Networks are complicated entities that require proper care and maintenance in order to provide peak performance. The predominance of home networks has forced many individuals with basic computer skills to act as their own network administrator. Luckily, there are tools which can be employed by home users as well as network professionals to address issues with their system. One of the most valuable tools is known as a network analyzer.
What is a Network Analyzer?
As its name implies, a network analyzer is a tool used to analyze a computer network. It allows you to monitor various aspects of a network with the goal of optimizing its performance. The proliferation of wireless networks has made the utilization of these tools more important for the casual user. Additional complexity is introduced by WiFi networks which can be tamed with a WiFi network analyzer.
There are physical devices that serve as network analyzers which are usually used by professional network administrators. These are expensive and are likely to be found in large, mission-critical network settings. The majority of users will benefit from using network analyzer software rather than specialized hardware. You can get a network analyzer application to run on your desktop, laptop or mobile device. Tools are available that support Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, and iOS.
Using a network analyzer allows you to identify problems that impact the network’s speed and reliability. Information gathered through the use of the tool can help you fine-tune settings and parameters to increase the level of performance that the network can deliver. A WiFi network analyzer can be very useful in addressing problems with your home network such as dropped connections or inconsistent download speeds.
Some specific uses of a network or WiFi analyzer are to:
- Present network statistics in a user-friendly interface.
- Gather statistics related to recent and current network usage.
- Identify overlapping WiFi channels or other traffic bottlenecks.
- Assist in locating your wireless router optimally.
- Monitor network traffic and data packets.
What Data Can be Obtained Using a Network Analyzer?
Due to the complexity and configurable nature of wireless networks, we will focus on WiFi network analyzers. There are many more moving parts in a wireless network and getting them to work together can be challenging. The data that can be gathered with a network analyzer can be instrumental in resolving performance issues.
Here’s the type of data you can expect to see in a quality network analyzer.
SSID – This is the network’s name. You need the name to connect to the network.
Channel – WiFi networks have a number of channels available to them, though only one is in use at any particular time. The current channel in use by the associated network will be displayed in this field.
Security – This field will indicate the type of security enforced by the network, for example, WPA2. No security means the network can be accessed without credentials.
Band – Some analyzers will report whether the network is using the 2.4GHz or 5GHz band.
Signal strength – This information may be displayed in different formats depending on the network analyzer you are using. It indicates the signal’s strength and can be very useful when identifying dead spots or unreliable connections throughout your coverage area.
Last Seen – Tells you when the network was last discovered by the tool.
You may also get statistics concerning the amount of noise impacting the network or the amount of data being transferred. Some tools may provide more than others, and both paid and free network analyzers are available. Mac users with WiFi networks interested in a free network analyzer should check out KisMac.
It’s a great, free tool that can give you insight into the inner workings of your wireless network.
How to Use a Network Analyzer
There are a number of settings and ways in which a network analyzer can be used. The first thing to consider is the type of network that you will be using it to analyze. We will concentrate on using a WiFi analyzer to investigate a wireless network in your home or office.
When analyzing a wireless network, mobility is critically important. In order to adequately analyze your network’s intended coverage area, you will be well advised to install the software on a laptop or mobile device. This will enable you to move around the coverage area and address issues from every users’ point of view.
Here are some specific issues you can address with the use of a WiFi or network analyzer.
Slow WiFi Speed
One of the most annoying problems afflicting many home WiFi networks is slow speed. When you have a number of users who all want to stream content simultaneously, this can be a serious problem. You can use WiFi analyzer software to investigate your own and surrounding networks and perhaps pinpoint a reason for your degraded performance.
A common problem with WiFi networks is that their coverage areas often overlap. This can lead to slower speeds for all of the networks involved. Using a WiFi analyzer, you can determine if other nearby networks are using the same channel as your network. You can try using different channels or bands to resolve this issue.
Identifying Signal Leakage
Wireless networks present additional security concerns when compared to wired networks. One of these is signal leakage. This occurs when the WiFi signal is accessible to individuals located outside your intended coverage area. The ability to access the signal introduces the possibility that unauthorized users are connecting to your network.
A WiFi analyzer can help you determine if this problem is affecting your network. If the software is on a laptop or mobile device, you can scan for your network from areas beyond your physical structure to ascertain if the signal can be captured. Based on the results, you can modify your router’s location or take other preventative measures to limit access to your signal.
Eliminating Dead Spots
Using a network analyzer while you are planning your installation and positioning equipment can help you eliminate dead spots in the coverage area. This is another case where having the analyzer on a mobile device increases its utility. By simply taking readings from different locations you can determine if there is adequate signal strength in various positions throughout your home or office.
You may find that you need to reconsider where you are locating your router or have to adjust the placement of other devices that need to connect to the network. In some cases, you might determine you need to provide additional access points to provide the necessary coverage to your users.
Reducing Dropped Connections
Related to dead spots is the problem of dropped connections. This can be even more frustrating than not being able to connect at all. Here again, a WiFi analyzer can be used to get a handle on what is really happening. Using the tool in the vicinity of the dropped connections can indicate problems with signal strength in that particular location.
Using a network analyzer like KisMac or NetSpot can help you alleviate problems with your network and optimize its performance. If the capabilities of your wireless network are important to you, employing a WiFi analyzer should be a high-priority task. You may be surprised at the information you can learn with this essential networking tool.