updated 11:10 pm EDT, Fri August 12, 2011
Uses standard on-board equipment
A new startup out of California is offering a free tool called NetSpot for those who would like to compile a site survey of their wireless network that uses no special equipment beyond what's on-board a Mac and the local router. The software, which will be free while its in beta, creates a visual map of where signal is strong, weak or having difficulty penetrating walls, rooms or floors.
The software can, with a little help from the user, determine "dead zones" and other wireless problems by creating a color-coded map that shows real-world signal strength and can help determine where a booster or bridge might be most effective, for example. The program can be used with home layouts, offices, small businesses, campuses or any size building or area.
NetSpot is compatible with all forms of 802.11 Wi-Fi networks (a/b/g/n) and requires no extra equipment, utilizing only the Wi-Fi network adapter built into any Mac (though portables are the most useful as the machine will need to be moved around to compile the survey). Users simply load a map of the area they wish to have surveyed, specify the real-world scale, identify the borders of the area to be scanned and then walk or drive around the survey area, periodically pinpointing their location on the map.
Once a location has been pointed to, the NetSpot software will take a few seconds to scan radio signals (including other networks) in that area. The more often users stop and let the software collect samples of the radio activity in an area, the more accurate the report will be. Once the collecting and surveying phase is finished, users stop the scanning process and allow the software to finish its calculations.
The resulting maps will show various signal and noise levels in different parts of the area that has been scanned. Maps can be toned as desired and exported to PDF for use in other documents. Similar Windows-based software requires special equipment and the overall package can run to the thousands of dollars.
NetSpot still lacks some advanced features, but the development team is eager to hear from testers about what they need before the final release of the product (final pricing has not been announced). NetSpot requires an Intel Mac running OS X 10.6 or 10.7, and will also be available from the Mac App Store once the product is finalized.