signal strength and display channel graphs on all available WiFi networks. Concretely, you can use its WiFi monitor to detect slow WiFi networks, identify channel interference and poor signal strength. You can also use the app’s built-in WiFi scanner to scan for all the WiFi networks in your environment.
Using its surveyor mode, the WiFi Analyzer and Surveyor can also survey the signal strengths of WiFi networks. Other features let you, for instance, export heatmap reports and signal strength reports of the survey result from the app. You can then use these reports anywhere you want. This is a very good free app that is not even ad-supported.
No matter which WiFi Analyzer you choose, each of our ten picks will provide you with a wealth of information about your wireless networks. This information can be used to debug, troubleshoot, expand or even plan your WiFi infrastructure. Some are full-featured tools while other can be compared to swiss army knives that offer a lot of reduced but still useful tools in on package. Most administrators will commonly use on full-featured desktop WiFi Analyzer and a portable one. With many products that are free or have a free trial available, there’s no reason why you can’t try several of them before deciding which one to use in the long run.