How to resolve common wireless performance issues using NetSpot PRO on Mac


Wireless networking has become the primary, and often only, connection method for many users. Here’s how to troubleshoot corresponding performance issues.

A few years ago I needed a utility capable of confirming a potential wireless network deployment’s strength and range. Using NetSpot PRO with a Mac, I was able to confirm with confidence that the wireless equipment specified within a project plan would perform as intended within a new facility.

You, too, can use the Mac-friendly application to confirm proposed wireless deployments or upgrades will meet your needs, but you can also use the $149 application to expand the $49 Home version’s zone compatibilities, data collection points and snapshots capacities. The PRO version also provides an additional technician license that can be leveraged when reviewing wireless surveys.

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NetSpot PRO version 2.12 is a small-footprint app. The program occupies only 26MB of disk space and typically consumes less than 8% of a CPU on my Mac when performing a survey and less than 4% when only discovering and collecting metrics on available wireless networks. Unlike other applications and network utilities I’ve used, NetSpot PRO locates and identifies more wireless connections, as well.

The new version and updates include support for 802.11 ax, also known as Wi-Fi 6, includes support for macOS Catalina and replaces the older NetSpot Wi-Fi Reporter with a new Wi-Fi scanning technology. The new edition also includes user interface improvements, active scanning compatible with HTTPS and refined reports, in addition to optimized memory performance and Retina Ready compatibility.

Just open the application to discover wireless networks. The program begins performing network analysis on startup. In addition to capturing service set identifiers (SSIDs), or the wireless networks’ names, NetSpot PRO collects corresponding Wi-Fi equipment hardware addresses, or basic service set identifiers (BSSIDs), the wireless networks’ channels, and the radio bands in operation. The program also detects and records the security technology in play, such as WPA2 Personal or WEP, as well as the suspected Wi-Fi equipment vendor.

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That information alone, as shown in Figure A, is incredibly useful for troubleshooting problematic wireless network issues. For example, the SSID field confirms the name of the wireless networks in operation. As a consultant who’s spent years in the field, I’ve found the actual network name may not match a client’s or end user’s recollection, so such hard-and-fast data is helpful. The same logic holds true for the security mechanism (WPA2 vs. WPA vs. WEP, for example) in place. The channel data assists seasoned eyes in quickly spotting communication conflicts that can occur when two separate networks—including a previously unknown network on the other side of a shared wall in a public office building—compete for traffic using the same channel. When such errors are encountered, changing the wireless channel you administer can eliminate the problem.

Figure A

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To perform a survey, click the Discover/Survey button to place NetSpot PRO in Survey mode. Provide zone information by loading a zone file or drawing the corresponding boundaries. Alternatively, you can use a sample map or use a blank template. Following the prompts creates a map that captures wireless signal information as you move your Mac throughout the facility while performing the test.

NetSpot provides onscreen instructions that simplify and guide users through the process when performing a field survey. The firm’s user guide and online survey support documentation provide a pleasant assist and describe available options for performing and customizing tests, merging multiple snapshot files and making sense of the resulting signal strength information. Regardless, I find the survey’s resulting color-coordinated maps, as shown in Figure B, typically tell me at a glance where wireless signals are going to encounter trouble and benefit from additional strength.

Figure B

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